TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 2)

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Last week I started to explore the Top 10 Roadblocks that I have seen my students consistently face-regardless of how far along they are on their career path. As a private voice teacher, I have the privilege of exploring these obstacles with my students on a regular basis and finding creative solutions. No matter how many times I’ve confronted each challenge with a student or on my own, I am always inspired when someone overcomes a hurdle and discovers their true potential.

This list was inspired when Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals that share a passion for theatre trends exchange practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as performers and teachers.  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or roadblocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.

The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals. For more details on items 6-10, please check out the previous post (creatively titled The TOP 10 ROADBLOCK MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE ( PART 1) )

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5. COMPARISON TO WHERE OTHER’S ARE ON THEIR PATHS

When we were in grammar school and were assigned a creative project, the teacher would tell us, “Eyes on your own page!”. She wanted us to focus on our own project and use our own creativity to create something without being swayed or influenced by what other people were doing. I find this motto to be very useful when it comes to my students wondering if they are where they need to be on their career path. It’s oh so tempting to take a look at where our friends and colleagues are and wonder what we are doing wrong or how we can follow in their footsteps. We can spend so much time and energy focusing on other people’s paths and comparing- that we lose our own focus and take energy away from the things that can lead to our own victories. Stay on your own path. Celebrate your friend’s triumphs and at the same time acknowledge that your path is different and your victories will come in their own time.

4. EXPECTING ONE’S SELF TO BE WHERE YOU WANT AS A PERFORMER WITHOUT ALLOWING TIME FOR GRADUAL GROWTH

When a little baby takes it’s very first step, everyone in the room claps and cheers. There are smiles and celebration – and when the baby plops down on his behind seconds later, there are more smiles, applause and encouragement to try again. If he falls, he is not admonished but encouraged to reach further. No one would expect that infant to be up and running a race moments after his first step. Watching the child develop we understand that he must literally put one foot in front of the other to develop muscular strength , coordination and stamina.

As we develop our skills as an artists it’s easy to become impatient with ourselves and expect instant results. We want to see the fruits of our efforts quickly and get frustrated with our status quo. Try to embrace where you are in this very moment as a performer and celebrate that. Acknowledge that you are on a journey as an artist and are developing actual factual muscles. That takes time , patience and practice. Recognize that while you are reaching for greater goals, that does not take away from where you are and what you have to offer in THIS VERY MOMENT.

3. FEAR OF MAKING A MISTAKE- NOT LEAVING SPACE FOR THE “BAD” SOUNDS

It’s very rare that something will come out just perfect on the first try. Great ballerinas have had to fall out of their pirouettes when they were first learning to dance, renowned painters have thousands of sketches that end up painted over or in the trash.  When it comes to singing , I’ve found that most people would like to “sound good” all the time.  For some reason we leave very little room for breathy, cracky or vulnerable sounds when we are working on our singing.  We will go to great lengths creating tension or shying away from notes to avoid “sounding bad” . One of the first things I point out to my students when we begin our work together is that we are not in the studio to “sound good”.  We are in the studio so that we can “sound good” out in the world.  That means that there may be times when we will take the voice to places that are weak, cracky, vulnerable.  As opposed to creating tension and trying to cover those areas up, I encourage the student to actually deal with the reality of what is going on with their instrument so that we can give them the exercises to build upon those areas that need development. It reminds me of going to the gym. Personally, I don’t look my best as I’m sweating on the elliptical machine. However, I hope that as I continue to put in that work I will leave the gym looking and feeling a little better. It’s so important to have at least one safe space where you can feel completely free to “mess up”.  Let that space be your place to play with your instrument, find your creative voice and really let go.

