I saw Reefer Madness, produced by the Gallery Players last week. I have been a major that show since I saw the movie on Showtime. I think the lyrics are astounding (they find a rhyme for transubstantiate!) It is sexy, witty and provides what I think is a remarkably accurate portrayal of American propaganda.

Though I think that they did an adequate job with the piece, nothing about it really wowed me. Many of the jokes I thought didn’t land well, and there was no real comic timing. At times they deviated from the movie choices, and times they kept in line with them, but in both cases, often it didn’t work. I thought many of the directing choices were sloppy. I had a lot of problems with the casting as well. The leads I thought didn’t quite do it for me, and didn’t quite do it for each other either. There was no chemistry. Most of the individuals of the chorus were very pretty and good dancers. But for me the dancing is not the most important element in this show. But even so, the songs that were supposed to be sexy just ended up being awkward.

This is not to say it was a wash. Some clever choices were made. I found myself laughing a lot – but it seemed to me that I was laughing far more at recalling how funny it was in the movie.


But I did see Harry Potter! Now THAT was good. 

 
I went to see “NEXT” at the Duplex last week. The company is run by a girl I went to school with – Alicia Krakauer. I was particularly interested in coming because another girl who I’ve directed before, Jess Mortellaro. They perform one show a month, each month featuring the work of a different musical theater writer/lyricist. This month featured the work of Adam Gown. He has had quite a bit of success so far in his career. His most recent work, Ordinary Days, made its NYC premiere with a sold-out run at Roundabout Theatre Company. Many of the songs from this evening came from that show, as well as a few others.

For the most part, I enjoyed many of the performers. There were a few who didn’t appeal to my own personal aesthetic, and a few others I thought just didn’t match their songs. I suppose that’s a little more forgivable since it is a cabaret setting. But I think I didn’t quite like the song as much for that reason. I did particularly enjoy the performances of Lizzie Klemperer and Helene Yorke.

In terms of the material, there were, like the performers, a few stand-out songs. I really loved Fine, and Gotta Get Out both from Ordinary Days. However, other than that, to be honest, I wasn’t particularly overwhelmed by the music. It had a bit of a Jason Robert Brown quality in the accompaniment, and some good wordsmithing. Can that be a verb? But sometimes it went a little too far and I became too focused on them, and not what they were trying to convey. Many of them didn’t seem to stand alone enough to be memorable. This is not to say they wouldn’t work in context, but unfortunately I don’t know what that context is. But he has got me interested enough in his music that I will be on the lookout for some more of his work.

Congratulations to Alicia (for both her work both on the stage and off) I hope I can see more of this cabaret series.

In other news, I had a great brainstorm with Zac. What I would call the first act of the first draft of our first piece is moving right along. Though it is by no means anywhere near finished, it is in a great place where there are still a lot of possibilities as to where the script can go. I look forward to his next draft. We are hoping to have an informal meeting in the beginning of 2011.

 
Greg asked me awhile ago to write a guest post for his blog, and of course I agreed right away.  But then life happened and weeks passed and although I started a few drafts, nothing was sticking, until the little checkbox on my To Do List turned into a Triangle/Exclamation Point Warning Sign, and he was sending me reminders, and suddenly it was Overdue and I was grasping at straws for what to write.  He told me it could be about anything (doesn't he know that limits are helpful??) but I still wanted it to be somehow relevant to him and his readers, while I've been in Album Mode of late with http://katiezaffrann.com/album the EP I'm releasing.  But then, but then... what could be more perfect?  I was reminded just how wonderfully helpful the collaborative outside director's eye can be.

Last night I had a rehearsal for http://kefproductions.com - Michael Pesce's Old Fashioned Piano Party (this Sunday at the Laurie Beechman Theatre!).  It was the first time in awhile that I've gotten to work on my material with a director, but it will not be the last (so help me God).  There is a reason the theater is a collaborative art.  

To wit: One must separate the actor's* mind from the character's mind.  It is easy to conflate the strong actor's strong sense of risk, challenge, or stretch, with the strong character's strong sense of risk, need, or drive... and they are two very different things.

