Monday, December 16, 2013

What She Does

Before the recent televised broadcast of The Sound of Music goes completely out of our heads, I have to drop in with my comments. Luckily for all of you, I was teaching that evening, so I was only able to watch a portion of the broadcast. That should make this post short.

First of all, aren't you thrilled that so many people watched this production? See, Americans DO love quality music and theatre. Give us more!

Didn't it feel great to be watching it simultaneously? I miss that in our modern life. Used to be the show was on once and everyone sat down to watch it. No taping, no watching it on the Internet, no buying it on Netflix. There was something wonderful knowing that everyone else was taking in the same broadcast at the same time.

I'm not here to discuss Carrie Underwood's performance. I give her credit. She was out on a limb, a teeny tiny limb and we were all standing underneath her, chattering away like a bunch of hungry squirrels. People (or should I say squirrels) who live in glass houses.....

Here's what I want to discuss:

I find it fascinating that the vast majority of people are raving about Audra McDonald's singing. Not because I didn't think she sang well (full disclosure: I didn't get to experience her “Climb Ev'ry Mountain” until a few days after the actual broadcast and that was on a YouTube clip). I adore Audra McDonald. She does everything I believe in as a singer and as an artist. So, why do I find her rave reviews fascinating?

Because Audra does everything that is out of style these days. Audra doesn't belt; Audra sings in an extremely classical vocal style. Also, Audra knows (or appears to know) the true essence of whatever she is performing. She seems to know the material in front of her, both the words and the music, inside and out, upside and down.

When people come to me for a voice lesson, I am rarely asked to help them sing like Audra. Usually they want help learning how to belt. As for really knowing the texts? People freak out when I suggest that they read the words away from the music. “Oh, that's so hard. I can't do that.”

Yeah, well, that would be one of the differences between Audra and you.

You know why we adore Audra? Audra is authentic. Audra is true to Audra. She appears to know what she is good at and that is what she does.

She reminds me of the little kid on the floor with a box of 36 crayons and a piece of blank paper. There are other kids in the room with 300 crayons and 5 sheets of paper, but they aren't doing what Audra is doing. She might not have the most crayons, but she's down there using every single one of those 36 crayons, creating that masterpiece. Tongue sticking out of her mouth, curls falling into her face, she's focused on knowing what is at the bottom of that piece of art.

Authentic, creating a masterpiece, knowing the work inside and out, upside and down.

Can we say that about your work?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

You Need To Know This: Be Flexible

The next installment in the You Need To Know This series has been chosen by Nate Golden ( If you live in Philadelphia, you can see Nate this holiday season all over town, either as Fred/Young Scrooge in the Walnut St. Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol, or on the gigundo video wall at the Comcast Center as part of the Holiday Spectacular. I saw last year's version with Jiu-Jian Kenn and it was fun, more fun than I expected!

I've worked with Nate as a performer and I've worked with Nate as a student. Of course he's talented, but more than that, he is smart about his career and he has a work ethic that doesn't quit. Nate has chosen:

Be Flexible

Some years back, I attended a wedding shower for my dear friends Jean and Bob. Instead of playing those silly Guess the Spices and Wear Bows on Your Head games, the hostess asked every person in the room to spontaneously give Jean and Bob one piece of advice to take into their marriage. I always get nervous at moments like this. Will I say the right thing? Will I say the best thing? What if my advice sounds silly? I'm sure it will sound silly. Can't I think about it and get back to you?

Spontaneously I blurted out, “be flexible”.

And as I'm writing this, on a rainy November day all these years later, I recognize that the seed for this post was planted that day.

Be flexible. Yes. That was the best advice I could give to two wonderful humans who also happen to be talented and creative. And it is still some of the best advice I can give.

What? Be flexible? Wait, Heidi, you've been telling us to get out act together, to have a plan and patiently persist.

You're right. I have some explaining to do before one of you catches me in my internet web of lies and deceit. Let's talk about that plan. If you followed my advice, that plan has now been in your life for some time. And if you haven't recently, now, yes NOW, would be a good time to pull it out of the file and take a look. Go ahead. I'll wait.

What'd you find? Let me guess. Some “Oh yay, I did that!”. Some “Oh no, not THAT one.”. Some “Well, that one didn't happen because.....” and there you go. Life presented some unexpected happening and threw your plan off. The unexpected happening wasn't necessarily negative, in fact, there is a good chance it was positive. What's important right now is to recognize that it threw off DA PLAN.

Congratulations. You were flexible. Something changed and you went with it. Go have a cookie. Then come back.

Because now we have to talk about how you handled that change. Did it freak you out, even though it was something you always wanted? Yup, change is a tough one. But you better get used to it, because a Creatavita is nothing but a whole lotta change.

Look, living a Creatavita is atypical. The path curves, straightens, drops precipitously into a valley and in an instant, rapidly ascends. A non-flexible approach guarantees the simultaneous convergence of a severe case of whiplash and the Bends. Both can lead to pain and in severe cases, death. Death of your soul. Yuck.

When you allow a flexible approach to take over, there's a good chance, that without even being aware, you'll stay more open to the world around you. Staying open is tough, but that's when the living really starts. You meet new people, you consider other possibilities, you experience a different vision of your life. Words like “I hadn't thought of that before” start to fall out of your mouth. Confidence wells up from deep inside of you as you allow yourself to accept or NOT accept opportunities. Phrases such as “Me? Do that? You're crazy!” are replaced with phrases such as “Wow. I never thought of myself doing that. Thanks for that perspective.”

How to cultivate flexibility? Well, start with those around you. We all need a little space now and then. Start by being more generous to the people in your life. They don't make it easy, I know, but seek out those moments when your flexibility works in the best interests of everyone. Isn't that what is called a win-win situation? Yeah, be a champion of the win-win situations. Don't worry, you'll find them.

Be flexible with your creativity. We get so wrapped up in wanting to be recognized as a great fill-in-the-blank that we often lose the very seeds of what attracted us to being creative in the first place. Step back from your art form and try a different one. Go see a performance of some art form that is completely foreign to you. Allow other creative forms and people to inform your work.  Trust your collaborators; try their ideas, even if it seems completely wacky.  You can always to return to what you were doing before.

