30 November, 2010

genius: (n.) a man of endless invention

Tonight I slipped into seat 18 row AA in the balcony at the Skirball Center on NYU's campus and eavesdropped on a conversation between two of the most important voices in musical theatre. Tony Kushner, perhaps best known for Angels in America and Caroline or Change played the role of journalist to Stephen Sondheim's (West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Gypsy, Company, etc) gracious legend.

The following are a collection of quotes from the evening. I only wish I brought a tape recorder.

When asked his thoughts regarding the connection between himself and his characters Sondheim said "When people think you are your work you become a cliche."
Speaking of his characters: "They are creatures that have nothing and everything to do with me."

Sondheim pointed out that the greats of the generation before him (Porter, Hart) revealed themselves through their music. It wasn't until after Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! that lyricists were required to write music based on a story.

Regarding show material: "It's never occurred to me to write about a subject. I write about a story."

In discussing West Side Story Sondheim said that he and Jerome Robbins discussed the feeling and intensity needed for Anita's song and then "I just went home and wrote it."(By "it" he meant "A Boy Like That.")

Regarding "Rose's Turn" from Gypsy Sondheim in a fascinating turn discussed Jerry Robbins' initial concept for a ballet. Rose was to relive all the hardships of the past and struggles throughout the show up until that point. But, in large part decided by the talents of their leading lady, Sondheim and Robbins decided to pen "Rose's Turn" instead. Sondheim described to the audience Ethel Merman's response (complete with an impression of the diva): "Sounds more like an aria than a song!" He went on to say of Merman his inner monologue at the time: "She has no idea what she's doing and does it great."

Sondheim defines genius as "a man of endless invention" and gives that title to only one man he's known in his life: Jerry Robbins. Sondheim discussed the "games parties" he used to host. (Can you imagine?) He said that Robbins would invent games on the spot. One such game involved the party goers sitting in a circle and Robbins making sounds behind them (the click of a lighter or an umbrella opening) and guests would try to identify the noise. "Jerry was listening to things we heard but never noticed." Genius.

In a hilarious recount of the 80th birthday special Kushner compared Mr. Sondheim to Christ "complete with an ascension." (Kushner's sense of humor and low-key demeanor strikingly reminded me of an older Michael Cera.) Sondheim said "but Christ didn't openly sob in public."

Regarding his modesty Sondheim said "I know how good I am and I know what my flaws are."

When asked whether he goes where the music takes him or has an end goal with each song Sondheim said "a lyric is such a short form that you better know where you're going."

"Rhyme helps to prevent you from being trivial...It's about focus."
"Lyrics have to convey on first hearing what is going on."
"Lyrics must be surprising but not so dense they can't follow it."

Kushner then discussed Merrily We Roll Along and the role of politics in Sondheim's work. When asked whether he was optimistic about the future Sondheim said "I do believe in the goodness of man but I don't know that good always triumphs. But goodness does."

Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts then joined the conversation and asked Sondheim about his role as teacher. He noted that in Sondheim's new book Finishing the Hat he had a very pedagogical tone. "My life has been saved through teachers. It is the sacred profession." "Art is a form of teaching. That's why I'm so pleased to be an artist."

Sondheim proved further inspiring as he went on: "Art is conveying something about humanity...it [should] enlighten." Kushner expressed that in his view art is not necessarily teaching. Sometimes it is meant to "confuse them," he said in a joking tone.

The final topic asked of Sondheim to discuss was his view on critics--a timely topic given the painful reviews hurled at Spider-man after its first preview last night. "Critics have a stewardship to this vulnerable art form. It's not just about being honest about your opinion but knowing your role in the art form." Sondheim pointed out that without the luxury of advertising dollars critics have the power to see a show sink or swim. He expressed his delight that critics can't kill a book (speaking of Finishing the Hat) but they certainly have killed plays.

At the conclusion of the discussion the Public announced that Alec Baldwin will be hosting the next Public Forum on Tuesday December 14 entitled "Afghanistan After America".

20 November, 2010

some different things I've been thinking about this week...in no particular order.

-A positive mindset is so important.

-When I meet someone extremely immature or reckless in New York it boggles my mind as to how they get by. You really can’t be a child flailing through this city and survive. You just can’t.

-Speaking of children—I’m making a pact to myself to stop dating them. (*I mean “children” in the figurative sense)

-The “best” art is that which highlights the human spirit…that characteristic that is in each of us, across the board no matter our opinions, gender, religion, sexual preference or race. That moment of astonished resonation in which you say “What? You too?!” One common theme I notice in art I like is this: Pursuing dreams is important. And I think we all have this pang within us to achieve goals. But more basic, more foundational is the need for love and relationships with others. We need community. We need to need and be needed.

-New York really does attract a certain kind of person. There’s something fearless about a New Yorker. But something sort of masochistic as well….

-I’m reminded through my work here that I don’t ever want a job where I deal directly with the raising of money or selling a product. These are not things I enjoy. They take the air out of my tires, the wind out of my sails if you will.

