Exit Stage FRight

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Exit Stage FRight

There is virtually no case of stage fright that can’t be lessened with proper preparation and relaxation. Many articles I’ve read, and professional performers and public speakers I’ve talked to, suggest that having material well memorized and rehearsed will significantly lower stress levels. Also high on the must-do list is a proper vocal, physical, or musical warm-up.  I agree that knowing your song or speech well, and knowing your own body well can be the difference between a fantastic or failed performance. But what if these tricks are not enough? There are times when the stress of the job can dominate even the most prepared person.

 

Last weekend I performed in my first barbershop harmony competition. Although I’ve been singing professionally for about seven years, this competition was a little different. I’m used to solo National Anthem gigs, or singing in front of a rock or jazz band; those situations don’t even faze me. But for some strange reason, singing in an a cappella quartet is a whole different ballgame. Although we’d rehearsed our two contest songs to the point where we could sing them in our sleep, the pressure of leading such a tight group got to me on our first performance. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as smooth, strong, and confident as it could have been.

  So what’s to be done if the old preparation and relaxation tricks don’t cut it?

Pre-Gig Excitement!

Pre-Gig Excitement!

 

Many drug companies are researching whether some of the classic “chill pills” like Prazac will work for people who suffer from severe and chronic performance anxiety. (I mean the kind onstage guys!) The most common medical answer to our periodic freak-out moments, though, is a little miracle called propranolol. I’m not normally a fan of taking medication for ANYTHING! Not allergies, not a headache, and certainly not for a little stage fright! BUT, when it came down to the nitty-gritty, on the afternoon of my quartet’s first competition together, I have to admit it…  I was glad I took the pill. After only six weeks of rehearsal, we won the fourth place medals at the Sweet Adeline International (SAI) region 13 competition!

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Me and the girls with our 4th place medals on

So how does it work?

It’s called a beta-blocker. When you take the medication an hour or so before that fear is going to kick in, it fills in your body’s stress hormone receptors with fake stress hormones. That way, when you get flooded with real stressors, they have nowhere to go. Pretty slick, huh?

I’m not saying that these drugs are the perfect answer, in fact, far from it! Unfortunately, they can be a little addictive. Although there are usually no side effects mentioned for beta-blockers, it’s easy to get psychologically hooked on pills that will give you a better performance!

I recently went to an audition that should have been EASY for me to nail.  I’ve been performing at this theatre for over a year and I’m friends with the directors, the accompanist, and the stage. Unfortunately, I spilled coffee on the skirt I was going to wear and had to go up there in my blue jeans. It may sound silly, but that little stressor sent me spinning. After the easy, relaxed competition performance I’d had just a few days before, I felt overwhelmed by the audition situation. OH, HOW I WISHED I’D HAD A PILL TO TAKE!

Looking back on the three minutes I was up there, it went… not great. These people are my friends, so I hope they won’t hold one bad performance against me. But the advice I’d like to pass on to you readers is this:

Be aware of the side effects that aren’t on the label. Know yourself and how you react to taking them, and to NOT taking them. Learn from my goof-ups! 🙂  And have FUN out there!!

417829_10200812119120597_148891491_nFun Fun Fun

Barbershop?

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I wrote the post below about about six months ago, but never uploaded it. I think I was scared to blog about anything until I had SOMETHING in my life figured out.

Well, I may still not have it figured out, but I’m back! I appreciated this little look back in time. I hope you do too. 

 

Most people like to get their hair cut, right? I don’t, I cut mine myself, but most people enjoy that right? It can imagine that it feels good to go to someone you trust, tell them what you want or show them a picture, and walk out feeling fantastic. Or, go in with no idea what you want, trust them to do their job, and walk out feeling fantastic. Either way, you come out ahead right?

I joined the Navy Band because of barbershop. Well, barbershop music. My Dad’s best friend Chuck was the band master of Navy Band Northwest and he told me to audition.