And above all, be flexible with yourself. We can be so hard on ourselves, can't we? All because we want those dreams to come true. Yet we need to practice recognizing the unexpected opportunities that appear in our lives, because they just might be the ones we really should be embracing.

This is also a good time for me to plant this next little seed because I just know this topic is going to come up here at Creatavita. Being flexible with yourself is one thing. But flexibility when you're in a relationship? That's a whole new ballgame with a whole new field and a whole new set of rules. What can I say? Ask on the first date, “hey, are you flexible?” Good chance that'll get misconstrued, isn't there?

Here's what I can say. Live with the intention that you are going to be as honest and open as possible, not only with those around you, but also with yourself. Recognize that life is not about controlling people and circumstances; rather, it is about surrounding yourself with the circumstances and people who help you thrive, as a person and as an artist. That is what is really important.

That's it, friends. Live well. Keep breathing. Be flexible.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Long-Term Benefits of Music Lessons -

Another study recognizing the long-term benefits of music education.  As our world becomes more and more tech-obsessed, recognizing the value of music education is getting lost.  Here's yet another study which highlights the value of music education, years after the actual work has taken place.

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for paying for all of those piano lessons.  Thank you, Ripon (Wisconsin) and Lomira (Wisconsin) for supporting quality music education programs in your public schools.

Long-Term Benefits of Music Lessons -

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Thursday, October 31, 2013


Holy falling leaves, Batman.  How did it get to be the end of October?  I've been working on this post for you since early in the month, but rehearsing and performing Tom Wilson Weinberg's Sunrise At Hyde Park took me away.  September, however, was the month of networking. 

Networking rarely feels like work to me. That's because I'm often with people that I want to be with – colleagues, former colleagues, professional acquaintances – and I'm usually eating. This is very different for me. I spend most of my work hours with one other person, a group of people or alone. I'm usually performing an extremely specific set of tasks within a specific time period. That's why sitting face-to-face with another person, talking about our work and our lives doesn't feel like work to me.

That is also why I can put networking at the bottom of the list. In my Midwestern-raised lizard brain, if it doesn't feel like work, it must not be work. So don't do it.

And I'm wrong again!

Networking is a fluid task, with a variety of ways and reasons. Instead of talking about what networking is, let's cut directly to the activities of networking.  Here we go, most of the networking I did during the month of September.  

First, I:

had a late breakfast with a colleague/friend that I've known for over twenty years. We're both in the performing arts, but presently in different disciplines. This does not stop us from getting together about once a year. This time, we quickly caught up on our present careers and then moved on to the new ideas that are currently at the surface.

This relations is important to me. This colleague was there for me in the early years, through some wonderful experiences and through some pretty crappy experiences. I'd like to think I've done the same for her. Because of that, we have a bond that extends beyond the surface. Oh, and when appropriate, we recommend each other for work. This one never, ever feels like work.

Do you make time to sit down with longtime colleagues with whom you don't presently work?

Then I:

had a long conversation with a student about the benefits of networking and how to get started. I encouraged her to contact one or two people in her field that she really admires to ask if they are available to look at her portfolio and give her feedback. Now, you have to tread carefully when you do this. Choose wisely. Seek out respected people whose work and lives you admire; if they have a reputation for mentoring up-and-coming artists, that's even better. When contacting them, be thoughtful about the language you use. Always ask if they are available for this type of work, and what their fee is. Many artists will give you their time for free, but asking what their fee is exudes respect and thoughtfulness, two qualities that are always in fashion. Don't shy away from paying a reasonable fee to a respected professional, BUT do watch out for folks who are looking for an easy income source who don't really know your field.

Are you at a moment in your career where networking with a respected professional would be of value?

At the same time, I:

received an email from a student/colleague updating me on some auditions she had done. Unfortunately, she was also informing me that she was laid off from her parallel career. She asked me to keep her in mind and pass her name on to any contacts I might have that would be helpful to her.

I'm proud of this artist for emailing me. I had previously given her some advice and she wanted me to know what happened after she acted on that advice. That's good; I like to know what happens, either good or bad. Secondly, she asked me for help and I know that's hard to do. But, she recognized that jobs can come from the most unlikely sources and communicating with as many people as possible is, well, smart.

Have you taken that leap of faith and asked someone in your network for help lately?

No, I'm not done. I told you it was a full month!

Over the course of a week, I:

communicated numerous times and in numerous ways with an actor in that blissfully uncomfortable place of negotiating offers. If you're fortunate you'll find yourself in this narrow, sometimes tricky space. You've auditioned and been called back. The callback has gone well. You know there are more callbacks scheduled. In the meantime, another organization emails with a solid offer, that, of course, conflicts with the first offer. You weigh the pros and cons such as, length of contract, type of role, salary and quality of organization. You get a clear sense of which one you prefer, BUT you don't want to lose the second offer in case the first offer falls through. Of course, you want to handle it as professionally as possible so you'll be kept in mind for future projects.

Again, kudos to this artist. She knew I'd be glad to talk her through the various scenarios she had to consider.  The most important piece of this story is that this artist has a relationship with an experienced professional whom she can trust. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that she does study privately with me. But she has cultivated a relationship with me over the years that goes beyond that of only student and teacher. We frequently have serious conversations about the performing profession and life. We also have stupid inside jokes that nobody else on the planet would get. I know she has other trusted advisers in her life and I think that's smart of her.

Do you have a trusted experienced professional in your life who is available to answer questions and give honest advice?

And then I:

connected with a colleague/friend who I work with as much as I can. Our schedules mean we either see each other a lot (when we're working on the same project) or not enough (which is usually the case). Over french fries and ice cream, we discussed life AND professional gigs.

Do you make time for those colleagues that do the same thing you do?

A week later, I:

received an invitation for coffee or lunch from a young artist who is also a Creatavita fan. I was glad to meet with her, not only because she was a fan, but because she did everything the right way. A few weeks ago, we were introduced to each other and at that time, I extended the offer to meet with her in the future. She followed up immediately, offering to take me out for lunch or coffee. Can I tell you how smart this was of her? When you're the one asking, always to offer to pay the bill. Always. Respect oozes out of your pores when you do that.