-Is there a chartable change that happens within friendships when you hit 25? Some of my oldest/closest friends have disappeared on me lately and I wonder what has changed that was the same a year or two ago…it’s not like we were in college then…but maybe people are more over their college memories by now? Do some of us live in the past for those first few years after college and then we get to a point where we just move on?

-I am fascinated by the implications of social networking. I can’t help but wonder how it has and is affecting us as a society. This fascinates me so much I may study it in graduate school.

-I have felt so spoiled getting to see (on average) 2 Broadway shows every week (usually) for free. The word “delight” comes to mind.

-I feel inspired to write. I saw a play reading on Friday about writers and I just feel inspired to write. I felt inspired before that too. I don’t have a specifically magical idea but I think that whole concept of sitting down at your desk until words come…I think there’s major truth in that. I like to write essays…I’ve written some monologues, lots of lyrics, some songs, and blogs (clearly) but I kind of want to write a story or a play. Hmm. Perhaps I’ll pencil in some sitting at my desk time (the figurative desk).

-Also, I’m reading Freya Stark’s biography and it’s deliciously written and so intriguing. It’s about this British girl who ended up being a travel writer in the Middle East in the early 20th century. Kind of unheard of right? Well a person who does that with her life has a unique set of circumstances that sets her up for doing such interesting work. I’m still only at the beginning of her life in the book but she has already gone through sorrowful heartbreak (her fiancé marries someone else) and a painful separation of her parents. In addition she has a passion for reading and writing from her earliest days and by the age of 25 she is fluent in 5 languages. I haven’t even gotten to the part where she goes to the Middle East! But I did underline a beautiful passage Freya wrote (I’m assuming after the aforementioned heartbreak):

“No crime short of murder can be comparable to the crime of destroying in another the capacity to love: and this happens sometimes through the rashness of parents, or the sight of misery in adolescence, but more often through some bitterness of experience when youth is defenseless…and wounds leave a scar difficult to heal.”

That’s all for now. There’s a glimpse into how many different random thoughts I have swirling through my mind at any given moment…oh also,


14 November, 2010

As they say...wah wahhhhh.

What a learning experience.

The first Broadway show I'm working on (as a street team and TKTS booth promoter) is ending its run a month early.

I've been bummed when other Bway shows have closed but they haven't exactly hit this close to home.

So if you hear about any work 'round here hollar! Thaaaanks!

08 November, 2010

I think a lot of actors are awful human beings. But...this nonetheless rings true...

"I think that perhaps the people who call us neurotic or vain or exhibitionistic are unaware how many talented actors are that way only because they are without work opportunities, and therefore release their need for expression in alcohol or unreasonable behavior--or perhaps these people are jealous that when we do function we can do what they only dream of doing."

-Uta Hagen Resepct for Acting

05 November, 2010

NYC...looking back. 3 weeks in. Season 2. (Still too much to cover to really get very detailed...)

"Being in NYC gives you your swagger back." -Pink

I couldn't have said it better myself.

3 weeks ago today I returned to the City that had been my dearest friend and worst enemy, a city that in the past has disgusted me, intimidated me, inspired me, mocked me, and made me feel like I could conquer anything.

As some of you know I left last time because I just couldn’t do it anymore. Literally. I was out of money and I had no decent housing options. One night I was folding shirts and I had this epiphany that I foresaw no certain end to my life of folding shirts. As an auditioning actress I couldn’t predict when daily routines of mindless monotony would end. I had to get out. Simultaneously I was going through the pains of a broken heart. New York was suffocating me and I needed a change. So I left. That was 1 year and 3 months ago.

Since then I lived with my Grandma, dyed my hair dark, began dating around (for the first time in 4 years), moved back to Nashville, out of Nashville, worked at that store some more, moved to VA, secured a consistent freelance writing job, performed for 4 ½ months professionally (euphoria), began writing music again, met some of my now dearest friends, spent 2 glorious weeks exploring Europe with my only sister, and led music for a small rural congregation for a month.
(And trust—this summary only covers some of it.)

Now I’m back. The time is right. I can financially afford to be here, I have a happy living situation with a friend, and I’m having a dramatically different experience. I am interning in the marketing department in a Broadway/Off-Broadway producer’s office (Fun fact: I’ve had Ken’s blog as a link on my blog for years. (Who I once admired from afar I now work for!) I’m learning tons about the business. I’m also learning a lot about what I like to do, what I have to offer and what work I find fulfilling.

Beyond that I have had the pleasure of seeing a number of plays and musicals: Memphis, A Life in the Theatre, Miss Abigail’s Guide to Dating, Mating, & Marriage, Freckleface Strawbery, Wicked, & Macbeth. And 4 of the 6 I got to see for free! Not too shabby…

In addition to that I’ve gotten to reconnect with a great deal of friends, make a few new ones, go to a concert, spot Laura Linney on the street, smile at T.R. Knight in the green room at the Schoenfeld Theatre, eat way too much Chipotle and read 2 books.

New York never stops and I’d never wish for it to…Now that I’ve lived here and lived other places I recognize that if you’re right for NYC nowhere else really satisfies. You kind of forget that when you’re gone…but then you come back and you find your swagger again. And you can’t believe you ever wanted to be anywhere else.