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Me, Rich and Dad 🙂

Why does this matter? Why is it on my mind? I think it’s all about choices.

The last few months, since leaving the Navy band, have been really strange for me. I can wake up whenever I want, do whatever I want, and answer to no one. Doesn’t that sound amazing? Well, just like a haircut, it could be really great, really bad, or just a drastic change that’s still mediocre.

As I navigate this new world, away from military life, I am overwhelmed by choices. In the Navy, there is one right way for everything. We have a specific way we’re trained to complete a  task, and a set of rules (usually attached to an acronym)  to remember how to get it done properly. We’re told where to live, what to eat, what we should weigh, how we should manage our finances, and YES even how to do our hair.  EVERYTHING is decidid for us. It’s a well known fact that the transition back to real life can be hard on sailors, so we’re even trained in how to aclimate to civillian life. Seriously, it’s a week long class. But there are some things that a class just doesn’t cover… Like how to decide, for yourself, what is right for you.

How did you end up working in your job? Did a family member or a close friend work in your field? Maybe it was just a part time thing that became all you needed it to be. Maybe an aquaintence  said “You’d be really good at…”

Aside

So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been for the last two weeks, here’s the scoop.

I love doing the theater! The people are fun, the dancing is challenging and I get to wear fantastic outfits all the time. The only problem is… 

On Friday afternoons, most people get to put the week in their rear view and head home early. What am I doing at 5pm? I’m driving to Tacoma Musical Playhouse to get ready to put on a full scale production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat. The show starts at 8 and we usually get out of there around 10:15. Then it’s back home for a few hours of sleep before pulling off two shows on Saturday and another on Sunday. Let’s not forget the cast parties and that “gig high” that fend sleep off like a knight. But what if you have a blog to write? Or a film to shoot? Or a song to record?

Finding the time becomes harder all the time.  How is an artist supposed to choose which projects to put on the back burner and which deserve high heat? Especially with time breathing down our necks! “I’m getting older every day, there are parts I’ll never play, all this stress will turn me gray.” Oh no, now even my writing sounds like a musical! 🙂
Lately I’ve been racking my brain to find a solution to this prioritizing problem. Here’s my dilemma. 

People say “Do what makes you happy.” but I just wrote a blog post last month called “It’s NOT all about me!” Movies, T.V. and club acts are fun and usually pay well but…

Who’s my audience, who am I reaching?
What does my performance really mean?
What am I giving up at home to be here?

I’m finding that sleepless nights are easier and decisions become simpler when I know what I’m fighting for. And there is no better place to see that than in the theater. The smiles on kids faces when they walk into the lobby are magical. Talking with an old timer about when he saw this show in London with his late wife will bring tears to your eyes. The stories we get to act, dance and sing mean something to people just as they mean so much to us.

Show People

If you’re one of us, one of these “show people”, you know what I’m talking about and I commend you. For all the rest, thanks for supporting us and checking out our shows and projects when you can. What we do would mean nothing if people weren’t there to enjoy it.

Living for the Weekend

No Pay, No Gain? – why film, even for free, is always a good idea

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For many actors, making the transition to film has been a dream since childhood. But unless you’re a supermodel, pop star or a famous socialite, you’re going to have to start small.

It’s been years since my last feature film, Frayed (check out the trailer!) and I’ve been looking for a fun way to get back in the game.

 

I’m hiding from a psycho 🙂

Recently, I checked out a Cold Note concert and my writing partner introduced me to Whitney Sherwood of Filmateria Studios. You never know if something exciting will come from a connection so always follow up and send along your headshot and resume.

As luck would have it, I got an e-mail from Whitney about three weeks after our meeting. She mentioned that her team, “irate”  was looking for actors for their upcoming 48 Hour Film Project entry. There are many rules for this contest but one big one is that it’s all completely volunteer. No pay.