We had a delightful lunch. She told me a bit about herself, her career and her goals. I answered questions (and she asked some tough ones – good for her), offered contact ideas, gave opinions. I had a good time and I think she did too.

Don't be afraid to do this. Most of us who have “made it” (at least in some sense of that word) are very happy to pass on advice. We've lived through the tough times and now we know what made the difference. We'd like to save you some of the grief. Not all of it because that's what makes you an artist :)

Do you invite an accessible professional out for coffee or lunch to ask them how they got where they are?

Finally, I ended the month:

meeting a former student/colleague to bounce one of my creative ideas off of her. She's gone into video storytelling, a field I know nothing about. I hired her last year for a project and she did fantastic work for me. Fantastic! In our work together on that project, I found that she looks at things differently than I do and that was so refreshing. So, it's smart of me to talk to her about my ideas. Our time together was short and I left thinking, “okay, that was good.” Don't you know, two weeks later, out of the blue, the path I needed for my ideas appeared. Love it when that happens.

Do you meet with artists in related fields to find inspiration for your creative projects?

There you have it. Networking. Get to work!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

It's A Beautiful Day

This post starts with one of those extraordinary ordinary stories. You've had a similar experience, if you're fortunate. You've heard this story before and you're destined to hear it again. Why do these stories return in our lives again and again? I had to contemplate that question for a few days. The answer came to me a few mornings ago, while I was out pretending to be a runner.

They return time and again because they are the truth and because we forget the truth. They return to remind us to live the truth. As you know, I believe living the truth is particularly important for creative people. We are the truth seekers and the truth tellers. The world needs us, especially now, as we are surrounded by boatloads of hype (like Lose 10 Pounds in 2 Days) and fabrications of epic proportions (like How Safe Are You, Really?).

Here's the story.

On the morning of Wednesday, September 11, I attended the wake of my neighbor, Ed McBride. I didn't really know Ed all that well because we only met on morning walks. Until recently, I saw him almost every single morning. I knew that Ed was Irish. That was obvious the second he said hello, as his melodious Irish brogue oozed through every word. I also knew that Ed was a complete, 100% optimist. He was unfailingly positive, which shone through the one phrase he always said to me. That phrase, which usually came in the form of a question, had only one answer, at least from Ed's viewpoint. The phrase?

It's a beautiful day, isn't it?”

The day could be completely gray, 37 degrees with the chance of sleet, traffic could be zooming by, road rage emitting from every vehicle and Ed's first response would still be -

It's a beautiful day, isn't it?”

As you can imagine, there were days when I would see Ed coming towards me and I would think “Oh man, here comes Ed and he's going to tell me what a beautiful day today is. I've got 7 hours of teaching ahead of me, 23 emails that need answering and I really want to practice for next week's performance. The Teen is ornery again and 3 of my students have cancelled at the last minute – this does NOT feel like a beautiful day to me.”

But, I have to admit, hearing Ed ask that simple question would remind me that the possibility existed that today was a beautiful day. I'd walk away feeling lighter and positive, even if only for a few minutes. The seed planted, Ed would go on his way, looking for another potential victim of his positive outlook.

Ed and I live on the iconic Main Line, outside of Philadelphia. Life here is full and fast. Overachievers abound. You cannot be successful enough or rich enough here. There are captains of industry in the produce section at the grocery store and high-powered attorneys in front of you at the coffee shop. Retired professional athletes show up at the local car wash. The fast and furious lifestyle is advocated, and if you join in, you can stay. If you don't ascribe to that lifestyle, you can stay, but make sure you stay out of the way, because we are going places - NOW. 

Ed McBride, on a regular basis, took his Irish heritage pin and popped the Main Line fast and furious lifestyle balloon. What mattered to Ed is what should matter to all of us. You, him and the fact that today was a beautiful day. Didn't matter the weather, didn't matter the traffic, didn't matter the to-do list, didn't matter the existential yearnings of your soul, didn't matter nothing, every day was a beautiful day to Ed McBride and he would make sure that you understood how important that was.

I hadn't seen Ed for a few months. He was a part of that unique subset of people in my life. You probably have a similar subset. These are the people you see on a regular basis as you go about your life.  You see them on your way to work, on the train, in the parking lot, in the Dunkin' Donuts. They're very much a part of your life, but you know very little about them. So I wasn't completely surprised when I saw Ed's obituary in the newspaper.

Serendipitously, I had the morning of Ed's wake open. And I knew exactly how to attend. In honor of my relationship to Ed, I strolled up to the local Catholic church in my walking clothes. Don't worry, I put on some makeup. Walking to Ed's wake in my walking clothes was, as I told my neighbor, my tribute to Ed. Besides, Ed didn't know me any other way!

I didn't know who would be there, if anyone. A 73-year-old single man, with strong roots to Ireland? Ed was super-friendly, but what if everyone was like me and only knew him peripherally? Would others take the time to say goodbye to Ed, if their relationship consisted of a friendly, brief conversation during morning walks?

Yes, they would and yes, they did. There were plenty of people there and in the surprise of the day, there were quite a few people that I knew from other areas of my life. I immediately gravitated to the group of 5 or 6 women, all attractive middle-age women. Care to guess how we all met Ed? You got it. On our daily walks. And what did we all remember hearing Ed say? Yup -

It's a beautiful day, isn't it?”

We were all touched by this simple commonality. One guy and one simple thought that had touched each one of us deeply. We basked in the beauty of that moment. We did. All of our concerns about our kids, our careers, our sagging bodies, they were gone for that moment because Ed had reminded us that today was a beautiful day.

What does the passing of Ed McBride have to do with Creatavita?

It's the connection, you guys, it's the connection. At the core of everything we do is the desire to connect with other humans. Ed did it on a person-to-person basis. Whether you do it for one person with your painting, or 17 people with your Tuesday evening performance or 10,000 at your Madison Square Garden concert, that doesn't matter. It's the connection.

So, as you go about your connecting today and every day, whether practicing, performing, designing, sketching, dreaming, remember....

It's A Beautiful Day

Must-Read for Philadelphia-Area Artists

Here's an excellent article about the current and future state of the arts in Philadelphia.  As individual artists, the information in this article will help you understand why it is so challenging for arts organizations of all sizes to stay viable in the booming Philadelphia cultural scene.