2. NOT GIVING ONE’S SELF THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE BRILLIANT DUE TO LACK OF PROPER PREPARATION

There’s a certain magic that happens when we have done our homework and are truly prepared for a performance . Suddenly, our shoulders release, our breathing becomes easy and our confidence swells. We are able to be present and in the moment and lo and behold-we can have some fun. Anything becomes possible. Proper preparation involves several factors that can sometimes get overlooked or skipped but each element can make a major difference in leading to a victorious outcome. Simply being familiar with our material and having rehearsed it is a good place to start, but preparation can go deeper than that. By giving yourself the opportunity to practice your material in front of other people several times before your audition or performance, allowing yourself the time to warm-up your voice and body,  being certain of how you are going to enter the room and communicate with your accompanist, checking to be sure your music is set up in the proper format and in the proper key and clearly marked, exploring your piece several times and playing with your acting choices and so forth you are setting your self up for an enjoyable performance. Challenge yourself to create opportunities to be brilliant on a regular basis.  As Oprah says, “I feel that luck is preparation meeting opportunity. ”

1. QUESTIONING “AM I GOOD ENOUGH?” 

This is most certainly the #1 road block I see Musical Theatre performers come up against no matter how far along they are on their career path. A performer can have multiple Broadway credits and award nominations or wins. Still the “evil doubt monster” can rear his nasty little head at a moment’s notice. Part of our job as performers is to continually nurture our sense of value and worth. Create a strong support system of teachers, friends, mentors and medical professionals that you trust to guide you on your journey and fill your days with work that inspires you. Continue to strive towards improving your skills while acknowledging how far you’ve come on your path thus far. Practice and be prepared. From there, do the work and just keep doing it. When it comes down to it, we have very little control over what other people’s opinions of us might be — quite frankly it’s none of our business. I’ve seen people talk themselves into the idea of begin good enough and just as easily talk themselves out of being good enough. Make the decision to do the work and let it be an exciting journey rather than a one time trip to greatness. There will be great days and less than great days but you will always be an artist . In my book, by definition, that is more than good enough.

Be Warm,

Kim Stern

Co-Creator – The Broadway Warm-Up

A Completely Synchronized Vocal and Dance Warm-Up that can be completed in under 30 minutes!

The TOP 10 ROADBLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS FACE (PART 1)

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Happy New Year Folks!  As we see the horizon of a New Year many of us have our sights on exciting new goals.  We’ve made resolutions that we’ve been able to stick to thus far and we have high hopes for the promise of the coming year. Unfortunately, as we continue along our path we may find that some of these resolutions are a little harder to keep than we thought or we may get frustrated at not hitting the mark for all of our goals right away.  The following is intended to help you work through the rough points, stick to your resolutions and reach your goals.

Recently, Deidre Goodwin and I did an interview for Theatre Cast: a  webcast where theatre teachers and professionals share a passion for theatre trends and share practical advice and tips. We talked about our work in developing The Broadway Warm-Up and shared stories of our experiences as  performers and teachers  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned  that I could name about 10 obstacles or road blocks that I have seen my students come up against consistently-regardless of how far they are along on their career path.  At this point, a listener of the program wrote in and asked me to go further on that topic.  I took some time to look at this and came up with the top 10 roadblocks that I see students consistently face. I realized each “roadblock” is surmountable the moment we are able to acknowledge it in a supportive way and find a way to address it.

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TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 1)

 10. SEARCHING FOR APPROVAL FROM SOURCES OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF BEFORE GAINING YOUR OWN APPROVAL

Many times I will have students coming to me hoping for me to tell them if I think they have what it takes to reach their goals. I found that the only real answer is to suggest that they take a look at themselves and ask that very same question. So many times we are tempted to search for approval in auditions, rehearsals, performances or in our day to day life. If we can begin to grow that sense of approval and worth within ourselves we’ll find ourselves continually nurtured. Confidence will soar and our performance will flourish as a result. Value the input of your mentors and teachers but trust that you and you alone can determine your worth.

