Week One: The Basic Lessons

July 3, 2016

As of today, I will have been in a LA a full week! It seems impossible; simultaneously it's gone by so fast, and yet I feel I have already taken in so much. Here are a few highlights from the week!

Day One: "You're enough. You, right now." This is what Ann Baltz, head of OperaWorks, reminded us the first day. 

It seems a simple enough concept to remember, but in a field where we are put in constant competition, are critiqued down to the minutiae, told we need to do more or be more it's pretty natural to fall into a pattern of self-judgement fit for any therapist's couch. 

Ann told us the 31 of us were selected from about 300 auditions this season. Clearly, we got here for a reason. Something we had within us had made her choose us this year, and no matter how we sang that day,  or any given day for that matter, we were enough, as is. 

Her words reminded me of a yoga teacher I once had who cooed in her smooth, yoga-teacher voice, "If we all gave up what we should be, we would all be perfect." I remember tearing up on my mat. She was speaking broadly, but my mind immediately drifted towards my singing. Singing as a profession is so much about goals (What roles do I want to sing? Where do I want to sing? What competition should I do? etc...) that we often forget how hard we've worked, how much of an artist we already are. 

I am absolutely blown away by the talent surrounding me here, but also the personalities. No matter how talented, we all had similar goals to be a better artist, to take more risks, to get rid of fear or doubt or negative self-talk. I admire how honest and vulnerable all my colleagues are willing to be. It has already fostered an incredibly welcoming environment I feel free to experiment and play in without judgement. The first day left me feeling excited to take on my classes and explore myself as an artist. 

 

Day Two: "Are you Cognitive, Kinesthetic, Aural or Visual?"

Ann taught a lecture on the brain, and we talked about the types of learners: cognitive (thinking), kinesthetic (body/movement) , aural (hearing), visual (that's pretty self-explanatory). She asked us to consider the people in our lives and who they are, and more importantly who we are on this spectrum so that we can learn to work with other types of learners...But I felt I fit into all of them! I am a thinker and a planner, and knowing the inner workings of things definitely helps me, but, contrary to what most people in my life might say, I don't think I'm cognitive dominant. I think I severely restrict my kinesthetic learning--as a larger, nerdier, less graceful child I learned not to draw attention to myself in that way, so I often find myself watching an episode of SYTYCD and swaying slightly, feeling the urge of my limbs to move, but not allowing them go farther than an inch when with others. I do learn music and language better when someone plays it or sings it to me. I am a parrot, as they say, and can easily repeat something I've heard once or twice. But if I have a dominant sense, I suppose it would be visual. I can see and understand things quite quickly, and I can take mental snapshots of things. It's how I got through several classes in high school and college---don't tell anyone!---but I find that sometimes the "picture" method yields something unsustainable, as the picture fades through time and the facts are gone.  I do like to put things on paper (though, I prefer to write things out rather than type...is that kinesthetic???) So...I honestly think I'm a balance, if that's possible. I can learn many ways, and I think I learn best when I take it in from the many sides. Those lessons LAST for me (when I've seen it AND heard it AND thought about it, and maybe, if I let myself, move through it). An interesting observation for me to note as I move forward through this program and beyond. 

 

Day Three: #followthefear and Moving is good

Day three began with improv, by far one of the classes I was most afraid of. One of my greatest fears is feeling unprepared, and another one of my greatest fears is failing at things, so improv and I have not always gotten along. But in stepped the lovely and talented Laura! She told her motto was "Follow the Fear." Worry is what spirals us down into judgement, but fear can push us to grow. I tried to keep her words in mind as my heart raced to play the first few games and soon I felt my heart calm and I started to have fun with my colleagues. I have tried to keep her motto in mind every time I become apprehensive or nervous. I am choosing to follow my fear in the hopes of the greatest amount of growth during these four weeks. 

Day three was also our first day with movement. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but it certainly wasn't what happened  (in the best of ways!) In the middle of our first exercise, a sort of clowning method learning to work with the movement of each body part, as we giggled and struggled and jerked I thought to myself, "I forgot how to play a long time ago." It was a revelation, and perhaps a bit of a sad one, but I've felt most of my life like I was waiting to grow up or acted older in some way. I never "got childhood" for whatever reason and always felt like I was stuck in a younger body. However, allowing my body to move freely away from the judgements of others and myself, I suddenly remembered the joy of playing. I like it! 

 

Day Four: Moving in singing is even BETTER!

In our Performance Technique class I sang "Adieu, notre petite table," an old aria for me, and one I have long since removed from my audition package. I love it, but, if you don't know it, let's just say it gets a bit repetitive towards the end, and if often left me feeling stuck in stillness, staring out into space. (Yay, alliteration!) Ann used me almost as a puppet, moving me as I sang through and giving me three LOWER focal points (I often sing with a pretty high focus, so this was a lot more grounded for me and real). It was really interesting to note just how the subtlest of movements could make such an emotion impact. I was also amazed how even a big movement, like turning to the side, could still stay connected to an audience. One of my colleagues told me he never understood why people did this aria until that moment, and that felt very good and validating. (I knew I liked it for a reason!)

 

Day Five: You are the character, the character is you

I began with Acting on day five and was a little worried from what people had told me about the class. Everyone seemed to reflect that Zeffin could see in their souls and pinpoint who you were in a second. It was described as therapy by several of my peers, and being already at a heightened emotional state from being away from home, I expected to ball like a baby. While I definitely felt he "got" me, I did not cry. I didn't really have an extreme reaction at all, though the work was very helpful in digging into the often overdramatized Musetta in "Quando m'en vo."

We were asked first for adjectives that described ourselves, and then one thing people told us to change, but secretly we didn't want to change. For the latter I said stubborn. "What does that mean?" he asked. "Controlling, " I replied quickly. I think perhaps it is my frankness about myself that saved me from tears. (Perhaps I've cried many of the tears for myself out long ago) While I may be a shy person, I am an honest one and I realized that when people inquire about my personal life I will tell them all they ask without withholding information. It's not in my nature. What I didn't realize is how easily I can bring my own personality traits into the characters I play. In fact, Zeffin told us it is much more interesting and genuine to have you play you. What would push me to stand up in a restaurant and make a scene like the bold Musetta? The answer makes my performance more real, genuine and nuanced, and suddenly a lot more characters seem within reach to me. 

 

These are just a few select moments from each day! I have 6 classes per day, so there was a lot to choose from! It's already been a worthwhile experience, and I get three more weeks!!! :D This week we should be finding out our characters and location of our concocted opera! I am very excited to dive in more! 

XOXO

-Hillary

 

 

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