Inappropriate opera

October 23, 2011

I haven’t blogged in a while due to illness, busyness, and busyness, mostly in that order. The last “busyness” was Kaia’s prep for Voices Against Violence, a benefit for Middle Way House, a local rape/domestic violence crisis shelter and life transformer.

We learned my piece Vow in about 2 and a half weeks, which is a record for us. It’s a difficult song. Not in structure or pitch, but in meaning. We started by just going around the circle and sharing our reactions to it (it’s a song about domestic violence but the beginning spoken word section covers all violence against women). Lara wept as she shared what I also felt: That she’d never sat in a group of women and not heard the stories of abuse and violence at the hands of men. My breakthrough to feminism was this very fact: That almost every woman I knew had survived some form of violation.

The Voices Against Violence show was actually two shows—one at 3 and one at 8. Different artists performed at each show; we performed at both. Aside from Vow, we did different sets for the different shows. The sets were constructed to show our vision for a better world as well as to showcase pieces in different languages and our strongest repertoire.

The first set opened with Arise, Lara’s stirring setting of Julia Ward Howe’s lyrics for the Mother’s Day Proclamation. The crowd (though small) loved it. We did some world music before coming around to Vow and then I Love Everybody. Whenever Lara sings the opening of ILE, she envisions the worst of the worst offenders she deals with on a regular basis in her day job, and tries to surround them with love. Just coming off Vow, she had a visibly difficult time making the transition. But I’ve never heard her sing it with such conviction and truth as she did that day.

The second set’s anti-war piece was my Not One More Day (which I find, to my surprise, that I have not posted about before). We mixed in some world music with Vow and closed with Dubula, a jubilant South African dance piece.

I over-sang during the second set. I noticed it most clearly on Not One More Day. For some reason, I felt a deep urge to connect with the audience, to drag them along, to make them see the insanity of the Iraq war and of all war. The audience was warm, appreciative, and even tried to clap along until they (as always) discovered it interfered with their ability to hear the lyrics. But I felt something missing—maybe it was something missing in me.

Both sets were intense. They whipped around the world and through our key messages of peace and social justice with breakneck speed. And we rocked both sets. The audience was very appreciative. But we did not get a standing ovation. No one got a standing ovation, actually. It was very weird, since it’s ridiculously easy to get a standing O in Bloomington. But even among this crowd, Vow, for the first time, was just listened to without that without-words shout that rises up in people hearing it for the first time.

Gladys DeVane was on with a monologue about Amelia Earhart. Diane Kondrat did Marge Piercy’s The Low Road. Janiece Jaffe and Curtis Cantwell Jackson did their usual mellow songs of love and light. All of it spoke to the meaning of the event, and to the hearts of those assembled.

And then came Roadkill—an opera trio including the famous Sylvia McNair. They opened with The Man I Love. They sang I Feel Pretty. Sylvia soloed with another piece from West Side Story. The others soloed with pieces I wasn’t familiar with but had that same Broadway/cabaret songbook feel. They closed with My Favorite Things. And I squirmed.

It wasn’t the quality of the music, of course, which was exceptional. It was the content and the delivery. They sang with songbooks in their hands, which is fine for classical music but seems off-putting in a show like Voices Against Violence. But it was their song selection that was intensely jarring to me.

To open with The Man I Love at an event about domestic violence struck me as downright chilling. The rest of the pieces, while amusing or moving or interesting in themselves, were so far from the content of the rest of the program that I felt almost sick. It was a dinner set, the same they would perform for any event. It wasn’t tailored to the content of the show or the needs of the people in the audience. In my opinion, it was inappropriate.

The experience shown a light on my feelings about performance: That it be transformative. Not that it simply entertain. It’s like design—design isn’t about decoration, it’s about information. It’s about creating change in the viewer. And music is a great changer. It gives voice to that which was previously inarticulate. And for those in the audience, who seek such a fundamental change in our society as the end to violence against women, and even an end to all violence, we have a responsibility to them to at least attempt to give them a voice.

I’ve seen it many times with Arise. I’ve seen it happen every time we sing Not One More Day—by the time we’re singing, “No more torture / We’re forced to pay for / No more torture in my name,” we’ve got people ready to rise up singing. They want to join in and raise their voices to say no more, a better world is possible, and I want to manifest it.

I Feel Pretty just doesn’t cut it. Not for me, at least. I don’t deny the artistry of the women onstage. I just wonder whether they considered pieces that would articulate the deepest desires of those in the audience, and whether they agree that an artist has a responsibility to try to articulate those needs.

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Possible Story Theatre show

March 23, 2011

Thanks to my tax refund, I was able to make Nell’s Story Theatre workshop Saturday at Janiece’s. It was invigorating as always. Everyone wants moremoremore. Meryl wants us to do a show (“Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”), maybe in July, maybe at Rachael’s Café. I love the concept but fear the execution. I mean, it’s one thing to be up in front of people, improvising, in a small room where the crowd is hand-picked and pre-disposed to love you. It’s another thing entirely to be up in front of strangers who may get hives in the presence of performance art. Plus I’m always afraid I’ll run out of stories. Horror of horrors, what if that happened 5 minutes into a 20-minute set?? Horrid Dada-esque stumblings about would ensue. Ack!

Nell and I have a separate thread going about a possible Story Theatre intensive for a hand-picked crew, possibly in May. I’m not sure my tax refund goes that far. But I do know that I seriously want to develop artistically in this form. And Nell’s got the goods! She changes what she teaches at every workshop, so there’s always something new happening. My challenges include staying in my body, using similes, and using sound instead of words. If I could get those to be more regular denizens of my creative toolbox, I’d be much more effective as a performer.


Singers’ block

August 29, 2009

I’ve been depressed again about singing. I start to work on some vocalises and then just burst into tears, so aware of every imperfection, every lost micron of What Used To Be. Let’s just say I’m not aging gracefully. This December I turn 42—past my prime, vocally speaking, and with no direction for what comes next.

I go through these cycles periodically, where I have to question (in the words of Talking Heads), “Well, how did I get here?” When A. left Kaia a few years ago, I had a major episode of this sort of thing. I was born to sing, raised to head for Broadway, I was going to be a star, oh blah blah blah. And here I was in this tiny little town putting on tiny little shows for tiny little audiences and having no impact in the way I’m so hungry for.

Woe be I! Sniffles. It was during part of that cycle that I came to my artistic credo: To create transformative experiences for people through the performing arts. But how to do that?

I catalogue my skills and they seem mostly…I don’t know, non-singer-y? I mean, I can carry a tune and all that, but the things that make me stand out in Kaia are things like arranging a tune, crafting a setlist (creating experiences) and being able to listen to the different voices while singing. I don’t think I add that much to the group vocally; I could be replaced with a high mezzo and leave it at that.

But the larger issue is really whether I’m losing the quality of my instrument through age and poor use. And that makes me very sad indeed. Janiece and I did impromptu ritual at my last lesson because I burst into tears with our second vocalise. My mantra is to be, “I am living my next/new life in this body.” I accept that the old is gone and I am here now, present and accounted for. She drew some tarot cards and placed The Empress at the center. Isis. (Just got back from the Indy Tut exhibit last weekend and my goddessdaughter was calling me “Tante Cairril Isis” one day.)

I appreciate the need to refine the technical aspects of my voice but part of me just wants to sing with abandon. To sing with total abandon. To sing because I am made to sing. Because I Am. To sing is to be; to be is to sing. I just wish it sounded better! 🙂

If nothing else, I know I’m a good performer and can put on a good show. I pay a lot of attention to the audience and can adjust delivery based on where they’re coming from. Is that enough? My breaking heart says no, that I want my delicious, juicy, young voice back—the voice that could do anything I asked of it.

I don’t know my path and can’t find my way. I pray my voice will be mine again at some point, and fully an expression of my artistic and spiritual self.


tensiontension

July 12, 2009

…so anxious I wait.”

That was the opening line from a bad poem I wrote in high school but it describes where I am now. Got a message from Lee Williams this week saying he may let me know as early as next week whether Kaia will be invited to sing at Lotus. We’ve been waiting for The Werd for almost a year, focusing all our rehearsals around the possibility, and it’s finally coming down to the wire.

