Sunday, March 21, 2010

Magical Moment 45, "Pearls from Joanna"

How is it that I know so many things in my head, but when it comes to applying them in life, I suddenly forget them, don’t believe them, or just ignore them? It isn’t until someone or something completely unexpected comes along and puts them in a different perspective – a way I can relate to – that the light bulb comes on. Two plus two equals four.

Yesterday, I went to a musical theatre workshop taught by Joanna Gleason, an accomplished TV, movie, and theatre actress. I had no idea what to expect and suddenly became very nervous when I arrived and the other students were buzzing about how star struck they would be when she entered. Because, to be totally honest, I wasn’t exactly sure who she was. I’m from Nebraska, okay? Sometimes it’s like living under a rock. In addition, I had never heard most of the songs that the other students brought to work on. The criteria said to bring two Broadway standards. To me, that means Cats, Evita, or Chicago. Again people, Nebraska…rock…you understand.

So I sat waiting, suddenly terrified in my folding chair, shaking behind my binder when Joanna walked in. Thankfully, I immediately recognized her (among other, more complex roles, she plays the lush mother in The Wedding Planner with J-lo).

She immediately put the entire class at ease with her authoritative, but approachable demeanor. I was amazed at her insight and ability to verbalize ideas in such an intellectual yet understandable way. I found myself soaking in every word she spoke. She was, of course beautiful, tall, thin, dark hair, creamy light skin, and casually yet stylishly dressed. Her presence suddenly made the tiny classroom into an atmosphere of comfort, honesty, education, and safety.

If you’ve read any of this blog, you know that I struggle with stage fright, nervousness, and generally worrying myself into a physically sick and twisted mess before a performance of any kind. I thought that might be a concern to address when she opened the class up for Q and A. That’s when she let so many jewels of wisdom fly out of her mouth, I could barely write them down fast enough.

One thing she said was, “You have a 50/50 chance of getting any job you try out for.” At first I didn’t understand what that meant, but that just shows you how wrapped up I get in comparing myself to others. It’s either gonna be a yes, or a no. It’s that simple. So I don’t need to think about the 20 other people who applied for the same gig and stress myself out wondering where I might rank among them. What a stunningly simple way to make me understand something that I should already know.

As we went on with the class, each person singing their song, she went through with an amazingly accurate perceptiveness about what that performer needed to hear and learn. She knew what key the song should be sung in. She knew what insecurities we were hiding behind. She knew the difference between genuine emotion and acting. In between performances, she gave her views on family, friends, and her distain for the word “like.” And long after I would have called it quits if I were her, she was still going strong. Flowing with a wealth of experience, advice, and tools that connected individually with each student.

When I squeaked out the first line of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” she stopped me cold, telling me I sounded like a 5 year old girl. Sensing that she wouldn’t put up with my usual protests of not being able to use my belt voice for more than a note or two, and then being scolded for accidently saying “like,” I decided to just go for it. Suddenly, I found myself on the second verse, the second chorus, the tag, finished! I sang the whole song using my belt voice. I have NEVER done that before. I was completely stunned, amazed, grateful, hopeful. That’s when she said something else, “People type cast you. You’re the girl who sings quiet and pretty, but you have a big voice.” She encouraged me to find a vocal trainer to help me learn proper technique.

When the class ended, a few students stayed after to network, meet, and congratulate each other on our individual successes during the class. I left that day feeling optimistic and triumphant. I thought a victory walk through Central Park might be in order where I could digest everything that had been taught and learned that day. I felt things were working out, moving just as they should. I felt this new life was slowly starting to click for me. I felt that I was growing, like, as a musician, a performer, and a person. I mean – growing AS a musician, performer, and person. Another pearl from Joanna.


lovely said...

this is a great post, elizabeth!

i received a scholarship back in 2008 from primary stages and they offer great opportunities! i never was able to go to any of joanna gleason's workshop but i have seen her perform on stage and she is great.

one of the workshops i was able to be part of (thanks to our teacher) was a session with casting director stephanie klapper. i took a risk and made myself to the monologue i was working on. i'm always afraid of doing anything by myself and would hide behind doing a scene with another person. this time i first did my monologue AND a scene! well worth it!

Eddie said...

I have heard you sing and I think that everyone should get a chance to hear you. Thank you Joanna and Primary Stages for helping out my favorite person in the world.

Debbie said...

I think that you have a wonderful voice, keep up the good work and you will reach your goals.