Separation Anxiety

CONGRATULATIONS NIKOL!  You’ve just been hired for the Broadway production of Hairspray!

OH MY GOSH!!  This is my dream!  This is what I always wanted!

Hugging myself in elation, I look at the casting director and say,
Thank YOU! 

 

Sounds amazing, right?

 

It’s 2003.  Hairspray is blowing up the box office after winning the Tony Award for Best New Musical.

I go to see the show, with stars in my eyes, seeing myself up on the stage.  The show is dynamic, alive, and perfect for me. I can’t wait to audition!

So, the day comes, and I show up, along with about 200 other women to sing a whopping 8 bars of music, the equivalent of about 30 seconds.  I belt my face off, and I get a callback!

I’m over the moon, because it’s the first time I’ve been called back by this casting office, which is the top casting office in the city.  Even better, they aren’t just looking at me for the ensemble, but the understudy for one of the lead roles.

They give me this thick packet of songs and scenes and I have a week to work on them.

And I do.

I pour all my energy and heart into the callback material, and a, really excited because not only am I strong dancer, I’m a strong singer too!

And I feel it…this is my BIG chance!

I walk into the callback, and all I see are all these women,
…and all these women,
…and all these women.

I thought because it was an invited call, there would be 20-25 women there.  I thought I had made it to the next level, I thought I had arrived.  Looking around, this was just another cattle call.

And all I could think was,
I’m not competing against a FEW, I’m competing against a HUNDRED! How do I stand out?

I go into the room to learn the combination, and I’m completely in my head.  I can’t seem to pick up anything.  It’s as if I have two left feet. I’m so worried how I’m looking and how I’m going to get kept, that I can’t get back in my body.

My turn comes up, and I completely bomb.
And I’m cut.

Inside my head voices were screaming, “NO!  This show is perfect for me!”

I go up to the associate choreographer, who I know, and beg her to let me stay.  Because she knows me, she gives me another chance.

I learn the second combination, but I can’t see straight. Nothing is making sense, and I get cut AGAIN.

As I walked out of the room, I looked at the women that were being kept to sing, and all I saw was competition.  All I did was compare myself.

I went out onto the NYC street, in the pouring rain and sunk down onto the concrete sidewalk and called my mother, absolutely inconsolable.

What had happened in that audition room?
Why couldn’t I dance?

 

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s your BIG moment, your time to shine and you’ve completely bombed.  You’ve worked so hard and then couldn’t deliver in your performance.

So, what actually happens in this moment?

Well, we go into comparison, and then a process begins;
1) We disconnected from our bodies, shutting down.
2) We then isolate, and put up a wall.
3) Behind that wall, we go into self judgement and shame.

So, how do we meet this and get past it?

The answer is actually something you may not think of at first.
The answer is Your Audience.

Here’s my big idea for you:

You are not separate from your Audience.

 

So what does that mean and how does that help you as you are stuck in competition and shut down in your performance?

Well, let’s play a game! Why don’t we put ourselves in the place of our audience?

So, there they are. They are sitting looking up at you, and they are enraptured. Why? Well, they are enraptured because they are seeing a piece of themselves in you. But what’s important is WHAT that piece IS. It’s something very personal for them and it’s something that they want desperately to live. The only way it’s living in this moment is through you, through whatever that expression is you are putting out.

You’re allowing your audience to access that piece of themselves, giving them the permission slip for life so this part of them doesn’t whither and die.

That’s the effect you HAVE on your audience.

Now…let’s jump back into your body, UP on the stage. What is your role in this? Well, this is the first part of the process, and it means you don’t separate from yourself.

It means you aren’t jumping up into your head, and cutting yourself off, and isolating behind a wall. It means you are grounded in three the solid keys to performance:
1) WHO you are
2) WHAT you are talking about
3) A clear INTENTION behind what you are trying to say.

And it’s because you come to the stage with honesty, that allows your audience member to see you. There is no wall, because you are showing up fully present and clear.

So, you arrive, not separated from yourself, which allows your audience to see and keep that precious part of themselves alive.  Now you have created a beautiful loop that allows you to tell your creative story again and again, and your audience a very real reason to return again and again.

