Chocolate Paper Suites with Xanax

November 7, 2010

I watched in horror. I remember with horror.

I’ve been incommunicado here due to Chocolate Paper Suites, Krista Detor‘s CD release party, and the prep associated with it. Lara Weaver and I were working with Krista on a dance routine for Middle of a Breakdown that was very hush-hush. Then the show came, leaving me with a sick feeling regarding my performance. Then the DVD arrived, and my worst fears were realized.

I’ve always been a dynamic performer. Even when the singing or acting itself wasn’t stellar, the packaging around it drew the audience in and made it compelling. I remained baffled all during last winter’s Sound of Music performance as to why I could summon neither the technical chops nor the performer glow that helps boost me in my communication with the audience.

I also noticed I was having more difficulty mimicking accents. I noticed my conducting in Kaia was often off. I felt disconnected from my performances. None of it came together for me until the Krista show, however.

For one thing, I couldn’t learn the dance routine. I’m not a dancer, but I can certainly pick up simple steps. This was a mostly straightforward routine. I practiced night and day, facing each direction, in every room in the house—all to simulate the feeling of being in an unknown environment. No matter what I did, I couldn’t nail the steps.

I really liked working with Krista, both on Breakdown and her signature piece, Clock of the World, which was a full Kaia and Janiece Jaffe collaboration. She was relaxed but businesslike through rehearsals, giving just a laid-back four-count in as we started another bit. Just enough chit-chat to break down the walls, with the rest of the time focused on the work. And very generous with her time. It was a big show. I can only imagine how much work went into it.

I wanted to blog about the creative process but, even though virtually no one reads this blog, I wanted to keep the secret about the dance routine. Clock of the World progressed well in Kaia rehearsals and in the one full-group session we had with Krista, so there wasn’t much to report there. But I wanted an outlet for my confusion over my clumsiness and dissociation with Breakdown.

The night of the show, I was nervous as I usually get when I’m on the meds—very little. Sound check was a little bumpy, since we only had one run-through on each piece and we had to stop for technical reasons mid-tune on both of them. So we never got a full run-through with either piece. I wasn’t worried about Clock but was very tense over Breakdown.

I watched the first part of the show, a performance by a former Cirque du Soleil artist. I made it through one suite of Krista’s before my nerves kicked in and I went backstage to run the dance another four thousand times. Lara came back and we ran it repeatedly, with me crying out that we hadn’t run one transition during sound check and how in the hell was I going to do it.

The performance itself went by in a flash, as so often happens. The band and Krista herself were both driving much harder than I’d expected. I tried to put in extra oomph. I knew I made a mistake on the dance but didn’t feel so bad because I thought Krista had, too.

Clock of the World was very well received by the audience but was a bit of a technical mess. The monitor situation was not good and I could hear how Angela’s gorgeous opening solo was not synched with Krista’s gorgeous piano. We eventually did synch up but then hit a major snafu when someone jumped an entrance. There was about a half-second delay while the sistahs all adjusted in their own fashion and we eventually pulled it all back together. This is the joy of doing live performance—you never know what’s going to happen so you have to be able to react very quickly and stay on your toes. No coasting.

A few weeks later I got the DVD from CATS. I watched myself in horror. On Breakdown, I looked like some kind of zombie. I felt disconnected just watching myself. I felt like someone else had taken over my body and turned it into this grotesque, jerky thing that was totally out of synch with Lara and Krista. I didn’t smile, didn’t emote, didn’t shine.

Clock of the World wasn’t much better. I actually tried on that song to communicate some emotion, but my body remained still and my face communicated nothing.

I know most performers hate to watch themselves on playback but I’m not one of them. I usually am pleased with what I see, even while being hyper-critical of my performance overall. But in this case, the only word that applies is “horrified.” I look like a zombie. I look like not-me. I look like someone totally disconnected from the experience. And—worst thought of all—I think I am.

Due to my buffet of mental health issues, I’m on an interesting cocktail of meds, the central one being Xanax. It’s to manage my sometimes crippling anxiety. It smooths things out so my highs (such as they were) aren’t so high and my lows aren’t so low. Everything remains in this grey zone.

I’m more stable mentally than I’ve been in over a decade. I’m able to function on a daily basis with regularity. But who knew the price I would pay?

I’m convinced that the meds have slowly but surely eroded my creative self. The loss of my creative abilities has been slow but steady, to the point now where I have a hard time just memorizing lyrics. I can’t seem to hold onto anything—it all just slips away in the grey.

My shrink won’t change the cocktail because it’s stabilized me so much and she doesn’t want to mess with it now. Her philosophy is to keep the patient stable for a year before looking at changing the meds again. I feel that this essential part of myself has been torn from me—no, it’s more that it’s floated away from me. Away into the greyness, with tendrils whispering back towards me like a grey ghost’s shroud.

Once I saw the video, I was convinced. But, as chance would have it, I then ran across a video from 2007 when I was performing in the Blizzard at the BPP. Sure enough, there I was. Bright, present, aware, dynamic. Hard evidence that something has drastically changed.