Philadelphia's culture boom strains under the costs of upkeep:

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Great Workshops For Philadelphia-Area Arts Educators

Three wonderful opportunities for arts educators from the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation.

Bartol » Upcoming Workshops:

Provided my schedule stays open, I'll be attending the Oct. 22 workshop.  Hope to see some of you there!

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Nifty Publicity Tips

Here's some publicity ideas from another of my favorite free online services, Brown Paper Tickets.

There were ideas in here that I hadn't thought of (like tailoring Twitter Lists and Free PR Resources), that I'll definitely be checking out.

Thought I'd share the love.

Five Ways to Build a Solid Media List by @BPTickets | Event Success Newsletter:

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fractured Atlas Blog : Everyone’s Favorite Whipping Boy

An excellent post on the merits of where we donate our money and why by Adam Huttler of Fractured Atlas.  Some good points for artists to store away for the next conversation with your favorite uncle, who can't understand the value of supporting the arts.

Fractured Atlas Blog : Everyone’s Favorite Whipping Boy:

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Resource for Philadelphia-Area Artists AND A Special Workshop

If you're a Philadelphia-area artist, the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation should be on your radar.  They provide many workshops (especially for arts educators) as well as grants.  I attended a workshop last fall and came away inspired.  For free.  Oh, and I met some cool artists who are now friends.  That worked out well, don't you think?

This offering caught my eye this morning.

Free Insurance & Retirement Planning Workshop!:

Awaiting you here, for free, is the opportunity to get more information about those big, difficult questions.  The ones that you choose to ignore because they feel so unartistic.  The ones that wake you up in the middle of the night.

Sign up.  Go.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

You Need To Know This: Know Yourself

Here's another installment in the You Need To Know This series. This one, Know Yourself , has been chosen by Tara Tagliaferro.

Nothing but net, this Tara Tagliaferro. She sings, she acts, she dances, she educates, she inspires, she exudes positive energy wherever she goes. I met her, you guessed it, when she took my Musical Theatre class at Walnut St.Theatre. That was at least 3 years ago. Since then, I've had the pleasure of working with Tara twice – first as choreographer and assistant director on the Purim Spiel and then last month, performing in Grease, also at Walnut St. Tara is building a fine career, both in the Philadelphia area and around the country. You should check it out here:

It figures that Tara, who is one of the most open and sincere people I know, would choose the topic

Know Yourself
When I was at the beginning of my illustrious career as an opera singer, I attended one of those proverbial NYC career seminars. You know what I'm talking about – energetic artists who are hungrily seeking the holy grail of a successful career pay lots of money to hear a panel of agents, conductors and stage directors “answer” their questions. Some people get to sing, the rest of us sit there and act supportive and positive, while inside we're dying of the fear that we are the only fake in the room and that someone might find us out if we don't keep nodding and puffing around during the breaks.

I paint a snarky picture to get your attention. This particular seminar WAS helpful. The panelists were top of the drawer and many questions were answered. I came away inspired because I had received some legitimate information. I recall that one panelist was asked, “What's the most important thing you can tell a young singer embarking on an operatic career?” The response was simple. “Know yourself.”

Like everyone else in the hall, I nodded my head and breathed a sigh of relief. Whew! I had that one covered. I knew exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be an internationally-renowned opera singer. I wanted to sing with the bigs, fly around the world singing glorious high notes, communicating in 5 different languages with my photo on the cover of Opera News. A true artist of the world.

That's why six months later I found myself standing in my closet, so depressed it took me thirty minutes to decide what clothes to wear that day. Of course I chose black.

That was the beginning of the end or the beginning of the beginning. The day I realized I couldn't go on living this charade any longer. On the outside I looked like every other attractive young opera singer embarking on a career. On the inside I was a mess, barely holding it together day to day, careening from the pits of despair when I didn't get cast (again) to the heights of ecstasy when I DID get cast (again). My self-esteem rested almost completely on the decisions of a fickle and competitive industry.  My personal took kit for working in this industry, and for having a fulfilling life, was sorely lacking.

I called my friend, Judy. Not only did I know her to be one of the best humans on the planet, I also knew she had faced her demons. I entrusted her with the secret - I was dying inside. I asked Judy the name of her psychiatrist because I knew I needed help. I needed the best help I could find and I needed it now. Judy recommended Dr. John Fryer. Go ahead, click on his name.  I'll wait. This time I mean it.

Incredible, isn't it? Even more incredible, I didn't know this about Dr. Fryer while I was his patient and he never once mentioned it to me. I had no idea.

Back to our topic, Knowing Yourself. To cut to the end of the story, with the support of my husband and an excellent psychiatrist, I found myself. It was not easy. Dr. Fryer made sure that I wrestled all of my demons. But I did it and I live to tell the glorious story.

Do I still question who I am? You bet, just about every day, but in a way that, by and large, invigorates me. Yes, I have gone through some difficult times and I'm sure there are more ahead, but that first round of therapy laid the foundation for me to truly know who I am. I made some physical changes in my life and I actually ended up singing for a few years. Did I have that career I described earlier? No, and there's a part of me that is still sad about that. BUT, I did find me and I'm never sad about that.

Now, I hope that you won't read this post and think I am telling all of you to head to the nearest therapist. That is not my intent, not at all. That's the path I had to take. If you have to take that path, then take it and know that I am standing right beside you.

The intent is to tell you that it is of vital importance that you know who you are. Truly. I passionately believe we cannot become the artists we are meant to be without having the courage to explore who we are. That is what we artists do. We explore the human condition and we ask the most difficult question of all, time and again – what does it mean to be?

Most of us don't think about this very often. We're too busy sending emails, trying to get the next gig, heading to rehearsal, or to the studio to record another take of our next song. And that is probably the best way to be. But truly, this question, this questing, this is what informs all of that delightful coming and going. And if you don't know who you are, and certainly if you are not willing to even ask the question, my friends, I believe in my heart that you are headed for a moment very much like the one I experienced in my closet some years ago.

There are many ways to find you. There's silence. There's therapy. There's meditation. There's religion. There's art. There's nature. Seek out the combination that works for you. You'll know when you find it. Really.

