Monday, August 23, 2010

An Evening with Sutton Foster

Perhaps the highlight of my summer so far came last night as I watched Sutton Foster perform live on the Berkshire Theatre Festival’s Main Stage. Manning the CD table might not have landed me a padded seat on the front row, but it definitely had its perks. A VIP pass, yummy hors d’oeuvres, and a snapshot with Miss Foster all came with the deal, not to mention a quick conversation while she signed my copy of her newly released CD, Wish.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this triple-threat actress, she has been blessed with an exceptional career on Broadway. She’s probably most known for her Tony Award-winning performance in the original production of Thoroughly Modern Millie. She’s also played leading roles in Little Women, Shrek: the Musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, and Young Frankenstein.

Her performance last night was at once both thoroughly entertaining and completely mesmerizing. I had no idea she was so funny. Song after song left us laughing, crying, or just plain happy. She possesses the rare ability to turn the emotional tide of a moment on a dime. One minute she’s cracking jokes and belting higher than humanly possible, and the next she’s quiet and vulnerable, singing a gorgeous ballad. Sutton Foster is an incredible vocalist, arguably one of the best, but her facility with story-telling is what sets her apart.

In my time here at BTF, a common thread I have found among the most talented performers is their ability to be still on stage. The actors who most hold my attention in a suspension of disbelief carry with them an ease that marks a true professional. They are not afraid to simply exist on stage, without any seeming obligation to an emotion or movement. Sutton Foster, Jayne Atkinson, Lisa Emery, James Lloyd Reynolds, and Brandy Caldwell have all taught me the importance of freedom in voice and body. In a conversation with Lisa Emery after her opening night performance as Claire in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, I eagerly inquired about her preferred acting technique. Her response was simply, “I just try to breathe.”

Probably the most valuable lesson I will take away from my summer at BTF is the absolutely fixed connection between breath and emotion. It is amazing what can be discovered where there is freedom in the breath and body. Our center or “gut” holds the seat of our emotions, which doesn’t lie far from our heart and lungs. It shouldn’t be surprising then that what we feel comes out of the same place as does our breath, our blood, and our impulses. A deep breath from the center also has a way of bringing clarity to the mind, which naturally releases a freedom in the body. Our bodies are such complex creatures, and the more I learn about them, the more I see how everything works together. No part is exclusive. We operate the way we were intended to operate when we are free of tension. Maybe that’s why God told us not to worry.

Sutton Foster wasn’t the first person to demonstrate a freedom in stillness on stage this summer, but for some reason she helped me put the pieces together. I appreciated her candor, and admired her artistry, but my evening with Sutton Foster taught me far more about myself and the artist I want to become. And hopefully that truth will help set me free.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

One Fine Day

Biscuits and Gravy: $3.50
Starbucks: $5
Ski lift: $9
Alpine Slide: $9 (plus some elbow grease)
Conversation and View on top of Jiminy Peak: Priceless

I spent a recent day off with a few new friends. It was refreshing for all of us, and very much needed. We had an amazing breakfast together, and then headed up to Jiminy Peak, a ski lodge not too far away. We rode the ski lift up the mountain, and this was the view. After an amazing 2 hour conversation, we rode the lift back down and rode the "Alpine Slide," a fun ride which resembled a bobsled, except without snow. This little gem of a day has helped recharge my "spiritual" batteries, and I thank God for other believers in the business!

Sarah Garrett (left), Me, Tanya Dougherty (right of center), Michael Brahce (right)

Monday, August 16, 2010

No Place Like Home

12 days to go. 12 days left of unwelcome spiders. 12 days left of mosquito bites. 12 days left of not sleeping in my own bed. 12 days left of no air conditioning. 12 days left to spend with new friends. 12 days left until I see old friends. 12 days until HOME!

It’s hard to believe our time at BTF is coming to a close. One apprentice has already left to return to school, and it seems that we are saying goodbye to various staff members everyday now. It is the beginning of the end.

As I walked through the streets of downtown Stockbridge today, I thought back to the first time I ever drove through it. What was once very unknown is now engraved in my memory. What at first seemed aloof and strange is now no more unfamiliar than the old stomping grounds of home. But home, it is not. At least not for me.

