WHAT???!? SORRY, OUR TRAIN IS HERE….WHAT????

There’s always that negative stereotype of New Yorkers: they’re all loudmouths who yell at you instead of talking in a moderate, even, “indoor voice.” I always thought this stereotype might have emerged from the idea that New Yorkers had more attitude or are more “in your face” than other people.

Nope. Now that I’ve lived here for 2 months, I know now why many New Yorkers are well-trained in the art of yelling and have little concept of speaking in a normal tone sometimes: NEW YORK IS FREAKIN’ LOUD!!!!

From the buses to the honks of taxi horns to the squeal of subway brakes, the noise of New York is truly an amazing thing to experience. Even walking down the street, I can’t hear the voice of the person on the other end of my cell phone very well. Many a time, I will just stop in the middle of my conversation with my husband as a whole series of car honks explode in the street next to us. (By the way, why do drivers here insist on honking their horns for no good reason???) It’s a bit distressing because I want to make my career off of my voice, and I can’t very well risk hurting my voice or creating nodes by getting into the habit of yelling over the sound. It’s why I hate going into a club or restaurant with loud music when I have an audition or rehearsal or performance the next day – when invited to these environments, I usually sit in silence or try to communicate via gesture. No, when I scream, I want it to be on the falling side of a rollercoaster or during the recording session/ADR of a horror movie.

Back to NY: It’s no wonder that the parks in this city (especially Central Park) are so revered and well kept. Walk to the center of Central Park, and you can barely hear the roar of the city beyond the trees. These parks provide such a well-needed audio respite from the screetches and rhhhum rhuums and breeeeeeeeek that makes up the daily soundscape of the city of New York.

This 2006 study I found just now notes how hearing loss has been connected to the subway system here in NY. The article also points out that wearing headphones at high volume (which one has to do when the subway is too loud to listen to one’s music or podcasts on a regular volume) can lead to hearing loss. Made me want to go out and buy those &#%$@ SkullCandy noise-cancelling headphones that my hubby has. There are a lot of tenant rights and noise codes
that are midly enforced throughout the city around residential neighborhoods too. Coincidentally, today I saw a woman put earplugs in her ears as she traveled through about 5 stops with me.

But it also could have been the fact that a 1 1/2 year old baby started to have a screaming fit on the other side of the car.
I wonder if New Yorker babies have naturally louder vocal prowess than other babies. Can someone start a new study, please?

“Riding the A,” a poem by May Swenson

Riding the A by May Swenson

I ride
the “A” train
and feel
like a ball-
bearing in a roller skate.
I have on a gray
rain-
coat. The hollow
of the car
is gray.
My face
a negative in the slate
window,
I sit
in a lit
corridor that races
through a dark
one. Strok-
ing steel,
what a smooth rasp—it feels
like the newest of knives
slicing
along
a long
black crusty loaf
from West 4th to 168th.
Wheels
and rails
in their prime
collide,
make love in a glide
of slickness
and friction.
It is an elation
I wish to pro-
long.
The station
is reached
too soon.

“Riding The A” by May Swenson from Things Taking Place: New and Selected Poems. © Little, Brown, 1978. Reprinted without permission, please don’t sue me.

New favorite (& cheap) place to eat: Hummus Place!

It’s super-cheap for being a sit-in restaurant(we got two hummus meals and split a frozen dessert and paid $22 after the addition of a hefty tip). And only 20 minutes on the 1 train from our house to the 72nd stop! www.hummusplace.com

Speaking of the train, on our way back, Pete and I found ourselves the only ones on what appeared to be the only non-air conditioned subway train car. We had the whole (albeit hot) place to ourselves! If you ever find yourself in New York in this position, take advantage of it. Run around. Swing on the bars. Yell at your loved one from one side of the car to the other. And above all, sing! It’s a lot of fun!

“I’m siiiiiiiiiiiiinging in the train, just siiiiiiiiinging in the traaaaaain!”

“You don’t have a look!”

This is one of the many lines spoken by the character of Maria Callas in Terrence McNally’s brilliant play,”Master Class.” The play is a fanciful recreation of an actual series of Master Classes that Callas did in the prestigious Julliard school during the 1970’s. Callas, who was a legend opera singer of her and all time, says this to a young singer who is quite at the mercy of her criticism. In any event, this one line has stuck with me for quite some time after I got to know the play. Although this line is spoken to the First Soprano in the first act (and I played the Second Soprano in the second act), a part of myself – that is, Sierra, not my character – always feels a tinge of self-doubt whenever I think of these 5 simply strung, but very strong, words.