There are many ways not to find you. There's distractions. There's addictions. There's avoidance. There's denial. I hope you can stay away from these.

At Dr. Fryer's funeral, I sought out his only surviving relative, his sister. I told her, “Your brother saved my life. I wouldn't be standing here today if it weren't for your brother”. I meant it. John Fryer helped me understand what to hold onto and what to let go of. Our work together allowed me to revel in asking the question, who am I? He was one of the people who gave me permission to infuse my creative work with bold questions. I think of him often.

The one you are looking for is the one who is looking.
St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Artists Needed! Health Insurance Survey

One of my favorite arts organization, Fractured Atlas, is looking for artists to take this quick survey on health insurance.

Took me about 10 minutes.

Help out if you can, okay?  Thanks!

Fractured Atlas Blog : Got health insurance?:

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Need To Know This: Show Up

And we're back with another post in the series, You Need To Know This.  Today's topic has been chosen by Maja Lisa FritzHuspen.  

 I love this gal, Maja Lisa.  Like me, she's a native of the Upper Midwest, so she knows how to work.  Unlike many Midwesterners, she takes risks, usually in her fearless approach to having a career as a singer.  She's been richly rewarded for this risky behavior over the past few years, having sung leads with many Philadelphia-area opera companies, as well as some nice gigs in the New York area.  If you're in the Philadelphia area, you can hear her this September in Poor Richard's Opera's production of Gallantry.  Maja Lisa's parallel career is teaching voice.  She has a thriving studio in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia, but she also has taught in Guatemala (jealous) and the Adirondacks.  Here's where to look at her work as an arts educator:  Maja Lisa's Amazing Voice Studio.  

On to the post.  Maja Lisa has chosen:

Show Up

I have learned one thing. As Woody says, ‘Showing up is 80 percent of life.’ Sometimes it’s easier to hide home in bed.  I’ve done both.
Marshall Brickman

I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening.
Woody Allen

You know, I love this Woody Allen quote so much I originally tried to name this blog after it. But I couldn't make it work, so I moved on.

Showing up is definitely one of the main reasons I have had any success as an artist. My desire and ability to show up has always come from an unusual state of innocence. After all these years, there is a part of me that still cannot believe that people pay me to be an artist. This innocence is why it is so hard for me to understand why people don't show up. Don't you love this as much as I do? Don't you feel blessed, fortunate, even privileged? Why wouldn't you be knocking down the door? Heck, why wouldn't you be, gasp, early?

More on that later. Let's start with the practical side of showing up. This is the “rehearsal's at 7:00, so I'm going to be there, ready to go, at 6:45” part of showing up. This attitude says to the person or people who are waiting for you that you care, that you want to be there, that that this project is of value, and that the time of every single person involved is of value. Not showing up in this practical sense is the fast track to failure. Look, producing art of any value or merit is time-consuming and expensive. Always has been and always will be. We can't afford to start rehearsal 30 minutes late because you couldn't anticipate that there would be rush-hour traffic, just like there is every day of the week. There's a very good chance that we can find someone who is just as skillful and talented as you who will show up on time.

And don't think that this attitude is only for those getting started in the business. As many of you know, I recently had the opportunity to perform Miss Lynch in Walnut St. Theatre's production of Grease. At an Equity theatre like Walnut St., every performer must be in the theatre 30 minutes before the curtain goes up. It's called half hour. Because I was understudying, I showed up an hour and a half before curtain; I prefer to be in the theatre early, taking care of any issues that might have arisen since the last performance and focusing my energy. Since the rest of the cast was three months into the run, I was pretty certain I would be the first person in the theatre. Boy, was I wrong. Every night I walked in, there were at least four other performers already there. They were eating and talking, general hanging around stuff for the most part, but they had shown up. And that attitude is a big part of why those people are working at a theatre like Walnut St..

I can think of at least one other Show Up example. This one has stuck with me since early in my operatic career.  I think it was probably the first time the light bulb went on in my head, and I recognized the importance of showing up. 

 I was rehearsing Purcell's The Fairy Queen with Pennsylvania Opera Theater's (or TPOT, as we affectionately referred to the long-gone, Barbara Silverstein-run company that gave so many Philadelphia-area opera artists their first chances).  One member of the cast was an extremely vocally-talented guy who didn't show up for rehearsal and never called (this was before texting and email; yes, I'm that old). And he didn't do it once or twice, he did it three times. Those of us in the room, waiting for him to appear so rehearsal could start, could feel how much the conductor and the director wanted this guy in the production.  To this day, I think they went out of their way trying to give him a break, and I applaud them for that gracious behavior.  But he never showed up. He was replaced and no, he did NOT become famous later.

So let's figure out what we can do about this. Because I don't like to throw out mandates without offering some type of solution.

If you are the person who is always late, grab yourself a drink and an easy chair (preferably outside in some sunshine) and ask yourself why. What's the truth behind this dashing in, spewing “I'm sorry, I'm sorry”, pulling your music out of your bag and throwing your coat on a chair? Maybe it is as simple as being bad at time management (one of my favorite non-artistic topics). Maybe you are not being realistic about what you can accomplish in a day. Maybe you honestly don't believe your talents merit being where you are in life, so you are subconsciously making yourself tardy. Well, that's yucky. Maybe you think it is a sign of power, which is even yuckier. That might be true, but it is still rude, disrespectful and yucky. 

So, let's talk about practical ways to show up. Here are some ideas for you:

- Adapt.  If you live in a major metropolitan area or have a complicated life, there's a good chance that everything takes longer than you expect.  Get over it.

- Allow more time for commutes and projects.  I have a colleague who schedules an extra hour in addition to his estimated commute time when traveling during rush hour.  This might seem crazy, but he's been delayed enough times to know he has to do this to be on time.  If he does arrive early, he finds a coffee shop and uses the extra time to catch up on work or, believe it or not, he just sits and enjoys himself. What a concept. 

I do something similar. I often take our local commuter train into the city. Sadly, our local transit system is notorious for delays. So instead of taking the train that will get me there right on time, I take the one before. It works like this: “I need to be in the theatre at 7:30. The 6:22 will get me there at 7:03, BUT if it is late I'm screwed. I'll take the 5:55 and arrive at 6:27."