It’s hard for me to understand how a period of time can go by so fast and slow at the same time. In one way I feel like I just arrived, and in another way it seems like I’ve been here forever. I’m always trying to rush time, and then I look back and wonder how it got here so fast. As I look forward to going home, I am striving to cherish every day that I have left, as I know that I’ll always treasure this time of my life. So many memories. So many friends. So many blessings. But so many bugs…

It’s Theatre Camp for grown-ups. And believe me, it’s not for the faint of heart. We’ve all done things this summer we never thought we could do, not the least of which includes surviving our living quarters. Anyone who’s ever been to the Lavan Center knows exactly what I’m talking about, and for those of you who haven’t, just imagine an old campground converted into an insane asylum that was abandoned about 20 years ago.

We still have a couple of weeks left, which are filled to the brim with activities. From Master Classes, to Suzuki, to Yoga, to Linklater, to rehearsals, to nightly performances, to our approaching Showcase, we don’t have much downtime scheduled before we leave. That’s a good thing, though. It’s good for me to be busy. I’m much more productive that way, and it will keep my mind off of the fact that I miss home. I have 12 days left of my apprenticeship, and it’s my mission to make each one of them count.

Just for the record, I really have enjoyed my time here in Stockbridge. It’s been an amazing summer, and I have learned so much. There’s no part of me that regrets spending my summer with the Berkshire Theatre Festival. But Dorothy said it best. There’s just no place like home.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Personal Inventory

My thoughts have been unusually introspective recently, so I thought I’d jot down some of the things I’ve been pondering. Discovery is a large part of the creative process, and I find it helpful to reflect on things that I notice about myself. Self-awareness allows for improvement and evaluation, both of which are necessary for progress. So for what it’s worth, here are some of my observations:

I am most definitely a kinesthetic learner. I understand something best when I can do it myself and flesh it out in my body. I do not easily retain information that I only hear. It takes much more concentration. Just ask my boyfriend.

I need a creative outlet. You might think this whole summer would be one big creative outlet, but believe it or not, I need a splash of variety once in a while. A creative change opens up doors that I wouldn’t otherwise recognize.

I need hydration and rest to function well. Period.

I hate feeling rushed.

I hate waking up. I always have, I probably always will.

I don’t work well without pressure.

I tend to snowball my worries, which apparently profits nothing.

I can be funny, and am (slowly) learning the art of comic timing.

I am often “typed” (otherwise known as type-casted) as the Best Friend, Quirky Kid, and Teacher/Mom. Seems to be a strange combination, but I’m still looking for a thread.

I need alone time.

I am learning how to prioritize. (Though I don’t think I’ll ever master this one.)

I still care far too much about what people think about me.

But probably the most important lesson I’m learning this summer is to LET GO. Anyone who really knows me knows that I am a bit of a control freak. I like to know exactly what’s expected of me, accomplish it well, and check it off my list. It’s incredibly difficult for me not to worry or get stressed out about little things. Part of the problem is that I am a very logical person (when I’m not hormonal), and desperately need structure in order to function. Without parameters or expectations, I flounder. I was the kid who colored in the lines, and wanted all my crayon strokes aligned in neat little rows. I make my bed every morning, and have all my pillows arranged the same way every night before I go to sleep. Can we say Perfectionist?

But don’t ask me to organize my closet. I get overwhelmed at the thought of creating order within chaos. For someone who craves structure so severely, I have a very hard time creating it for myself. Maybe that’s why I cling to it so much. It’s something I lack, but desperately need to survive.

At least I think I need it. All the physical training I’ve been doing this summer has helped move me from being in my “head” so much to being more in my body. In my movement and voice classes at Regent, I started becoming aware of how much our bodies are connected with emotion. I didn’t really believe it until my professor had us get up and start skipping around the room. Almost immediately we all started laughing and acting silly. When he had us stop, he asked us to describe what we experienced on an emotional level. We all expressed some kind of positive, happy state. We did the same thing with punching our fist on the table, and a very opposite emotional reaction occurred. It was very clear that for every physical action, there is a very real emotional response. Suzuki Training comes out of a similar idea, rigorously training our bodies in a very structured way so that an emotional life naturally follows. If you don’t believe me, try stomping for 3 minutes without stopping and see what happens.

I like this “outside-in” approach to acting because far too often I get stuck in my head, thinking about or analyzing my emotional state instead of just feeling. Feeling. You know, that ambiguous, sorta kinda, something-like-that sensation in your gut? The “warm fuzzies” don’t always agree with my Type-A personality. I like things that I can define and rationalize in my mind, but I’m learning that sometimes I can understand something better through my body. Like when a baby cries because she’s hungry. She doesn’t think to herself, “Huh. My stomach needs food right now.” She simply feels a pang of hunger, and her body automatically responds with a wail. I’m not suggesting a need to revert back to childlike behavior, but I do think there is something to be said for the “pang.”