I decided to push myself and see if I could make some of the old magic come back. At two Kaia gigs I pushed energy outward from my torso into my extremities, trying to use my arms and legs to communicate the rhythm and meaning of the songs. I could keep it up for a little while, but then would lapse back into grey. It takes an inordinate amount of concentration to keep the energy up.

The whole thing has distressed me considerably, of course. Apart from the impact on my creative outlets, it also impacts my creative work in my job. That’s not something I want to go into here but it’s been a concern.

The meds have made me into a stable person. If I’d been born with stable chemistry, would I be creative at all? Am I now who I’m supposed to be? Because that person ain’t much fun. And she certainly ain’t having too much fun.

The whole role of the meds in my life makes me question my identity on a fundamental level. If we changed the chemical cocktail, would I become a different person? What if I were a different person for each recipe? If that’s the case, who am I really?

I don’t see any easy answers. I don’t see any answers at all, just suppositions in the grey. I wish I could get my self back but without the craziness. I know there’s a stereotype of the tortured artist, but I think it’s B.S. I don’t think it’s necessary to be mentally ill in order to create. On the contrary, mental illness can cripple creativity—permanently. Is there a way to be me, with full access to my creative gifts and skills, and be well? Perhaps that’s a question for my psychiatrist. I have no answers here in the valley of the grey.

Memorizing Krista

September 3, 2010

Kaia will be performing at Krista Detor‘s CD release party on Saturday, 11 Sept at the Bus-Chum. We’ll be doing some choral and individual work on Krista’s gorgeous Clock of the World piece.

And then there’s the other piece. The piece that just Lara and I are singing on—Middle of a Breakdown. “And I need a cuppa coffee and a cigarette” is going through my mind constantly. Unfortunately, the rest of the chorus doesn’t. It’s taking me forever to memorize my lines. And tomorrow we add…dance moves! Let’s hope it’s a simple case of jazz hands.

But, really, folks, I think these meds I’m on are messin’ with ma brain. I’ve noticed it in Kaia, that it’s harder to memorize things. And it’s certainly cut down on my creativity in all areas of life, including work.

I tell this to my shrink each time I see her and she dutifully notes it in her log and changes nothing else.

I have a proposal in for a gig that, if I get it, will take up every spare minute of September. September, the month of Lotus. September, the month of my business’ anniversary. September, the month during which I’m taking an intensive teleclass. Wheee! It’s a good thing I’m desperate for cash, otherwise my life would be dead boring.

And I need a cuppa coffee and a cigarette…

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.

WFHB update

June 10, 2009

Kevin MacDowell and I will be debuting my original song Redbird on WFHB on Thursday night (11 June) between 9:30 & 10pm.

The show is Womenspace and it runs from 9 – 11. The show will feature live, in-studio performances from:

Krista Detor
Bobbie Lancaster
Curtis Cantwell Jackson
Jaime Sweaney
…and more 

You can tune in at 91.3 or 98.1 FM or listen online through the magic of the Internet. You’ll definitely want to stick around and hear the other talent!

Way excited!! Thank you, Carolyn VandeWiele for the promo! The show is to help promote the upcoming Rock the Shops event on 26 June at Wandering Turtle Art Gallery. Sponsored in part by the City of Bloomington, Rock the Shops encourages residents to shop downtown and support local business. Kaia will be performing at Wandering Turtle along with a boatload of others to help support the cause!

Please have a listen tomorrow night and then come out on the 26th! (For more info on the gig on the 26th, see Kaia’s site.)

Deadbird debuts!

June 7, 2009

Hey, Kevin and I will be debuting Deadbird this Thursday (11 June) on WFHB’s Womenspace. We’ll be joining a bunch of other artists in the studio, including Krista Detor and others you’ve heard of but I have no confirmed list yet.

The show starts at 9. We’ll be on sometime between 9:30 and 10 and just do the one tune. You can tune in at 91.3 or 98.1 FM or listen online through the magic of the Internet. You’ll definitely want to stick around and hear the other talent!

Way excited!! Thank you, Carolyn VandeWiele for the promo!

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)

Songs for May Day

April 5, 2009

Krista Detor is hosting a Beltain bash at her posh estate in the Hamptons. Er, make that “backwoods Bloomington.” I offered to help and, lo and behold, she’s asked me to put together a small band of wandering minstrels who periodically burst into song (just like in Monty Python & The Holy Grail!).

Plus we’ll sing a small set onstage and (hopefully) sing as the May Queens are crowned.

I sent out the call immediately, hoping to get a mix of Kaia and non-Kaia, but only heard yeses from two of my Kaiasistahs! (Thank you, Amy and Tristra!) So I am now frantically trying to find music that will be suitable. Here’s a shortlist, but I’m still doing research:

Lovely Joan
Fise Faise Fo
Hin Hin Haradala
Bando Ribinean
In The Gloaming
Shule Agra
The Farmer (by Wicked Tinkers)
Maids, When You’re Young, Never Wed An Old Man
Lullay, My Liking
The Young May Moon
May Day Carol
Hey, Ho To The Greenwood
Travelers’ Prayer (Susanna & Georgia Rose)
A Czech round that I changed the lyrics to
I Will Give My Love An Apple (19th c. version)

I’m hoping to choose songs next week, so any suggestions in the meantime (fast!) are welcome! 🙂