See? That way, the train can be delayed and I won't be late.  Plus, I have the opportunity to catch my breath before I head into whatever appointment is awaiting me.

-Going somewhere new and important, for an audition or meeting with a potential client? Well, you can certainly take a look at Google Maps ahead of time. That's simple. 

And this one might strike you as crazy, but why not even try going there a few days before? I know, I know, who's got that kind of time?  But come on, if this is an important event, knowing exactly where you are going might put you in a better frame of mind, so that you walk in confident instead of frazzled.  

Okay, that's the practical, Midwestern-based side of showing up. But let's not forget the other way of showing up that is alluded to in my second paragraph and in Woody's quote. That's showing up for yourself. Don't we all have ideas and dreams that are tough to work with?  Don't we all have aspects of our creative careers that challenge us over and over again?  And don't we all, at times, ignore those?

Show up for yourself.  Act on those dreams, work through the tough times with those creative ideas. Sit with that script, that one line of dialogue, that song that doesn't make sense. Do the work for you, not for the paycheck or the adoration. Walk into the dark tunnel of your art and drop your flashlight. Get lost, get scared and find that art deep inside of yourself. Yes.  Show up for yourself.

This type of showing up is much more challenging than the practical, get-out-of-the-house, allow-time-for-traffic type of showing up. This type of showing up requires us to be disciplined, patient and persistent (see my previous post on this topic here). It also requires us to have a level of confidence and to indulge our creative selves in risky behavior of the best variety. In other words, we've got to take a chance.  

We might not get cast in that production for which we're going to audition. Your mother might be right, your novel might not be any good.  It's true, that opera you've been composing in your head for the past three years might be terrible.  But I still say show up for yourself, for those around you and for the world. Do the work and see where it leads. Maybe this one isn't any good, but, maybe the next one is. You've got to get the first one out to get to the second one, and to the third one and to the fourth one, and so on.

That's it.  Time for me to show up.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

You Need To Know This: Be A CEO

A post-rehearsal conversation I had this past Sunday with two colleagues motivated me to return to the You Need To Know This series that I started last fall. While walking to a local watering hole with Cynthia Heininger and Michael Gray (Producing Artistic Director, City Theater of Wilmington), the subject of artists and business came up. “Ugh,” I said, “don't get me started”, after Michael made the observation that academic arts programs are still doing a less-than-adequate job of preparing artists for the real world. Cynthia's simple, but elegant addition was “Yes, they have to see themselves as entrepeneurs.”

So I'm back to the series, and specifically, this post, which has been much tougher to write than I anticipated. There are so many ideas I could put out there, but I want to make sure you don't become overwhelmed.  But more than that, I want you to have the time and space to seriously consider these ideas because I think they are extremely, well, important.

Remember that I foisted the responsibility of choosing the order of the posts for the You Need To Know This series off onto various young artists? Yeah, I didn't think you would.  Well, I did, so today's post has been chosen by Meghan Dewald.

Bright and talented – that's Meghan. I've watched Meghan grow up as a person and as a singer. As a high school student, she faithfully drove 100 miles round trip to her weekly voice lesson with the Beloved. She paid attention, she practiced, she went off to Northwestern and she came back. She started her performing career, she went to Indiana for graduate work and she came back. She's continuing her performing career and starting her teaching career. She works, she practices, she runs, she is making a career happen. Check out Meghan's gorgeous singing.  Go ahead.  Click through!


CEO. What's the image conjured up in your mind when you hear those three letters? Some white guy wearing an impeccably-tailored suit, confidently striding down the hallway of a sleek office building, issuing orders to a trail of nervous underlings? Or do you envision the more hip version of CEO - a smart college dropout, decked out in yesterday's hoodie, hanging in a conference room, shooting baskets while strategizing with his also-hip, multi-ethnic team of smart employees? Now ask yourself this. What's behind the suit and hoodie? Not the ideas, not the business decisions, but the human qualities. What are the qualities that come to your mind when you imagine a CEO? Confident? Decisive? Powerful? Are those qualities you assign to yourself on a regular day? Powerful? Decisive? Confident? Right...I didn't think so.

I imagine some of you are already snoring or ready to click back over to Facebook. You are an artist, proud of your zigging-when-others-are-zagging ways. Part of why you fought so long and hard with your parents to become an artist was so you didn't have to conform to the corporate ways. Well, you know what? I'm very proud of you and I agree with you. I live my life the very same way. You keep that zigging, not zagging way about you and continue your non-conformity. But, consider, even for a minute, what would happen if you approached your career like a CEO.

Here are the three topics we're going to consider:

  • CEOs make decisions
  • CEOs make investments
  • CEOs assume responsibility

CEOs Make Decisions

As CEO, you get to decide what your business will be. Will you be particular, only accepting work at companies with annual budgets over $1 million? Will you be generous, giving free performances or art away on a regular basis? Will you teach as well as write, perform, and compose? Will you sing only the works of 16th-century Belgian composers whose last names start with F? You're the CEO, you decide.

Every corporation has divisions. Part of being a CEO means deciding which divisions you will offer. Take GE. When I was a kid, eons ago, GE was known for lightbulbs and stoves. Somewhere along the way, GE branched out from selling lightbulbs to incorporate all kinds of divisions – medical imaging devices, engines, airplanes and even mortgages. How did that happen? If you were CEO of a company, would you want to be making decisions about products as diverse as lightbulbs and mortgages?

Well, guess what, you can be like GE, if you choose. You can be a singer-songwriter AND you can be a lumberjack. Up to you. You're in charge.

I will suggest that you ponder what divisions you are presently offering. How are they doing? Is there one division that's taking more time, perhaps too much time? How do you feel about that? Is this the time to invest in that other division that means so much to you, but doesn't get enough attention? I have this constant struggle in my career. Because I have many skills, I'm easily distracted by projects in less-important divisions. I have to make sure I am accepting a project for the right reason, which for me is usually because I'm immensely curious about the potential artistic experience and it fits my current lifestyle (read I still want to be available for The Teen even though he could give a flying fig about me). By the way, I did NOT always think this way. That's why I'm telling you this now.

CEOs gather the best information available and consider the pros and cons of that information, the current situation as well as the future, and then they make a decision. While they rely on their gut instincts, good CEOs know how to remove the unnecessary emotion from decision-making. This is crucial and difficult. Crucial because they want to make a good decision based on truth and reality. Difficult, because, as an artist, emotion is at the core of your art, which happens to be your product. But taking the unnecessary emotion OUT of business decisions (such as “Why am I getting offered parts with this tiny company?” “Why did they cast her and not me? I can act circles around her!”) allows you to put that emotion where it belongs – in your art.

CEOS Make Investments

You do know that all corporations incur debt to make investments in their products, right? While I am most definitely not encouraging you to incur huge amounts of debt, I am encouraging you to look at how you invest in your art, which is your product.

A good CEO will recognize that there are many possible investment - headshots, websites, lessons, classes, networking, instruments, auditions, to name a few. These are all expenses that you need to incur because these are investments in your career. A good CEO will recognize that the time has come to reinvest in acting classes because the monologue you learned in your college acting class is horrifically out of date, or that now is the time to invest in that voice-over workshop because you have now turned down 3 possible voice-over jobs because you don't know how to do voice-overs.

Look at it this way. Let's say you know you are a great singer and a rotten actor. Let's say you have been told by casting directors that you would be cast if you were a better actor. Well then, wouldn't it make sense to seriously invest in acting lessons? Look, let's say you take 10 lessons at $75 a lesson. That's $750. Let's add $250 for travel, supplies, lost income. Now we're up to $1,000. That's a big chunk of money. Serious money. BUT, if you become a better actor with quality audition material and more confidence, there's an extremely good chance you will be cast. Let's say your first role is a 6-week contract at $200 a week. That means you get paid $1,200. You just made back your investment AND you made a profit of $200. Yes, I know you still didn't pay your rent, utilities or college loans. But you did get a job that you wouldn't have gotten before and if you keep up your skills, there's a good chance you'll get cast somewhere else, make more money, AND get to revel in your passion.  Why not?

CEOS Assume Responsibility

Nobody likes a irresponsible person. Nobody. Nobody likes to hear “I don't know why they didn't cast me again. Maybe other people dance/sing/act better than I do, but they always cast the same people. They should give people like me a chance.”

Everybody likes to hear a responsible person. Everybody. Everybody likes to hear “I know what is happening at auditions. I am not acting/singing/dancing as well as I could and should. I need to figure out why this isn't working. I need to be honest with myself, consider improving my skills or think about the companies for which I am auditioning. I bet my attitude will become more positive and joyful when I do that. If it doesn't, I'm going to work on that as well.”

The vast majority of us work in situations where our product is part of a business decision. Like it or not, opera and theatre companies, dance troupes, orchestras, galleries, and concert promoters have to present a product for which people will pay. Most of these organizations are very clear about their product; they take their mission statements very seriously. These organizations seek out artists who will fit into that product. You might not like this aspect of being an artist, but it is the truth and has been for a long time. Get over it.

When you adopt this responsible attitude, the people in the business who you deal with will come to respect you and ultimately, your work. I know that you can't live on respect alone, but at least you can live with yourself.

There.  That's enough to get you thinking.  Thinking about how you make decisions, how you make investments and how you accept responsibility, like the CEO of the wonderful arts organization called you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Habit

In deference to the American Memorial Day weekend, I've delayed the uploading of this post. I hope all of you had as wonderful a holiday weekend as I did, full of pleasure and relaxation. If you didn't find the time during the weekend, I would ask you to now take a moment to deeply ponder the true meaning of Memorial Day. As the wife of a veteran, I can assure you that any action you take to remember those who gave their lives in the name of our country makes a difference. It does. No matter your politics, no matter your age, no matter where you live, no matter your socioeconomic status. You make a difference when you pause to imagine what it must feel like to no longer have a brother, to have never known your father, to have been told stories of an aunt, to have read about a great-great-great grandfather.

On to today's post, which was actually written on Memorial Day (you'll understand the importance shortly) -

Sometimes I think all I do on Creatavita is pass on other people's ideas. So be it. If their ideas inspire you as they inspire me, then that is part of my purpose.

Today I suggest this article from the Brainpickings blog. Here's another article filled with experiences from, well, people I would call experts in the creativity field. The common main theme? You cannot wait for creativity to happen; you must work on your creativity on a regular basis. The common subsidiary themes? Work even when you feel uninspired. Find a routine. Find a space.

Based on what I've been experiencing over the past 18 months, as I've made serious attempts to renovate my creative life, I would tell you these experts are correct. A consistent experience with my creativity, even for a short period of time, on a daily basis, has been the top reason I am initiating and/or completing various creative projects in my life. Moving forward and finishing are very important, but the best part of this action? I feel so much more fulfilled as a person. So much more fulfilled.

I found this article so inspiring that I sat down and wrote yesterday, and am repeating that activity again today, even though I am mentally viewing both days as holidays. Not out of a sense of obligation, but out of a sense of desire. A deep desire to be creative. I'm not crossing this one off of my to-do list. I'm living and experiencing these minutes as my soul cries out to me, “write, sing, play”. These are not cries of “must study my music for my next performance, must prepare for Wednesday's rehearsal”. These are cries of desire to express whatever comes to the surface. If I ignore these desires, I'm certain to feel a deep anxiety. Spending not even 20 minutes writing and/or being musical calms that anxiety because I'm spending time with myself in a deeply satisfying experience.

Never underestimate the value of spending time with yourself in a deeply satisfying experience.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Creatavita's First Annual Commencement

Commencement season is in full swing and Creatavita is joining the celebration. Even if you have no graduates in your six degrees, watch this most-appropriate-for-our-purposes commencement address. Given by author  Neil Gaiman at the 2012 ceremony for Philadelphia's University of the Arts, you'd have to be a rock (or clinically depressed) to not find inspiration in this address.

