About once a year I get into a deep funk. God knows why, but it’s there. And luckily, three years ago, I rediscovered my love for musical theater and allowed it to cure said funk. And it works. Every. Single. Time.
In general, I am a ham. Additionally, I was the co-president of my drama club in high school. I had forgotten all about that until I got married and moved from Manhattan to an outdoorsy town north of the city. One day, looking out my studio window to see if my neighbor was getting her mail [so I could time the retrieval of my own mail to overlap with hers and thus have human contact], my husband said “in the city, that may be people-watching, but here, it’s just creepy. You should go make friends”. By doing what? Going to a yoga class? Hang out at a coffee shop and approach strangers and ask them to be my friend?
And then I saw them…
The out-dated designs using too many fonts and pixelated graphics that were the beautiful audition posters. A sight for sore eyes.
I auditioned for the community’s theater production of “9 To 5”, got in, and was hooked. Next was “Spamalot” that fall, followed by “Into The Woods”, “Peter Pan”, and then musical directing “Little Women” and “La Cage Aux Folles”. I just finished a run of “Young Frankenstein”, completing my third year in the “theater scene of the Hudson Valley”.
Other than when I was musical directing, all of my roles were either ensemble or very, very small.
I do not have that big showtuney voice the Broadway stars have. And there are plenty of amazingly talented people in my community who do. Which left me time to reflect on my costume changes, my dance numbers, and why it is I continue to participate in what looks like a new/old life-long hobby.
Why Every Singer-Songwriter Should Try Musical Theater
1 ) Friends. So many new friends. Lots of different kinds of friends. Teachers, bakers, (baker’s wives), police officers, dancers, animal lovers, activists, retired opera singers, parents, students. All in one place, connecting on our shared love for time steps and jazz hands. Musical theater is certainly social during rehearsals, tech week and the performances, but also in between. Oh, and the cast member who comforts you during a breakdown back stage because of some life debacle becomes a true confidant, permanently.
2) The musical challenge: My first challenge was singing harmonies that were not my own creations, and remembering words to songs I didn’t write. (Maybe you cover artists are killer at this, but I’m the WORST at remembering lyrics I did write, let alone the ones I didn’t.) Being in a musical definitely challenges that part of my brain I do not use very often. Musicals are also a great place to get inspiration. To hear a new chord you haven’t used in a while. To examine some voice leading techniques, band arrangements, vocal ranges, story telling. You name it. If you’re not regularly writing showtunes, you may be surprised by what you’ll pick up.
3) The community challenge: It’s not all about me on the stage. It’s about the set. And the principles and the ensemble. And the dancing. Oh the dancing. And the pit. And the words and story and all of it. It’s about the entire production and I am one small part. It is a relief to not have to be entirely responsible for everything, and to find community, friends and shared experiences within it. It’s a chance to take a break from the singer-songwriter rat-race while still being part of something musical and creative.
4) Get out of your head: A stage with moving sets, metal tap shoes, and burning hot lights is no place to dwell on how you haven’t gotten signed by whatever label or that you can’t afford that new piece of gear or [insert any other life woes]. It’s extraordinary how present you have to be to contribute to a musical theater production. And being present is a gift. It gets you out there into the world, taking you away from the dangerous stuff happening inside your head.
5) Observe yourself, and try on the best version of you. Musical theater is a chance to see how you handle groups of people, in a way that could represent how you are in all the communities in your life (work, family, friends, etc). After all, how you do one thing is how you do everything. Do you hide in the back? Take control? Bring the fun? Bring the anxiety? Do you ask people how their day was? Do you complain a lot? Did you stop a bullying conversation? Did you make fun of the annoying awkward teen? Chances are you do that stuff in other places. AND the theater is a safe place to try on new ways of being. When I privately asked the mostly-harmless-but-often-very-innappropriate guy to keep his hands to himself, I got acutely aware of how tolerant I am with inappropriate remarks and actions outside of theater. I learned that I’m up to the task of having those hard conversations everywhere they’re needed.
6) Get inspiring. While you are hopefully humbled by the talent surrounding you, the fact you’re a singer-songwriter will be pretty darn cool to the other theater hobbyists. You’ll be able to share (with grace) the life you’ve been crafting out of following your dream and see, first hand, how it inspires other people.
So there we go. Not convinced it’s time to find a musical theater project to dive into for a few months? Two more words for you: