Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wonderland

If it's December, it must be time for holiday parties. Today I did a presentation on Hanukkah (I really prefer the spelling "Chanukah," but it's slightly less used) in Jarrah's classroom. Tomorrow, I'll be the dealer in a cutthroat game of dreidel, but was all about the food.

The second I arrived, they were like "I smell fried chicken." I was like "That's 'cause you smell oil. Everything in oil smells like chicken." They were actually smelling potato latkes. I'd like to tell you that I toiled over a hot griddle, growing pink-cheeked with exertion as I grated, chopped, and fried. But I was actually pink-cheeked from dashing to Trader Joe's in the rain to buy them.

Not that I was off the hook, oh no. I had to go to two stores, bake the latkes, unpackage and then re-stuff the gelt into little bags, clean and prepare the menorahs and candles, pack up juice, plates, napkins, forks, applesauce, sour cream and a speech cobbled together from two hours of internet research (and a pep talk from my friend, Robyn, who's like a Chanukah Fellow she's done this gig so much) and then schlep it all up several hills. So I still think I deserve some pats on the back. (Instead I got a pile-on hug from 20 first graders when I sat with them on the rug--yikes!)

Some of my work was due to the fact that a super-super-nice mom in J's class went out and bought dreidels and gelt for every child and sent them with her son, and then you know what I did to show my gratitude? Left them somewhere on the way home. I dread tomorrow when I have to explain how lame I am. (I did my best to replace everything, of course.)

But once I was there, the hours of labor just melted away and I was stoked. Those kids are the best. And I swear I could have heard a pin drop when I got to the dramatic part of the story: "When they came back from the war, the temple was destroyed. Everything smashed. Broken. Dirty. And they had to start over." I also liked their theories for why we eat latkes: "Because potatoes are good nutrition." "Because war makes you hungry." "So we don't die of starvation." (The real reason, Dear Readers, is that we eat foods cooked in oil, since oil is the reason for the season.)

So am I a tiny bit looking forward to going back tomorrow? Caught me.

The opposite of today was the holiday party David and I went to in San Francisco last weekend. It was the Go-Pro holiday party at the Academy of Sciences aquarium. Just beautiful. I finally got to meet the dozens of people David hob-nobs with on his many trips to Half Moon Bay, and do it while surrounded by fish and sequins. The setting was so beautiful that it sort of overshadowed the food--three stations all characterized by the theme "piles of meat." Oh, and we arrived and departed in grand style: while waiting in the interminable taxi line, Tim spotted a limo across the street and flagged it down. It was very spontaneous and fun and only the second time I've ever been in a limo.

We also had the pleasure of staying at the historic Westin St. Francis in the center of Union Square, which was decked out for the holidays with a 12-foot sugar castle in the lobby, and an outdoor skating rink across the street. It was all lovely and festive. Union Square was mobbed day and night, but we did some exploring in other areas, too--my friend Lisa gave us a tour of the Haight (including our best meal of the trip at the memorably named Squat n' Gobble.) We met my brother and his family for dinner at the Ferry Building, and managed to fit eight of us around a tiny table in the packed Gott's Roadside (which David and I had fallen in love with in Napa years ago.) We went to see Young Adult (have to squeeze in a movie somewhere, though we had mixed feelings about it) and got lost with the charming Justin and Suzanne, who spotted us at the airport and offered a ride that ended up including the best view of the Golden Gate I'd ever had. On Sunday, we had a leisurely walk through Chinatown before catching a cab to the airport--arrived with perfect timing, too, had our plane not been an hour delayed.

It's a busy week we've returned to, as we still have the Daisies trip to Meals on Wheels headquarters and Jarrah's Winter Concert coming up. Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And How Ironic Is It That I Sang "Nothing?"

I don't like bad feelings. Nope, never have. And will go to any lengths to avoid them. Just not a fan.

I'm having a bad feeling right now that I'd like to get over. It's disturbing my sleep, in fact. Bolted awake just now, at 3 a.m., with the bad feeling taking center stage. What is it? Embarrassment? Sort of. Regret? Disbelief? Sadness? It seems to keep morphing into something slightly different about every thirty minutes, but so far I don't like any of them.

Tonight I had my first musical audition. I was really prepared, which is rare for me. I'd done my homework. Practiced like crazy. Hired the pianist, which was a blast. Concentrated on the acting, the held notes, the breath, the pacing. I had it down. My one concern were the factors that manifest with terror: would I lose the timing? Blank entirely? Get off key? Crack on the high notes?

I talked to myself on the way over. I told myself to stay out of my own way. I said--I felt honestly--I said "Self, this is how it is. You have this. You can do it. But only if you let them see the BEST of what you can do. So let them. See it. Go in there and do everything you would do if you WEREN'T terrified." Seemed like good advice, if I say so myself.

I had spoken to my friend John, who had decided to go over nearly 90 minutes early, was now done and in possession of a call back. Easy peasy. Early, why hadn't I thought of that? Who wanted to wait until 9:30 anyway? He did warn me that the waiting area was outside--kind of unusual, that. For people about to sing, a frosty night is not their friend.

I went early. Checked in. And then I waited. And waited. People went in. I heard them warbling, beautifully, through the door. When they came out, the check-in girl would hand them a slip of paper, which each time would seem to trigger a Snoopy happy-dance of glee. I deduced that these were the callbacks.