You feel connected and fulfilled, and your audience is raving, because they feel alive from your work.

 

The key to putting your work out to the world is your Audience.

Back in that audition room in 2003, I completely separated from myself, and forgot WHY I was there, and WHO my audience was!  I wasn’t connecting with the artistic team of Hairspray, I was too busy comparing myself.

I found myself in this place time and again in my performance career because I didn’t have the tools to come out of isolation and truly shine.

Everything turned around when I as able to do two things:
1) Take Risks
2) Embrace Imperfection.

This led me to realize, I actually had way more in common with those around me.  I realized I’m not separate from my audience.

We’ve all been there and had our moment in the rain when we have been so hungry to be SEEN and HEARD in our Art.

There’s a way to drop that wall you’ve put up between you and your audience, so you can truly receive the acclaim you desire.

And it begins with seeing what you have in common.

So, come out of comparison, and place your energy on your intention. Place your energy on what is unique and honest to YOU in your Art.

Your audience wants what you have.

So, bust down your walls and connect with them.

It’s All in the Timing

The music swells, the lights dim, and every seat is filled with Tschaikovsky’s famous score.  This is the ultimate romantic fairytale, with a cast of fantastical characters…..

Sleeping Beauty

I lean forward in my red plush seat, the overture in full swing, excited for my first encounter with this famous Balanchine ballet.

And then it all stops…..and the conductor waves his baton to halt.

Let’s try that again!

Because this isn’t a normal performance….quite the opposite in fact.  Tonight, I am witnessing the final dress rehearsal of New York City Ballet’s production.

And there will be stopping.

This is bringing back memories…..

 

I’ve spent most of my adult life on stage.

Whether I was dancing or singing or acting, or doing them all at once…I often found myself in full costume under glowing lights with full makeup.

I may have been flipping my skirt in Buenos Aires, or grabbing my long cat tail in a junkyard, or singing under the sea with a glittery fin.

I’ve been up there so many times in the final dress, figuring out the spacing, the lights, my costume, and how to transfer the hard work I did in the rehearsal room to a live audience and no mirror.

Most of all…I found myself dealing with timing.

A show is like a well oiled machine, after all.  There are so many moving pieces, and they all come together for Opening Night.

They all come together to create that magic the audience experiences, and the magic I feel as an Artist.  It’s that knowing of exactly when to take each step within the story, like puzzle pieces coming together.

 

Watching the final dress of Sleeping Beauty was fascinating.  The choreography is some of the most intricate and challenging I’ve seen, and the tempos were brisk.

And not every dancer was keeping up. As it was dress rehearsal, some were still settling in, and there were missed steps.  The artistic director was on stage for most of the dress rehearsal giving notes and adjusting spacing.

So, the real question became, what was setting those dancers apart?  The ones who were on their game, and those who were struggling?

How was Aurora so poised and balanced?

Timing.

In ballet, and with Tschaikovsky’s driving score, there has to be absolute attack and understanding of what and where to place your body.

And really, how is this different than any other Artistic endeavor?

With your Art, do you know where you need to be and when?

Or are you just throwing your work out with no direction?

 

There were many moments in my career that felt like I was being stopped.  I felt held up. I would book a great show, and feel like that would get me to Broadway, and then blow a callback.  I would be in dance class and fall out of my pirouette…again.

I would witness the ease and flow of another dancer sailing through a triple turn and see quite quickly what was missing in my body…

Alignment and breath.

There was such a holding on, and pushing.  I wasn’t trusting my work and doubting.  I wasn’t trusting the hours and years I had put in, and placing my attention on the PRESENT moment.  I was too busy in the future, worried about what COULD go wrong, instead of placing all my energy in the execution of now.

So, my timing was off.

Start and Stop…..

My own inner conductor was waving his baton to say,

Let’s try that again!

A reminder to wake up and place my attention where it needed to be so I could deliver my most powerful performance and feel the fulfillment of my Art.

So, where is your attention?

What is your conductor saying to you?

Are you in the present moment of your Art or living in the failures of your past?

Perhaps that is why you keep stopping.

Your point of power is always the present moment.

So lace up your shoes, and let’s dance.