I'm a hard worker.  I practice (singing) pretty much daily, and I'm always reaching for the next level of technique and vocal finesse.  My dance teacher in college, from whom I first really learned about harnessing the moving energy of the universe, used to talk about dancing on the edge of the turnout.  (For you non-dancers, we're getting technical here -- balletic turnout being "the basis on which all ballet movement follows" - thanks, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turnout_%28ballet%29 It was the safest place to be, he argued, because I would always be working toward turning out even more, and I would end up dancing on the expansive direction of the energy rather than gripping muscles at a certain "place".  

And so it is with singing, and acting, and basketball and everything else.  I took that idea and ran with it over the years, until I no longer trust that the easy is worthwhile, because I can't feel the edge.  I've learned that the riskiest place has the most payoff, especially for the audience.  But risky for whom exactly?  With all my time of late in the practice room and the recording studio I've gotten into some of those feels-so-good-eyes-closed-now-listen-to-THIS vocal gymnastics that smack as rather masturbatory in a theatrical setting.  Can I release and stretch into this new technique enough to make a "better" sound than I could yesterday?  Sure, that's a risk - for me.  But for the audience, who didn't hear me sing yesterday and probably can't tell the subtle difference between the two sounds anyway, who cares?

This all came up in rehearsal last night because we've been playing with changing the key of one of the songs I'm singing on Sunday.  There are two workable versions, and I've been singing the lower key (C) for years, so over the past few weeks I've been getting the higher one (a big old step to D, sparkling D, beautiful D) into my voice.  And it sounds lovely in the practice room, I don't mind telling you.  But then the director showed up, and we started prodding around into the story and the character and why am I even singing the darn thing (besides loving it as I love few other pieces, because that's about ME, isn't it, and now we are talking about the character), and suddenly this new edge of technique is out the window and pitches are everywhere and I'm in tears.  "I can't sing it... and SING it," I blubbered.  Guess I haven't grown into those size-D shoes just yet.

So we do it again, in C, and there it is.  It's fine, and better than fine.  It's not as sparkly, and I don't feel as edge-of-my-turnout, but the objective eyes (and ears) in the room tell me otherwise.  

A beautiful performance on the edge of a mountain is still the same performance if you move it back five feet to solid ground.  Just because <em>I</em> may feel more risk on the edge of the mountain - because there is a very real chance that I could fall and hurt myself - doesn't make it better.  In fact I am <em>freer </em>when I am certain I won't - can't - fall, and I can think about what I want to say and how I want to say it instead of Will that F# come out the way I want it to? 

And so I am grateful for directors, and objectivity, and the trust of the rehearsal room.  Living on the edge and taking risks and leaping to find my wings doesn't mean that every performance has to be the Next Big Challenge.  In fact, I will go so far as to say that if the actor is truly that stretched onstage, it does herself AND the audience a disservice.  They are not here to see if <em>I</em> win or not.  They are here to see if the character wins or not.  I may sing like a diva, but it ain't all about me.

*I considered saying "performer" here instead of "actor" - after all, the singing is half the equation.  But after writing this post I am comfortable - indeed, resolute - sticking with "actor".  When asked over the years what it is that I do, I have always said I'm an actor first... until lately, when I've started throwing in "actor/singer" or even sometimes just "singer" or "theater singer," depending upon the company.  But lest I forget again: the storytelling is the point, the acting is the point; the song is how we express it.

 
So I’m having a bit of a problem. I am looking to start to get my coaching business underway. I have flyers ready to go. (well almost… mom, I would like my flyers printed out for Christmas.) I’ve done research of other advertisers on playbill, craigslist, and a number of other theater sites. Now I have no idea about the success rates of these ads. I do know a number of these advertisers are very successful. But the question of “why” continues to ring in my mind. Obviously I look at their bios and they have some impressive credits to their name. Of course that is a draw. But - do people actually respond to the ad, or are they unsuccessful as well?

 

So I guess what I’m asking for is advice. As actors, what do you look for in a coach? What would draw you to an ad? …WHAT SHOULD I SAY? What would make you click? And for those of you who actually might be interested (I do hope some of you are) please check out my coaching page. Tell me what you think! I’m looking for massive amount of feedback here! A foot in the door.

 

I will say in brief that the biggest thing to set me apart is the fact that I am young and won’t be recycling ideas, the one-person show angle, as well as the fact that I’m dirt cheap! HELP!