I worked some more on the recording of Redbird and sent it off to Kevin for his approval. As soon as I get it, I’ll post it here for free. I’m anxious to get the recording complete and to be able to share it!

Tension is also the watchword (though to a lesser degree) for my pending callback audition for Cardinal Stage Company‘s production of The Sound of Music. I’ve been working with Janiece to prep and did some “research” last week by watching the movie and noting all the things I would do differently. 🙂 But really, there’s no substitute for Julie Andrews, is there? The most daunting challenge facing anyone playing the role is that most people have never seen or heard a different Maria. There is only “one way” to play the role and that is the way owned by Andrews. Sheesh. No pressure.

Hopefully next week will see some of this tense waiting resolved. I feel like I’m ready to explode out of the starting blocks but I’d settle for just knowing one way or the other.


Redbird flies!

June 13, 2009

Thursday night Kevin and I debuted Redbird on Carolyn VandeWiele’s Womenspace show on WFHB. It was a fantastic experience.

Due to other commitments, I arrived after the show had begun, but in time to hear Curtis Cantwell Jackson backed by Janiece Jaffe and possibly Bobbie Lancaster. Curtis is tremendously talented and has a great voice.

Kevin arrived with his hollow-body electric guitar and we nipped into a back room to run the piece and get used to the different sound. We then went into the studio to set up while Arbutus Cunningham had everyone in stitches. Krista Detor was in before us, prepping to play, so she was the only one with headphones. We couldn’t hear Arbutus but heard everyone in the sound booth and Krista bursting out laughing.

Krista dedicated her delightful Teeter-Totter on a Star to Arbutus. I could only listen with half an ear because I was keeping my nerves under control and staying “in character” for Redbird. In the midst of my stage fright, I suddenly got clear. I looked around the room and realized this was part of my dream come true—to be in the midst of truly talented musicians, performing music I’ve written the way I want to sing it, rising up in the hopes I could be anywhere near as good as they were, and having the scary-yet-exhilarating thrill of singing live. This is what I want to be doing with my life. It was a wonderful realization.

We had no time to run the piece, so I could only hear the mix on the fly. And I couldn’t hear much at that! I pulled one headphone off an ear so I could hear myself and kept the other in place to get a sense of the mix. Kevin played beautifully and I—well, I tried my best! 🙂

Everyone was very gracious afterwards, complimenting the piece and our performance of it. It’s been terrific to get the feedback and support of the family and friends who listened to it. I loved having my friend Bry in the lobby—it was wonderful to know I had a groupie no matter what I did! 😉

Since I couldn’t hear very well, I don’t know how well the piece worked, but Kevin thought it was our best effort yet, which is pretty damn good. And lots of people seemed to like it. I am very satisfied at having more of my creative path affirmed! It was a great night.


All in a day’s slack

May 8, 2009

What a day! It started with the good news that Kaia’s CD Get Down, Rise Up! is featured live & in person at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Not only is Wandering Turtle run by one of Bloomington’s coolest people (Jaime Sweany), it features fantastic art and great greeting cards. It’s a wonderful place to browse for a creative boost and, of course, a great place to buy things!

Next came an email from the Bloomington Playwrights Project saying that Kindred, a mini-play I co-wrote with Lori Garraghty, has been selected for the 2009-2010 BloomingPlays Festival! While I’ve published poetry, fiction, screenplays, and non-fiction over the years, this is the first piece I’ve written for the stage. 

There were 77 entries, I believe, and only a handful of Bloomington playwrights (5? 7?) were selected, so it’s an even bigger honor to me to be selected. My other entry, a mini-play entitled A Day In The Life, did not make the cut. I wasn’t sure if it was just self-involved rubbish but thought I’d throw it into the pot. I think I was right! 🙂 

Tonight I went to go see Cardinal’s production of Doubt and Randy stopped me to say they’ll be calling me back to audition for The Sound of Music! I felt bad that I couldn’t focus entirely on the excellent production in front of me because my brain was busily imagining possible audition sequences and flashing back to my high school appearance as Maria. (Diane Kondrat was a non-stop revelation in Doubt; go see it if you can!)