I wasn't nearly as nervous as I could be, doing all that waiting. And freezing. And blowing my nose, desperate to keep my sinuses clear. I sung under my breath. Tried to stay focused. As the minutes ticked away, the whole thing started to seem a bit hilarious. Eventually, I was out there nearly an hour. An HOUR, Readers. With bare feet.

And into the room I went. Same room where I took my acting class in spring. Smiling blonde director. Smiling mustached pianist. I approached him, since no one was talking. Nervously, I explained my music. All seemed well until I repeated what my coach had suggested, "Just chords are okay." His smile turned frosty: "I know the song." Oops. My bad.

"Will you be doing your song or your monologue first?" he asked. "No, she's doing them all together, isn't that right?" the director spoke up. "You're Liz's friend, aren't you?" She smiled. So she was expecting me. I had an in. Nice.

I took my place in the middle of the room. Smiled at him. He began. And right away I knew that my fears about losing the piano were ridiculous. He was soooo good. He wouldn't have lost me in a blizzard. And I was off and running. No problem. Oh. This is just like I practiced it. Talk here. Breathe here. Belt here. No problem.

As the song went on, I actually relaxed. I've got this. I've really got it. Just like I practiced. When it came time for the final fermata preceding the big, slow finish, I actually enjoyed myself. I opened my mouth and the sounds flowed out sweet and clear. I brought it home with what I hoped was quiet power and then turned my attention to them.

They were smiling. Sort of. Maybe not. And what was that on the director's face? Could it be...disappointment? She smiled in a practiced sort of way. Uh-oh. "Thank you." I thanked them both, grabbed my gear and scurried out.

Outside, I wasn't sure what to do. I took my time putting my coat on. Should I just leave? Just then, the check-in girl approached and triumphantly presented my slip of paper. There was my name. And two columns. One said "Thank You!" There was an "X" next to that one.

The other said "Congratulations!"

Oh. Thank you. Thank you. Just like that. No triumphant victory dance to the car. Thank you. You're all done. Thanks for playing. We don't have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Many years ago, I auditioned for Chess at UCSD. I knew the director. I belted out the first verse of Patsy Cline's "Too Many Secrets" while she beamed from ear to ear. Then I nearly fell over gasping for breath. She actually looked crushed for me. I ended up in the chorus. About five years ago, I auditioned for a new musical at Diversionary and had no clue I needed sheet music. Despite having prepared two acapella songs, I was consigned to "Happy Birthday" and was out on the sidewalk before I could blink.

This was the first time I knew what I was doing. I thought. I did my homework. Lovingly prepared my sheet music. Practiced like I was going to Carnegie Hall. And each time I performed my song for a friend, I checked their faces for pity or amusement and didn't find it. Maybe I can do this, I started to believe. Maybe now is the time. I just needed to do it right, and now the world of musical theater will swing open like a velvet curtain, and I will walk through, blowing kisses to the crowd. Now is my moment.

But it's not, and I don't know why. When I feverishly review that three minutes in my head, I can't find the moment when it all went to hell. And that worries me. Why can't I find it? I told David that seems to point to a simple-minded delusion on my part. I simply can't hear that I'm lousy. That is the yuckiest ingredient of the bad feeling. That I might just be a clueless simpleton. A clueless, can't-sing simpleton who can't hear herself.

I want to acknowledge myself, I do. For taking the time to prepare. For doing it carefully and thoroughly. For getting feedback, even though it embarrassed me. For braving the elements. For getting out of my own way and giving the best performance I could in that moment. And I guess I do feel proud of myself for those things.

But I'm still wondering about the other stuff. And it feels powerful bad.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What I Couldn't Do Was...I Could Never Really...

David is without an office for the foreseeable future (don't worry, he's not fired) so we've had the weird yet pleasant experience of having him around during the day. I'm trying to be respectful of his work time, but I will confess I'm already taking advantage of occasions when I want to dash somewhere for a v. important appointment without Jarrah in tow.

Right now my v. important appointments relate to my latest quest: I'm auditioning for musicals. I didn't mean to make that plural, but two auditions presented themselves and I decided at the very least one can be practice for the other. I'm going to have to do something I've NEVER done before, and while I'm OVER deciding not to do it for that reason, I'm still pretty scared.

What I'm going to do is sing. Which is not really the scary part. I'm going to be accompanied by a pianist for whom I'll provide sheet music. And I won't know this pianist. So if I screw up, I might never get back on track, right?

For my first audition, on Monday, I've chosen "Nothing" from A Chorus Line. There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, it's a great alto belt number, and I'm an alto. For another, it has a lot of character. I also love it, and already kind of know it. But the most important reason is that the audition notice calls for a "combination" song and monologue, and I had no idea what that might mean. "Nothing" has a spoken monologue interwoven in the song.

Which, I'm only now realizing, might make me crazy. Though I had a friend check with the director to see if this song was appropriate, and she was enthusiastic, I'm not sure I should be choosing a song with multiple stops and starts as my first foray into the world of musical theater. It seems, perhaps, a fool's errand. With me representing as the fool.

Readers, if you are a musical theater person, or a singer, or a pianist, or all those things--do you have any advice for me? I'm doing everything I can think of: practicing with the "karaoke" version (I don't have a piano) and hiring a pianist for an hour tomorrow (with whom I guess I can make a recording of just piano) but do you have any other pertinent advice?

Please don't mock when I admit that I went to the library today and checked out five (count 'em, FIVE) books on how to behave at a musical theater audition. My default mode when anything makes me anxious or uncomfortable is to start checking out books about it.