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Ziggy learns guitar

Fear and Loathing (and Love)

This was going to be a letter to a pen pal, but the ideas got away from me as they sometimes do. So here is a musing in two parts, written before and after an audition this evening.

This letter finds me on a B train leaving Brooklyn, bound for an audition for a "folk musical" going up at the fringe this summer. I haven't auditioned for a musical in close to a decade, and I have never accompanied myself on guitar, or even played guitar in front of strangers before. I just started learning (read: teaching myself) guitar five months ago. I have not had a voice lesson in  years. I'm not quite sure what got into my head with this opportunity, or what on earth led these people to give me an appointment while in the meantime I've been ignored by a dozen outdoor Shakespeare productions to which I would be far more well-suited. (There's only YEARS of stage combat and experience improvising in Elizabethan language OUTSIDE, oh ALL DAY on my resume. I digress.) But the opportunity presented itself, and now the hour that was once two weeks away is minutes away instead. 

 
This face sums up how I felt before the audition, although I think I'm hiding the slight sense of nausea quite well. (A good haircut works wonders.)

This face sums up how I felt before the audition, although I think I'm hiding the slight sense of nausea quite well. (A good haircut works wonders.)

 

I guess I try to challenge myself to do scary things. For a while that was going to any audition, period, because I felt so out of practice. Now I've been to a few, and I've gotten some audition-free work that always boosts my confidence, so auditions don't seem like such a big deal. But this one, tonight, is a silly and terrifying endeavor. I'm excited to do something new and very far outside my comfort zone, and trying to focus on the positive growth this will engender rather than how utterly unqualified I feel for the gig. Honestly what I'm most excited to bring into the room is my rocker vibe, which gives me far more aesthetic confidence than I ever feel emotionally. But hey, the outside-in method works for my acting, so why not for my life?

It's funny how rock music and rock style have a carefully cultivated ease about them. Jam bands, like Zeppelin and the Dead, can play such tightly-rehearsed, intricate pieces and then let the middle of that become a long improvisation that comes out of a deep knowledge of music, an innate sense of rhythm and tempo, and a willingness to trust and at times follow their fellow musicians. That same mentality of focus and release is echoed in the clothes of the culture - an eye on aesthetic, but ultimately a prevailing sense of "I just threw this on because it's comfortable and I like it and fuck you." Or at least that's what I go for. Of course it's never that simple, but I've reached a point where I can throw on any combination of most of the clothes I own and still achieve the same general attitude. 

I'm quite proud of the look and accompanying attitude I've cultivated for myself over the years.  In the business of theatre you are constantly marketing yourself, and while everyone is "unique" and their own little snowflake, none of that matters if you suppress it all in the the audition room in hopes of fitting some mold you think in your mind the director wants. No. You want *me* in all my rock n roll weirdness, coolness, nerdy-ness. (Yes I have tattoos but one of them is dedicated to a children's book series I've loved since I was eight.)

I'm out of the audition now. The director had me do the monologue directly to her (and the three others in the room). It was way more fun that way. And then I played the song I'd practiced on the little toy guitar they had if you, like me, didn't want to schlep a guitar without a backpack case from Brooklyn to Columbia. The song went surprisingly well, for never having touched that guitar before and in spite of my insane nerves about playing at an audition in the first place. 

I was thinking, before I went into the room, about how massive the wall of anxiety is that I put between myself and that room. I kept reminding myself all I was doing was saying some words for a minute, living somebody else's life, and then I was going to play like 30 seconds of a song I know by heart and have been practicing for weeks. That's nothing. But the longer I sat outside the door, the more it built up in my head as a big moment, as if this were a make-or-break opportunity. Would doing the show be fun, and good experience, good exposure, and make me a little money? Sure. Absolutely. But would this one audition destroy all future performance prospects if I blew it? Of course not. So I reminded myself that the beauty of auditions is that the risk of an audition is always so much lower than the reward. Didn't nail it? Okay, go to another one tomorrow. You still have the monologue or the song ready to go. You didn't spend them; they're not "used up." Got the callback? Great! Got the show? Good for you! 