I ran into the fabulous Janiece Jaffe after the show and talked a little about taking voice lessons with her. I’ve thought about it for a while. My current voice coach has been brilliant to work with in the past but he seems to have a serious block about teaching now. He’s suggested I find a woman who understands the voice of a woman over 40: voilá! I’m sure I would learn a lot from Janiece but I need to set with it a little bit longer before I decide. I want to be sure Jeduthun is truly uninterested in working together.

It’s been a wonderful day for affirmation of my artistic self. I only hope I can live up to it all! My brain is in a tremendous whirl. Time for milk and some popcorn to calm me down!


Beltane Bash Snapshots

May 3, 2009

 

Raising the power

Raising the power

I’ve just woken up on Sunday morning after a late night at the Webtor Beltane Bash and my head is filled with little video snapshots. In no particular order:

 

  • Krista in her red sequined gown with slit up the front and black top hat, looking like a particularly sexy lion tamer
  • Amy holding out her white hand to me while we sang Travelers Prayer
  • Mike Redman looking like The Hermit from tarot
  • Amanda Biggs singing an aria from Tosca in true diva style
  • Tristra’s husband Ian, who we thought was just coming along for the ride, working the bonfire like a demon
  • About twenty-five people trying to figure out how the hell to wrap a maypole, with Krista, Ian, and others all shouting directions at once
  • Meryl in her little black skirt and high spiked black leather boots
  • Green George doing his totally unselfconscious, raucous version of The Doors’ Light My Fire
  • Grooving in front of the hot bonfire, flames shooting up 15 feet, sparks and debris showering down on me from 30 feet above, while hearing the message again and again: “It’s time”
  • Resisting the impulse to scarf down every single deviled egg in a five-mile radius
  • Not resisting the impulse to scarf down every dessert within snatching distance
  • Talking to “Dave” over the food table, his googly eyes pushed back on his head and the red of his shirt drenching the aura around him
  • Gentle Jana as a combination Robin Hood and dryad
  • Faith with her luna moth wings, mirrored sunglass “bug eyes,” and adorable pipe cleaner antennae 
  • Tristra’s beaming face as she danced the maypole, pregnant belly bulging fecundly
  • Dancing to Curtis and Janiece’s I Can See Clearly Now, wishing I wore something more nimble than Doc Martens!
  • The incredibly scary clown on stage right that would occasionally not just slowly nod its head, but move its shoulders up and down—I kept expecting a peal of diabolical laughter
  • Glancing up, surprised to see the moon for the first time in weeks, admiring her waxing self amid the watery clouds
  • Ned with his kitty nose mask, dark glasses, and especially his Spock ears, reciting his fabulously lascivious poem
  • The roller derby dancers
  • The roller derby pole dancers—voof!
  • Dana in her sex toy tent, a huge pouf of red of red tulle surrounding a small white face covered by a huge round red metallic wig
  • Janiece gently gliding on the tree swing
  • Robert in his wild man make-up, perfectly toned body ready to dominate the stage at any moment
  • Nell laughing continually at the latest outrageous joke and contributing plenty herself
  • Laughing our way through the 5/4 Full Moonlight Dance, falling apart every time we tried to listen to each other—every other lyric was “fassa fassa”
  • Steve Mascari in his fur pimp coat and zoot hat
  • Trying get a groove going with Janiece and Amy Roche around the fire
  • Amy Roche drawing out her groove, slim silhouette against the fire, graceful body matching liquid voice
  • The silence surrounding Travelers Prayer as we sang praise to Sister Moon
  • Remembering My People all night long as I basked in the scent of Lily of the Valley and re-kindled the fire in my heart
  • Stopping at evil McDonald’s on the way home for chicken McNuggets because I knew I’d fall asleep before I made my own—BBQ, mmm….

A fabulous evening under the clouds, surrounded by glittering stars of our earthly firmament.

 

Tristra, Cairril, Amy sing "The Farmer" (photo by Michael Redman)

Tristra, Cairril, Amy sing "The Farmer" (photo by Michael Redman)