This is regarding identity, something we all struggle with. And casting, something most actors and casting directors deal with. Now, people are supposed to have imaginations. Regardless, one of the biggest gripes in the world of the actor is that actors believe most casting directors don’t have imaginations when it comes to seeing their potential to play many different types. Actors are often “typed out” of a movie, TV show, or theater production on a first-glance basis (and this is often done at the casting director’s desk as he or she wades through piles and piles of headshots).

I walk through New York and see all sorts of types, Race, weight, clothing, walking gait, hair, makeup, jewelry, sex, everything is taken into account and my eye sees and my mind instantly stereotypes each person based on stimulation. Sometimes I’ll even hear a voice and an accent to further flesh out my labeling process. In the subway, I look at people and I begin to paint stories about who they are, where they’re going, and how they fit into this giant puzzle called New York.

Then it hits me. What stories are they writing about me? Who do they think I am? And are any of them casting directors?

I try to look in the mirror and “type” myself as a casting director would. Do I have a look? Does my outside appearance and choice of wardrobe speak volumes about who I am? Well, I know what I’m not (ethnic, blonde, male, tall, skinny). On the other hand, I always wanted to envision myself sort of as a chameleon-actress-singer, someone who can change her look both internally and externally (and vocally) to fit a unique character. The musical version of Gary Oldman or Tracey Ullman (wow their names are alike!) — that’s my goal.

But what is me, then? It’s always tricky to self-critique and self-criticize when one doesn’t have Maria Callas in the room. This is especially true when both the ego positive and the doubt negative seem to fog up the mental mirror. Honesty is the key; asking other opinions (with grain of salt at the ready) is also important. I’m not trying to become something I’m not; rather, I’m trying to clearly discover more of who I am and which facets of myself are available to me during auditions and performances.

Well, the question is out there (although badly worded, I think), and I haven’t truly dealt with it in a specific manner yet. I have an idea…this’ll probably take another blog entry’s length at least. Suffice it to say, it’s been on my mind lately. This is especially true because I’m in a new city, introducing myself to new people, fellow actors, and brand new casting directors with their own opinions of me.

I guess the first option of response to “You don’t have a look!” is…”Must I? Must I, really?”

More to come…

-Si

Stealing America: Vote by Vote, The Movie

The last two presidential elections both came down to a relatively small number of votes, and in both elections the integrity of the voting process has been called into question. With the upcoming election looking to be similarly close, the time has come to ask the questions: what happened in 2000 and 2004; what has changed since; and what can be done to ensure a fair and honest tabulation of votes in 2008?

STEALING AMERICA: Vote by Vote brings together behind-the-scenes perspectives from the U.S. presidential election of 2004 – plus startling stories from key races in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2006. Unbiased and nonpartisan, the film sheds light on a decade of vote counts that don’t match votes cast – uncounted ballots, vote switching, under-votes and many other examples of election totals that warrant serious investigation.

Plus! My husband, Pete, is in the credits for providing the filmmaker with essential news footage and television clips from the elections.

The movie can be seen in cities across the nation (check the website www.stealingamericathemovie.org) including the following major cites:

NEW YORK: (we’ll be there opening night!)
Aug 1st thru 7th at the Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. New York City, NY

LOS ANGELES:
Aug 15th thru 21st at the Laemmle’s Music Hall 3
9036 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA

SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA:
Sept 5th thru 11th at the Lumiere 3
1572 California St. San Francisco, CA

Sept 5th thru 11th at the Shattuck 10
2230 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA

Not tall enough for…ensemble?

So, I check Actors Equity casting calls, and see they’re looking to cast future replacements for ensemble singers as thus: “Sopranos, Altos, Tenors, and Basses. Looking for singers with big, healthy voices, impeccable diction and wide ranges. Sopranos should not hesitate in showing off their sustained high notes and basses should give us their best ‘low’. Understudies for the Principals may be drawn from the ensemble.”

I think…wow, I fit the bill. I have a wide, legit, big healthy voice with a high sustained Eb…perfect.

Then I notice at the bottom of the breakdown:

“Female Singers:
Height, 5’6” to 5’10”. “

Damn!!!! WHY!??! Most women are not 5’10”! They’re short, like me, at 5’2″…grrrr!

First Audition Coaching Session

Just came back from the first audition coaching session in New York. I hired my friend and UCLA alumn Brian Hobbs, who is a pianist, arranger, musical director and writer here. He was my music director/pianist for the first show I directed in college, “Assassins.” It was fantastic to work with him for an hour on an upcoming audition song, and I feel so lucky to have him as a resource. I paid him for his time, of course, but he’s only 20 blocks away! What could be better than that!?! I’m not a super-good musician and (although I have a good ear and memory for music) I always need a good pianist to play the accompaniment and catch me on any wrong notes I’m just learning.