As a freelance performer, you have to be careful to pick and choose the “pro bono” work you sign up for. Do too much and you undervalue yourself. Do too little, and your resume will have nothing on it. That being said, working on a film with a group of professionals is always a good idea. It gets you fantastic experience and you never know where the connections will lead you. One of the men on the production team for this job has actually won this contest twice. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be part of a film that ends up at Cannes? You can’t win if you’re not in the game.

Make sure you show up to meetings on time, dress well and be low maintenance. Let them know what you bring to the table, without being cocky. Your resume should say it all, you just need to be gracious and offer to help in any way you can. If they like your attitude and work ethic, you have a much better shot at being featured. For most local projects, the script isn’t in stone. If they find someone they like, aka YOU, a small part can turn into a feature very quickly.

I’ll keep you posted on how this project goes. We’ll be receiving our genre, line of dialogue and prop on Friday the 13th of this month at 6 PM. Tacoma Musical Playhouse was nice enough to give us a great deal on costume rentals so we’ll be pulling clothes that night. The writers will pull an all nighter so we’re free to shoot Saturday morning. Score and any post production happens after that and Sunday they finish it up and drop it off.

It’s going to be quick and dirty but pretty much painless. These are the best free projects to do, low time commitment and high probability of success. Film is always fun and definitely worth your time! 

The First Date -aka- The Audition

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When it comes to auditions, there are several hard and fast rules.

These apply to every audition. From bar bands to pro voice over work. From T.V. and film to community theater, always bring your A-game.

Just like a first date, maybe that person sitting across the table from you is a nobody. But maybe, just maybe, they’ll change your life. 

So, if you want to get your foot in the door for that second date (a callback), ALWAYS…

  • Be on time
  • Look good
  • Have your sh$* together
  • No excuses
  • Leave them wanting more

The first is pretty simple. Be on time! Nobody wants someone who’s disrespectful. If you show up late, you’re sending a message that your time is more important than the casting director’s. I know that’s not how you really feel, but that’s how they’ll see it. You may be so incredibly talented that they’ll overlook anything… But for most of us, it’s not worth the risk. Putting your best foot forward starts with punctuality. 

Next. Look good! Most women have a “little black dress” that makes them feel really good on a first date. Well, you need something like that for auditions. It should be simple, classic, comfortable and make you look fantastic. You want to do everything you can to help them remember you so, unlike date attire, you should wear this same outfit to your callback.  

Have your sh$* together! Picture this. Your date is all arranged and you can’t wait. Right on time, you get a call saying they’re waiting for you in the car outside. You walk down and open the door to the car and…… there is junk everywhere. Where are you supposed to sit? Is this for real? Well that’s how a piano player feels when someone doesn’t have their music in a proper folder. That’s how a casting director feels if I don’t  have an extra headshot and resume. They got ready. They showed up prepared. We must anticipate what they’ll need and want in order to earn their trust.

No excuses. Seriously, none. None! If you’re sick, if you had a bad day, if you’re cat just died, if you have a zit, shut up about it. I’m being harsh because I have to tell myself this all the time. I get it, it’s  in our nature to explain why we are less than perfect, why we come up short. But I guarantee, no one will ever realize how incredible you are if you’re spending all your time explaining why you’re not

Leave them wanting more. This is a classic dating rule that fits perfectly in the world of auditions. Yes, we want to show them all the amazing things we can do. We want to sing every verse, do the whole monologue. I’ll tell you right now that without staging, lights and costumes, even the most incredible actors and voices can loose an audience after a minute or so. It’s better to draw them in and then let them go. They’ll be thinking about you when the next person is singing instead of thinking about the next person while you are 😉

All that being said… Yesterday, at my audition for Legally Blonde, I broke several of my own rules! I know better than anyone how hard it is to stick to these but, if you do, I honestly believe you’ll go out of there feeling better than ever.

If you have any questions about different types of auditions or you have something special coming up, please let us know! I’d love to help or point you in the direction of someone who can. There are lots of differences between film, commercials, theater and recording but these 5 rules are a good place to start for all professional performing. 