Once I got through that whole train of thought (they were running late and then took a break as soon as I got there, so I had quite a bit of time to think about all this), I wasn't so stressed. The audition would be what it would be. I had put in the work, and the work would support me. (That's one of those annoying things acting books and teachers always tell you but you never really believe until it just clicks one day, apparently four years after graduation.) I said my words; I played my song. Bonus points, the "redhead" I talked about in my monologue was present in the room (well, *a* redhead, is what I mean), and the director liked my song choice (yay) and, as I walked out, called after me, "I love your tattoo!" which is definitely a good sign since I can't do anything about it if ya don't like it (and I wouldn't want to). 

So now I wait. I think they're having callbacks Friday, for which I am completely unavailable between work and rehearsal, and I had to say so when they asked, but it was incredibly gratifying to say I had rehearsal. Oh, this is the life of a working actor. Right. 

I really liked the vibe of the directing team, and I would love to work with them and I'd love to play guitar in a show for real. I have loved learning guitar, and I would love to expand my abilities and talents and resume (and rock persona). But if that doesn't happen, it's okay. Tonight was exactly what I wanted it to be - a chance to do something "scary" and beyond my comfort zone and maybe my abilities but that I was going to do anyway. If I could do that, I can certainly walk into a room and just to a regular old monologue no problem. 

So hey, reader. Take a risk. Do something scary. Do something you don't think you're ready for, or that you "can't" do. There is nothing better than surprising yourself. 

 
A fortuitous draw for card of the day. Opportunity is knocking, will you answer?

A fortuitous draw for card of the day. Opportunity is knocking, will you answer?

 

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Ziggy Learns Guitar

Shoutout to my roommate Kaitlin for taking this picture when I wasn't looking, sometime in my first week of practice.

Shoutout to my roommate Kaitlin for taking this picture when I wasn't looking, sometime in my first week of practice.

A month ago Jonas, the great blizzard of 2016 that pummeled the east coast with several feet of snow, kept me home for a day. As previously chronicled here, I picked up a guitar for the first time then, thanks to a little help from my roommate. Four weeks later, I've continued playing every day, and progressed from strumming each required chord once as I clumsily move my fingers through the progressions, to playing something resembling a proper strumming pattern, moving through many chord changes with ease. In the last week or so, I've started tackling barre chords, which finally opens up... well, all of music. (I spent the first couple weeks proudly posting videos of my progress to facebook, admitting that I was skipping an occasional chord and singing a cappella over it.) Funny how "Space Oddity" is a lot more satisfying to play when you aren't skipping four chords all the time.

As I mentioned in that post about learning Hebrew and guitar, a Ravenclaw heart beats strong in me, its eagle wings fluttering at the opportunity to learn new things. I'm absolutely a studious nerd at heart. As a straight-A student through high school, who graduated with honors from NYU, one of the things I've found hardest about transitioning to adult life (still, almost four years out of school) is the lack of benchmarks for progress. No one returns your paid bill to you with an A on it. I don't work at any of the kinds of jobs that give year-end reviews; I have only my own assessments to determine how well I'm doing at being a grown-up. I love learning and I love feeling accomplished, both less-obviously available outside of the structure of school or a traditional career.

All this is a lead up to say - I have loved learning guitar (and Hebrew), not just because it's exhilarating to be able to play for myself the music I so deeply love, but it's thrilling to film my progress and realize, "wow, I couldn't play that chord a week ago," or, "the progression between those chords has gotten a lot smoother than last time." It's something I can see and hear, concretely. I couldn't do this before, and now I can. It is often pointed out that theatrical disciplines seem to be the one area where people thing "okay, I've gone to school, I learned it all, that's it." Musicians practice daily, athletes train constantly, dancers are in class forever. So why do actors, directors, designers seem to think they can be "done"?