9. DIFFICULTY EMBRACING THE BRILLIANCE OF THE PERSON YOU ARE AND WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER IN A UNIQUE WAY- TRYING TO REPLICATE WHAT OTHERS HAVE ALREADY PUT OUT THERE

To me, part of the wonder and brilliance of life is it’s absolute uniqueness. Each one of us has our very unique qualities and our very unique ways of expressing ourselves to the world. So often, I will find students trying to replicate a performance they’ve seen  on YouTube or heard on ITunes and most of the time it’s obvious right from the start. They may not even realize they are doing it, but they’ve gotten it into their heads that there is one way to put a particular piece across and they aim to replicate it. The result is generally fine—but less than inspiring. When I discover this happening, I will try to find a way for the student to break the mold completely and find their true voice in the song- both on a technical level and as an actor. Invariably, the performance will flourish and the actor and audience will feel more satisfied when this kind of work comes into play. Bring your own unique voice to the table – it’s the one thing you have to offer that no one can take away from you!

8. FEAR OF TAKING A RISK

“If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten”- Tony Robbins

By definition a risk is a situation involving exposure to danger. It seems quite natural that most of us instinctually avoid risk at all costs. However, as musical theatre performers, we’ve already committed to the idea of taking a risk at some level. When we walk on to a stage or enter a room for an audition we’ve taken a leap into the world of of being vulnerable and free ourselves up to act and react authentically and in the moment. Let’s commit to that idea in a full way.  To be clear, Risk taking is not throwing caution to the wind and going in to an audition unrehearsed expecting brilliance.  It’s challenging yourself to be fully present in the moment , trying a new piece of material or making a bold choice. When you take a smart risk as a performer you will inevitably leave the performance feeling fulfilled, rewarded and exhilarated and 9 times out of 10 your audience will walk away with the same feeling.

7. BECOMING HYPER FOCUSED ON ONE AREA OF WORK THAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT WITHOUT ACKNOWLEDGING AREAS OF GROWTH AND STRENGTH ALONG THE WAY

I’ve seen it over and over.  A student will get super focused on belting a certain note in a song or become so hyper aware of a section of their instrument that needs some developing that they will completely lose track of the growth that they are making as an overall performer.  Then they will start to become frustrated, lose interest, lose motivation and lose focus. When we  focus on one specific area and lose track of our creative instrument as a whole, the work starts to become less satisfying and more and more of a chore.  I think it’s always important to have a realistic view of the goals we wish to reach and check in with those goals on a regular basis.  At the same time,  try to remember that you are developing your whole self on several different levels and you want to continue to acknowledge your growth and strengths along with your opportunities for improvement. The results can be surprising.  I’ve seen students step away from working on an area that’s been challenging for them and begin to really focus on building their instrument as a whole.  Then, a few months later they will come back to a piece of music that seemed impossible for them earlier and it will be a piece of cake.

6. DIFFICULTY COMMITTING TO REGULAR PRACTICE

We’ve all heard the old joke: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?…”  Well,  there’s no way around it, practice is key element for anyone looking to master their craft.  Most of us have great intentions but  when it comes down to it may find it difficult to commit to a regular cycle of practice.

I find there are several elements that may get in the way of a steady practice cycle. The first is committing to too much too soon.  If you haven’t been in a regular practice cycle it is going to be quite a shock to your system to suddenly commit to practicing 1 or more  hours a day working on vocal exercises running through repertoire and cooling down. Try starting small. Commit to 10 minutes 3-4 times a week. Half the battle is actually beginning to practice. Chances are, once you start, you won’t want to stop and may end up doing more practice time than you committed to. If you do more, that’s great, but consider your practice fulfilled once you’ve done your 10 minutes. Do that for a month and then expand your commitment to 20 minutes 5 times a week… you get the idea.  Before you know it you will have eased yourself into a regular practice pattern.

The second element that may interfere with regular practice : LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION! Many of us live in urban areas and don not want to disturb our neighbors or live with roommates. We may want to practice but find it difficult to find a proper time and place to really let our voices out. For my students living in urban areas, I suggest a few solutions: If you are living with roommates, it might help to come up with some sort of a schedule. Most likely your roommate would not mind having an hour or so per week of private time in the apartment even if they are not a performer.  Make an  agreement that both of you will plan to be out of the apartment for one hour per week at a specific time ( they would be using the apartment when you are out  and vice versa) .  You can then plan for that to be your rehearsal time. As for the neighbors, I recommend being as upfront as possible.  Try knocking on the door or leaving a note and letting them know you are a performer and will be rehearsing from time to time . If at any point the noise is a problem invite them to please let you know.