Moving On

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This is it!  My very last day in the Navy Band. What an incredible learning experience it’s been. Thrilling, challenging, rewarding. But it’s time to move on.

 I think this video from my going away party sums it up.

 

So what’s next?

Last week, in Stay Vocal as Things Change, we talked about exploring transitions in our voices as well as in our lives. After reading that post, my friend and fellow blogger Amy Anderson asked me out to lunch.

We had a lovely meal on the waterfront patio at The Boat Shed. She sipped her iced tea and we chatted, watching the waves roll by. One of the nicest days we’ve had in Washington all year. I told her that I hoped it would stay nice for her big moving sale.

She and the rest of her family of 5 are scaling back to the bare necessities. They drive across the country to their new home next week. Her husband landed a great job as a professor of film studies at Southeastern University. She and her kids will be able to go to school there and study anything they’d like. Their world is an open book, but what a huge change for the entire family!

After filling me in on the new jobs, schools and opportunities in film and theater, she brought up the idea of reinventing herself. Reinventing. This is not just a change or a transition that happens to you. It’s a decision you make. It takes planning, preparation and action. As actors and singers, we take these steps every time we prepare for a role or a song. So why do we forget to do the same with our real lives?  We made a commitment then and there. We are going to…

  • Decide what’s truly important. The things we need to carry with us in our lives.
  • Make a plan for our future selves based on that foundation.
  • Put that plan into action as we move through to the next phase.

Me and my boss LTJG Robert J. “Seph” Coats


I’m holding my end of tour award signed by Rear Admiral Douglass T. Biesel and standing next to one of the best bosses ever.  Sound gear is packed up behind us and the American flag to the right of me is almost whispering in my ear. Like an angel on my shoulder, it says “Ya did good kid. Now don’t do anything stupid.”  🙂

This picture symbolizes many of the things I’ll take away from this experience and carry with me always. These build the foundation that any future self will stand on.

Great friends.

Incredible memories.

A new wealth of knowledge.

Pride in my accomplishments and the motivation behind those achievements.

And a passion to make tomorrow even better than today.

What do you carry with you?

Is someone you know moving on too? Please share this with them.


WRITE a SONG – find a process that fits you

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In my last post, I stated four goals I have for this week. The first is to…

WRITE A SONG THAT FEATURES A FRIEND


For many singers, this task can seem daunting. We spend our lives falling in love with what we hear on the radio, on television, or in the theater. But the idea of hearing something within ourselves and bringing it to life is foreign. Alien.  Taking that step from “singer” to “musician” can feel impossible.

I grew up watching my father write and arrange tunes at our piano. I’ve seen it done hundreds of times and it still took me 14 years to write my first song. Twelve more years went by before I figured out a system that fits me. My poor piano skills held me hostage for too long. Every time I’d sit down to write I felt trapped by my shortcomings. Melodies and words would flow but I wanted incredible chord changes, interesting and exciting twists and turns along these musical paths I was forging… but my skills were too limited. I had three options

  1. Learn to live with mediocrity in the hopes of improving with time. – Not really an option at all.
  2. Spend years studying piano and guitar so chords can come as freely as singing. – I’d love to but the real pros start long before age 20.
  3. Find a writing partner who lives and breathes his instrument. – Some of the greatest songs of all time were written by teams.

Today I’d like to bring you into my process. Well, our process. And introduce you to my writing partner Drew.

This was just the bridge of a great new song we’re working on. I’ve sent the entire track to a friend of mine who will record it with me as a duet very soon!

This is only the first phase of the recording process. One take. A first draft. You can still hear the click track, there is no instrumentation, editing or pitch correction. The important thing is to get the ideas down and out into the universe. Now we can listen over and over and decide what the song should become from here.

I could go on for days about character development, choosing vocal placement and style. Drew could talk for weeks about why he picked these chord changes. There is much more discussion to be had on recording and editing equipment and software. I hope we can delve into these things in the comment section and in further blog posts. But, for now, I hope this helps inspire you to get started.