Thus, my “thank you” to the Gods of Chaos: Yay! Brian is here!

Oh man he’s gonna make bank off of me…

-Sierra

Awesomenesses In New York

Check these out in NY:

  1. Town Shop – if you women out there think you’ve got the wrong bra size, go here and they’ll (quite delicately) fit you for the right one. Save up, though. Each will be around $50.
  2. TDF: Theater Development Fund – if you can prove to them you’re in one of these groups: “full-time students, full-time teachers, union members, seniors (62 or over), civil service employees, staff members of not-for-profit organizations, performing arts professionals, members of the armed forces or clergy,” then you can get Broadway and off-Broadway tickets for $34 with only a $27/year membership.
  3. TimeOut NY – Ok, my husband hates that I look at this magazine and have a subscription, simply because it’ll give you thought to 8,000 things you can spend your time and money on in New York when I really should be working on my career. Restaurant reviews, movie and theatre listings, clubs and venues, interviews, quaint articles on what living in New York is all about. Walking guides, how to live cheap, shopping, practically anything that’s going on is in each weekly edition.
  4. Pearl River Mart – If I had a million dollars, I’d spend a huge chunk of it here. Not that it’s all expensive, mind you. Three floors on Broadway in SoHo all about Asian clothing, housewares, food, and furniture. 1st Floor is clothing, gifts, some lanterns, stationary, pottery, hangings, etc. Bottom floor/basement is cheap curtains, rice cookers, pots, pans, bamboo furniture, figurines, soap, floormats, anything! Top and 3rd floor is some beautiful cloth, expensive knick-knacks, full sized Teracotta figures, room dividers, and expensive furniture that will make your mouth water. All of it will, in fact.
  5. Forbidden Planet – great geek-out spot for comic book tshirts, action figures, books, etc.
  6. The Drama Book Shop – basically like Samuel French, a wonderful resource for artists, actors, writers, directors, anyone in the “biz”.
  7. Colony Music Center – Sheet music, records, CD’s, DVD’s, karaoke music, posters, chatchkis galore.
  8. 24-hour FEDEX KINKO’s (faxing, copying, computers, printing) near the Columbus Circle/59th street station.
  9. 24-hour James Farley United States Post Office at 34th/Madison Square Garden. Yowza
  10. South Street Seaport – location for 3-masted ships and age-old tugboats, seafood restaurants, museum and art venues, shopping mall & a great view of the East River.

League of Independent Theater

Reading this week’s TimeOut NY magazine (issue $669, July 24-30), I came across a small interview with John Clancy (founder of NY Int’l Fringe Festival) regarding what success on Broadway is. His quote on the matter, “Success is having the respect of people you respect.”

He is also just starting up an Off-Off advocacy group called the League of Independent Theater, and I’m instantly smitten with the concept surrounding this group’s mission:

“1 – To promote the artistic and economic interests of theater professionals working in New York City in theaters of up to 99 seats;
2 – To organize and protect our members to ensure that independent theater is economically viable for all of its practitioners;
and 3 – To advocate on behalf of the decades-old tradition of off-off Broadway theater to ensure that it remains, and grows, as a thriving artistic and economic sector in New York City.”

I’m in love, want to join as a member (gotta budget for the year membership) and would even like to gain employment within this group, if possible. Anyone know anything about this group?

-Si

Projects

In addition to booking Equity full-paid productions and being involved in new musical works, my goals this year are a continuation of some projects I have yet to complete. For my benefit and your information, they are (in no particular priority):

  1. Compile professionally recorded audio and create a “demo” of my many vocal styles. 1 minute, tops.
  2. Finish a music video I shot 2 (!) years ago – here in New York, actually – utilizing a song called “Playground in New York.” Written by Erin Kamler, it’s the thoughts of a young girl coming to New York for the first time. Hmmm…think I can relate?
  3. Revamp “Ridin’ High,” my one-woman cabaret. This’ll take a bit of reworking, editing, reorchestration and work with a new pianist…not to mention finding the venue.
  4. Create a video demo reel of all stage footage I have, just so I can put it online and submit myself through casting company websites.
  5. Write and record with John Seput, who is a composer in Los Angeles. GarageBand and email will be our friends. Also, when UCLA-mate Phillip Kelsey returns from Germany, I will be working with him on a few songs.

Those are the basics so far. Still have to truly set up my digital office so I can edit and record video and audio easily – so I guess that’ll be my #1 TO DO on my list. Check back for more updates in the future. In the meantime, I put pictures of myself in “Great Expectations” at the Hudson Theater from last May on my website, http://www.sierrarein.com/. I’ll be putting more audio from a recording session for a movie musical as well.

Cheerio! — Sierra