A third element that generally gets in the way of regular practice is not knowing what to do or a general lack of focus. I recommend to my students to work with the vocal exercises that we have recorded on a given week along with the recording.  I suggest for them to to do the exercises along with the recording and listen to the things we talk about in the lesson as sometimes you may hear an idea in a different way upon repetition. This element of not knowing what to do is actually one of the inspirations for The Broadway Warm-Up.  I had so many students asking me for some sort of a set and efficient warm-up that could get them ready for a show or audition and found myself making repeated recordings for people. I finally decided to come up with a better solution.

In terms of working  repertoire, it’s always tempting to strictly work on new material and let some of your older material suffer. Try to get in the habit of running through at least one or two of your old stand by’s a week and see what fresh insight you can bring to them.

Try to look at your practice time as a regular gift you can give to yourself . It’s time that you are taking away from any of the day to day drudgery to be creative and nurture your artistic self.

COMING SOON: TOP 10 ROAD BLOCKS MUSICAL THEATRE PERFORMERS CONSISTENTLY FACE IN REACHING THEIR GOALS ( PART 2)

The Sound of Music: Embracing The Open Space Around You.

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Picture yourself doing the star solo spot of a show stopping 11 o’clock number in a Broadway show. Now picture yourself singing in front of a table full of people at the final callback for a major production. Now picture yourself in your voice lesson. In each of those scenarios, think about the amount of open space you have around you and what might feel like to fill that space with your energy and with your voice. Hopefully as you imagine the sensation, it feels relaxed, released, energetic and free. Many times when I am working with a student, I find that a large part of what is keeping them from reaching an honest, free sound is the fact that they are not willing or able to release their sound or energy into an open space. Without really realizing it they are shutting themselves down and refusing to free their instrument. When I discover this happening , I like to introduce them to the “Sound of Music”. In this exercise I have the student imagine they are Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music ( in the beginning of the movie) . She’s on top of the Swiss Alps with nothing but open space around her, her arms are stretched out and she is spinning like there’s no tomorrow. Usually , I have a student imagine they are holding giant hands full of autumns leaves or glitter dust (whatever sparks their creativity) at the center of their core in their hands. I then have them take as breath and open their arms and release an extended sound on any pitch that feels comfortable while envisioning releasing that object into the open space ( Swiss Alps) around them. The result is generally instant , effortless and very effective. From there, we will go further and explore what it feels like to explore a truly released sound in an open space in an effortless way throughout their range. I’ve also noticed over the years, that generally, the first time someone comes in for a lesson, their instinct will tell them to stand right next to the piano when they start to sing. It’s as if we somehow think the piano has a magic ability to help us to sing better by staying close to it. (* Note: While pianos are wonderful instruments , they currently have no proven magical powers.) Realistically there are very few performance or audition instances where we find ourselves actually standing that close to the piano. I encourage my students to take the space available in my studio and own it in a truly energetic way. It’s what we do when we perform and we need to practice that in our lessons as well. If we can own the space we are in and allow our voice to fill that space in a free and comfortable way, we will inevitably be at an advantage. I spent several days recently teaching a vocal technique and vocal performance workshop to a lovely group of students from Shore Crest Prep in Florida. During our work together , many of the students made big vocal strides simply by embracing this idea, it was just fantastic to see their voices open up and really shine as they released their sound and let it fill the space around them. We also use this idea consistently in The Broadway Warm-Up. Several times in the warm-up you will find yourself opening up your arms or expanding your space for a port de bras. Explore what it feels like to really embrace the space around you in these moments. Imagine the room you are warming up in is limitless so that your energy and sound can extend well beyond the borders of that space with out any efforting. I truly believe that one of the things that is so inspiring about the human voice is the fact that we are literally transmitting a part of ourselves through the vibrations we create when we sing. It’s incredibly vulnerable to release that voice into the world and let it be heard, but when you do, the reward for everyone involved can be immeasurable!