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my training this summer has centered around physiological freedom. It’s exactly what I’ve needed in my acting process, but also in my personal life. It’s been good for me to get out of my comfort zone and have to relinquish some control. I think God’s trying to teach me a little more than just how to cry on cue. The perfectionist side of me would like to tell you that by the time I leave here I will have “arrived” at some greater level of achievement and understanding. And while I have definitely learned a great deal, the greatest lesson so far is that I am at the same time always and never where I need to be… and that is OK.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Libby in Action

Here's a group of Babes in Arms apprentices surrounding Surf and Sand Playhouse's co-owner Bunny Byron, played by Samantha Richert (middle). In this shot we are watching a fight between the two stars of The Deep North, "a play written, directed, and acted by Lee Calhoun... Mississippi's answer to Tennessee Williams." Mr. Fleming, Bunny's partner, decides to cancel the apprentices' review in favor of running Mr. Calhoun's play for a second week. At the risk of losing their jobs, the apprentices band together to save their careers and the future of the theatre.

Babes in Arms runs in the Unicorn Theatre at Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, MA July 31-August 28. For ticket information, you can call the Box Office at (413) 298-5576 ext 33 or go online to

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Meet Libby

Here's a quick dressing room shot of me in my costume. Libby loves her green and white pin-striped jumper and bouncy curls!
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Opening Night Thoughts

To my regular blog followers, I apologize for the small hiatus from entries. It’s been a crazy tech week for Babes, with classes and rehearsals during the day and preview performances at night. Lunch and dinner are about the only breaks we get. When I come home at night, I have the choice to shower, sleep, or blog. Unfortunately, blogging hasn’t been at the top of my priority list.

With six preview performances down, tonight is the official Opening of Babes in Arms! We’ve gotten great feedback from our viewers so far, and seem to be hitting our target audience rather successfully. Our director, Gray Simons, has a very specific sense of humor that lends itself well to this classic Broadway musical. Babes is an over-the-top, happy-go-lucky show that will leave you feeling like life couldn’t get any better. Sometimes you just need to laugh, and that’s what Babes does well.

The idea of “larger than life” has been a recent theme of my thoughts lately. Musical theatre in general demands a heightened sense of reality that oversteps the bounds of most modern realism. (And by realism I mean the genre of theatre that is naturalistic and more true-to-life than say, melodrama.) I first began to grasp this idea while working on the role of Kathy Selden in Singin in the Rain during my first year at Regent. Early in the rehearsal process, I found myself approaching Kathy as if she was Arkadina in The Seagull. After two semesters of studying Chekhov and Meisner, it was the only method that seemed appropriate. My director kindly challenged me with the idea that musical theatre is not realism, but is in fact a completely different genre and should be treated as such. At first I took serious issue with this idea, believing that anything other than realism would simply not be believable. But after more discussion and thought, I began to see his point. After all, what is real about bursting into song and dance in the middle of the street? I don’t know about you, but that could only be normal for me in a world where the stakes are significantly higher than my everyday reality.

Working on Babes in Arms has reminded me a lot of Singin in the Rain, and Gray, much like my former director, has absolutely created a world of heightened reality. He has encouraged us to think of our individual roles as contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Our lines extend beyond the present circumstances into a future that is dependent on our choices now. Babes is very much about community and teamwork, so his request isn’t hard to acquiesce to. The world these characters live in is one much bigger than our own, and requires much more energy to survive. When speaking can no longer express a character’s thoughts, song takes over, and when there are no more words, dance.

I really appreciate the idea of striving toward something bigger than myself. It’s incredibly refreshing in a business where it’s “all about me.” It’s a good reminder that I am serving a Greater Good, both in the story and in my life. I love acting techniques that train you to focus on the other person or on something outside of yourself. It is way too easy to get wrapped up in what we like to call “actor thoughts” that take you out of the moment and back into yourself. It’s too easy to worry about what people think of your performance or to get self-conscious and afraid to try something new. Pride is the actor’s greatest enemy, whether we all acknowledge it or not.

The best actors in my opinion are the selfless ones, giving of themselves unconditionally and expecting nothing in return. Where there is no pride, there is no fear. This profession isn’t for divas and isn’t for pansies. It takes guts to be vulnerable, and that is why I keep coming back for more.