When I went to Berlin last fall, I visited Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, to see a production of The Good Person of Szechuan. At the ticket window, the woman asked me if I was a student. I said "no, not anymore. But I went to theatre school, so kind of always?" She told me that was what she thought (why else would an English-speaker come see a three hour play in German?) and she gave me the student price anyway. Though my formal schooling is over, I see myself as a perpetual student, in life and of life. I realized while I was in Israel that I couldn't remember the last time I traveled somewhere and didn't spend 90% of the trip learning and researching as much as possible rather than just relaxing like (I think) "normal people" do. Even the summer trip I'm planning with my best friend includes several days in Berlin specifically so I can do more on-location research for my ever-lengthening play, rather than explore a new city (though there will be plenty of that, too).

I haven't taken an acting class since I graduated from Tisch, though I have taken every stage combat class I could get my hands on. Physical acting tends to help me, a very intellectual person, get out of my head and into my body so that I don't overthink so much, so in some ways, stage combat classes have been the best acting training I could have as an adult. And guitar has been a satisfying new outlet for my creative leanings and my desire for new skills. It's a little dangerous, in that some nights I come home from work, forget to eat dinner, and play guitar for three hours, but it's exciting to have that renewed passion for learning something new. I think that's a healthy thing everybody should do. at any age. Stay tuned for a new song video, soon to come!

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Jonas Killed my Netflix

This past week, I did something crazy, for the 21st century. I didn't watch Netflix, for an entire week. I binged on the first half of Jessica Jones during the snowstorm, and finally started watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia before bed, but then I stopped.

Most of my Netflix watching happens while I'm doing something else - cleaning, cooking, going to bed. I tend to opt for the familiar background noise jokes of Parks and Rec over watching something new that I'll actually sit down and pay attention to. And yet, I manage to waste so much time browsing through the endless options in the streaming library before resigning myself to a comedy special I've probably already watched once that week. Or I get up in the morning and say, "It's only nine, I can chill for an hour and start being productive at ten." But then by ten, my roommates are awake and have joined me in shouting all our favorite lines, and then suddenly it's noon and I have to rush to shower and eat something before leaving for work, without having done anything productive that morning.

The great, somewhat-accidental disruptor to that unproductive routine was my decision to learn Hebrew, and my friend's generous choice to send me the Rosetta Stone program to learn it. I love learning languages and got hooked on Rosetta Stone immediately. Now it's the first thing I do when I reach for my computer in the morning and the last thing I do before I go to sleep. I stopped putting Netflix on to fall asleep to, so that I could allow the Hebrew to sink into my brain and keep working while I slept. (This paid off - a couple nights ago I actually had a dream that I was using Rosetta Stone and was literally learning Hebrew in my sleep.)

In addition to Hebrew, during last Sunday's snowstorm one of my roommates started teaching me the basics of guitar. I've wanted to learn for years, and a day with nowhere to go and no way to get there anyway was the perfect opportunity. I started by learning five basic chords, and by the very next day started looking up guitar tabs to start learning songs. 

A week later, I've studied Hebrew and practiced guitar every single day, but not watched Netflix once. I've worked on this website; I've submitted my play to a few development opportunities; I've cleaned the apartment - and that's all in my free time, outside of work. It's remarkable how many hours there are in a day when your time isn't eaten up in twenty-two minute blocks that somehow become three hours when you aren't looking. A week later, I've finished two Hebrew units (four sections each, comprising approximately 35 lessons apiece), and my guitar playing, while far from perfect, is flexible enough now to afford me the ability to play a range of songs. 

I haven't given up Netflix for good, but this week of cold turkey put into perspective how much time I let myself lose to watching John Mulaney comedy specials in the last few months. Jonas killed my Netflix usage for a while, but he kindled a fire in my Ravenclaw heart, sparking again my love for study and learning. He trapped me inside my apartment, but let me grow in knowledge and skills, reminding me of my aspirations to always be a smarter and more versatile artist than I was yesterday.

This  beautiful lady doesn't belong to me, but I haven't been able to put her down since my roommate let me pick her up a week ago.

This  beautiful lady doesn't belong to me, but I haven't been able to put her down since my roommate let me pick her up a week ago.

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