Anyone Can Whistle… but can anyone SING?

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“So, can you teach anybody to sing? Or is singing a natural gift that someone needs to be born with?”

If I had a penny for every time someone asked me that question… well let’s just say I’d have more than a few dollars. The first time I was asked, I proudly answered, “I can teach anybody to sing!” and at the time I believed that answer 100%. As the years have gone by and I have become a little more experienced, my answer has refined itself into something that I feel I can stand behind with a little more grounding, “I can teach anybody to sing BETTER.”

Usually, when someone asks me that question, they are really asking, “Can you teach ME to sing?” Having never worked with them before, it’s a tricky question to answer in the moment as there are many factors that go into working with a vocalist. However, I find that most people begin to understand what their potential might be when I relate it to the idea of an Olympic Runner.

Most of us are born with some basic ability to run. There are certain people who are naturally born to be Olympic runners. Their bodies are just made for it. From the day they were born they had the strength, stamina, speed and agility to be one of the fastest runners in the world. They have long powerful legs, their movements are efficient, they’re naturally aerobically fit. Some of those people discover their talent, hone their gifts and go on to win Gold Medals.

There are others whose bodies might not have the same natural gifts but with proper training, persistent hard work and dedicated practice will go on to win races and achieve those very same Gold Medals. These are the people who are committed to training their instrument to be the absolute best it can be. They will quite literally go the extra mile in order to reach their goal. These people take the raw materials they have been given and maximize their potential. They may not have been born with a gift for running, but through passion, persistence and training have overcome obstacles to achieve their goal.

Then, there are runners that fall into every category in between. There’s the naturally gifted runner who doesn’t have the desire to train every day. There’s the runner who is not so gifted and strives for the gold , but lacks the focus to train consistently. There’s someone like myself who loves a good walk or spin on the elliptical , but really will only be inspired to actually run if there’s someone chasing me… you get the idea.

In training a singer , we are dealing with an instrument of the body. We must develop strength , flexibility and agility similar to the way an Olympic runner would in preparing for any race. The primary difference is that the majority of the muscles that we are dealing with in singing are internal and not visible– so they are a little more challenging to access. We also must take into account the mind and spirit of the performer. How quickly a vocalist progresses can vary greatly depending on their motivation, their intelligence, their creativity, their confidence and their passion- to name a few.

A voice teacher can help to train the muscles and develop coordination. We can teach proper vowel structure and breathing. We can help the student develop their ear and match pitch. We can expose them to great music and vocalists and inspire their spirit and creativity. At the same time, we must recognize that we are working as a teammate with the student and there are several variable factors at play. Some of those factors include the student’s willingness or ability to practice on a regular basis, the way and speed in which their mind receives information, the connection between teacher and student -how well they communicate and how comfortable they are with one another, the student’s willingness to try new ideas and stray from their comfort zone. There is also that fantastic moment when after months of exploring an idea, for one reason or another, the clouds part and something just clicks.

One of my favorite moments as a teacher is finding my way into a students way of thinking and into their hearts and helping them to unlock the voice that has been waiting there for them all along. I’ve seen gifted singers who had lost their inspiration regain their spark and create magic. I’ve seen people go from not being able to match pitch, to singing songs full out and booking jobs in the ensemble of Broadway shows. I’ve seen people who thought that maybe, they just might have a voice, come in for a first voice lesson and discover that not only did they have a voice , it was something to be reckoned with and something to be shared.

When someone asks me, “Can you teach anyone to sing?”, I can confidently say, “I can teach anyone to sing BETTER.” Where we go from there , well that’s the fun part: discovering how far you can go if you put your mind to it. : )

If there are any topics you’d like me to address or questions you’d like me to answer, give a shout out by contacting Kim@broadwaywarmup.com

Be Warm,  Kim