To truly create the commencement experience, I suggest you get dressed up, grab your camera (which you haven't used since your cousin's wedding last summer), drive your car at least 5 blocks from your house and walk to your backyard. Be sure to wear shoes that look stunning, but prove to be impossible to walk in. Inclement weather will only help the experience; if the forecast calls for rain, make sure to leave your umbrella in the car. Find an uncomfortable folding chair and set it on the most uneven spot you can find. For even more fun, invite 10 most obnoxious strangers to join you, preferably some with small, unruly children. Make sure all of your chairs are positioned as close together as possible. Use a device with a small screen and put it as far away as you can; careening your body to attempt to actually see and hear the speaker will truly enhance the experience.

When the address is finished, stay seated in the chair for at least 2 hours.  Get a friend to read a list of the names of 782 people you've never met in your life and will probably never meet.  Make sure they have a bad sound system that squeaks and squeals and has a loud hum in it.  Then head to a crowded restaurant with a wait time of at least 45 minutes for a celebratory meal. Finally, head home to collapse and wonder what that was you just spent the entire day celebrating.

Here it is:

You can also now purchase the very cool book version of this address right here:

Or...perhaps you can find a copy at your local bookstore, if you are lucky enough to have one.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Unexplained Importance

I recently read “Every Good Boy Does Fine”, a brilliant article by pianist Jeremy Denk published in the April 8th edition of The New Yorker. This piece affected me so much that I actually jumped out of my chair and went immediately to my computer to find Jeremy Denk and electronically grovel at his feet (That means I went to his website and sent him an email. BTW, he still hasn't responded. I'm okay with that).  

Denk's article is a reflection on piano lessons throughout his life, relationships to his teachers, the impact this study has had on his playing, and finally, his own work as a teacher. Many others have written on all of these topics. But Denk writes in a way that I think lets us into his inner life. He writes in a clear, yet emotional way, bravely telling details about his struggles and triumphs. I think that is what is so attractive to me. For those of you that don't know, being a concert pianist is one of the most difficult careers in which to be successful on the planet. Competition is fierce, both externally and internally. Most concert pianists I know are very obsessive and a tad neurotic. Rightly so. By opening the door to his inner life, Denk makes me think I could sit down with him at Starbucks, embrace the obsessions and neuroticism, and have a fascinating conversation, . I also know I'll seek out his next Philadelphia-area concert, because now I'm curious.  What kind of music comes out of someone who writes with such emotional clarity and power?

He has also affected me as a blogger. I find his posts interesting; I'm curious to read the next one and the next one. I also admire what feels like an ease in his writing style; he's talking directly to me, not you.  Finally, he lets me into his work and life without overwhelming me with too much information. Reading his blog has thrown me into a pool of questions about my own blog. What do I say? How do I say it? Is that what I want to be saying? Is that how I want to be saying it? Fascinating, and absolutely the reason I haven't been posting more frequently to Creatavita. Here's the link to Jeremy Denk's blog, Think Denk

You must read this article. If you have any curiosity about creativity at all, no matter what your level of expertise, you really have to read this article.  

And that's going to be a problem, unless you're a subscriber to The New Yorker (It's another reason why this post has taken so long to appear). From what I can figure out, The New Yorker posts articles from their current issue (it's a weekly magazine) for one week. Then the articles are shipped to their archives, which you can only access if you have a subscription. So I've been spending some time, trying to figure out the best way to get this article to all 25 of you that read my blog (thank you, by the way!). Here's the solution:

Post a comment to the blog and I'll send you a link to a pdf of the article which is happily waiting for you in my Google Drive and Dropbox.

To whet your appetites, here are some of my favorite ideas from the article:

On Practicing – if you've ever seriously studied an art form, participated in an athletic pursuit, taken up Pilates or yoga, or even tried to lose weight, you've encountered the concept of practice, even if that particular word wasn't used. I have had a lifelong love/hate relationship with the idea and execution of practice. What is practice anyway? Denk says practice is “the daily rite of discovery that is how learning really happens”. See that? Yes, the daily, but to me even more important are the following words, “rite of discovery”. I gasped when I read these words. I did. Here was another artist, another educator succinctly saying what I've been trying to say for years. We practice – to discover. Discover mistakes? Sure. Discover the notes and words we don't yet know? You bet. Discover ourselves? Oh my friends, my friends, indeed. To discover ourselves. No wonder we're afraid of it.

...bridge the gap between boring technical detail and the mysteries of the universe” is another phrase that jumped off the page at me. “Exactly!”, I thought to myself, “That's exactly what I strive for as well!” Where's that place, that moment, where the technique works so well I can dive into the rewarding work, the deep expression of my self?

As I taught my students at Bloomington, I absorbed the ironies of role reversal. When you give ideas to students, they tend either to ignore them or exaggerate them.” Silence took over my brain and a tinge of sadness took over my heart as I read these words. Denk is right. Communicating with students is one of the mightiest, perpetual struggles of being an artist AND a teacher. I remember one of my voice teachers saying to me, “Think of the most talented student you have who doesn't do the work you know she needs to do, the work you tell her to do. That's you to me.” She was right. Ouch.

One thing no one teaches you is how much teaching resembles therapy.” I get a lot of flack from colleagues, friends, even students (go figure, they're the ones reaping the benefits) for my approach to teaching, which can, on some level, resemble therapy. I gladly take the flack because I agree with Denk. Being a teacher is much like being a therapist. I've often thought of training as a therapist. If I did, I'd start the therapy session exactly like I start a voice lesson – at the piano with vocalization and go from there. I think that would be fascinating.

...the desire for perfection could be a deadly weakness. Living comfortably in that paradox, without even knowing it, is part of being a musician.” My friend Jean and I have an ongoing relationship with perfection. We affectionately refer to ourselves as recovering perfectionists and sadly, must keep each other on the non-perfect wagon with some regularity.  This is a huge topic, which I shall address in a future post.

And finally, There's a labyrinth of voices inside your head....Sometimes you wish you could go back and ask your teachers again to guide you; but up there must simply find your way....the only person who can solve the labyrinth of yourself is you.”. I put this one in my mental pocket and used it at a performance of Bach's Easter Oratorio earlier this month. Performing within the labyrinth that Bach and I created together gave me somewhere to go, somewhere beyond “gees, I hope I get that passage right, I hope I sing that note well, I hope the orchestra likes me”. A somewhere that was a glorious pasture of music, art and all things beautiful. That's a better place to sing from anyway.