Saturday, December 7, 2013

WHITE CHRISTMAS at San Diego Musical Theatre

This month I'm returning to the role of Phil Davis in the big, beautiful holiday musical White Christmas. I love this show. Every time I do it, I get to know it all over again, and that usually looks something like this:

Right before the rehearsal process begins, I take a nice, deep breath and think, "This is going to be a cute show."

Then I get into rehearsals, start stressing out about the six minute dance numbers and complain, "This is a big freakin' show!"

Then we have opening night. I see the audience living in the nostalgia they have with this material and finally remember, "This is a really beautiful show."

White Christmas has the right combination of cheese and heart to melt even the chilliest of Scrooges, so come and see us if you're in the San Diego area December 13-22.

And Merry Christmas! May it be filled with family, laughter, and love.

And while we're at it, may it be a white one, too. :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Serena Williams Wins the US Open. Meanwhile, on my couch...

I love watching really memorable performances... whether they're on a stage, television, or the silver screen. 

So it only makes sense that as I watched tennis star Serena Williams slam her way to a 5th US Open Championship yesterday, I was completely captivated by her performance as well.  She is, after all, a fascinating character.

Here is an athlete with the talent and the nerve to win.  Otherwise, how could she hit a ball at 126 mph in a stadium filled with 22,000 people while press cameras click during every breath of silence, and television cameras broadcast every thought to households across America, all while a constant gust of wind threatens to blow the ball out of bounds at any given moment!?  They don't call them "nerves of steel" for nothing.

But what about the quieter moments?  Sure Serena has the guts, the hot temper, the huge legs that could snap me like a twig, but what about the focus?  Especially in tennis, where your only opponents are the person on the other side of the court and your own brain, it simply isn't enough to go out on the court and hit the ball really hard.

After getting visibly annoyed by weather conditions, late calls, and consistent winners from her opponent, there was a point at the end of the first set yesterday when Serena got downright angry.  And then, as easily as the anger came, it went.  She focused as tightly as a laser beam.

What is it that allows a player like her to turn a match around, drive to the finish line, and suddenly not think about anything other than what she has to do to win?

As I see it, passion is the fist pumping, the grunts, the sprints, the spotlight.  It's what makes a fierce competitor.  But focus is something else in spite of passion.  It's the spirit of a champion.  It's what leads a person to say not only, "This is what I want to do," but  "This is what I'm going to do."  It's the kind of spirit that I strive for.

We can't all win the US Open.  We don't all have the ability.  But I do believe we can all be champions.  We can find something we're passionate about, and focus so completely that not even Hurricane Serena can distract us.

So while Wonder Woman Williams walked away yesterday with a shiny cup and a truck load of money, I at least sat on my couch with a new perspective.  And for that, I thank you, Serena Williams.  Thank you for being a champion, and for doing it with the kind of fire that allows us all to see it so brightly.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Shut up. I'm not projecting."

Everybody argues.

Some do it out of love, others do it to be right.  Me, I argue cuz I want to be a character on Gilmore Girls.

Don't judge.

Fights on Gilmore Girls seem like they'd be so much fun with all those words, the quick banter, the obscure pop culture references...  It turns talking to people into a sporting event, as if suddenly we're tennis balls at Wimbledon bouncing back and forth and back and forth until one references something from the beginning of the conversation that puts a nice little button on the scene right before we head into commercials.  Is that too much to ask?!

The problem with this dream of mine is so few people are willing to play the Amy Sherman Palladino rules of Gilmore conduct.  And the latest, greatest offenders to that roster of poor sports come to us directly from the good people at Oprah Winfrey Network.  That's right, I'm blaming OWN!

For the record, I'm not blaming OWN.  I don't want to make enemies with her highness, and I absolutely watch Iyanla Fix My Life more than any white dude.  Not to mention that one of the key factors to my belief that our society is on the brink of a spiritual awakening is the fact that cable television has OWN as a viewing possibility!  It inspires people to turn inward and raise this world to a whole new plane of living, and in that lies the problem!

You see, people are tuning into OWN, they're learning, they're practicing what they've learned, and then they're bringing it into my previously sportsmanlike conversations.  Some of their more popular enlightened phrases include such nuggets "Just do you boo," "light and love," and my personal favorite, "You're projecting."

So now instead of being able to utilize my Gilmore techniques of wit, sarcasm, and irony, I'm feeling pressure to actually say what I feel.  And that's just not as fun.

Let's take an example.  Say you're a young, handsome guy, currently making a living as a musical theatre performer, and you've just finished a long rehearsal.  So now you've got your blinders on, driving home, thinking about your bed, when suddenly you realize you forgot to pay your credit card bill.  And now you're on the freeway, stressing out over late fees, credit reports, and why there is still traffic in Los Angeles after 11 PM!

Cut to, you get home a complete frazzled mess, and the first thing you see as you walk through the door is someone on their hands and knees scrubbing a brand new stain out of your carpet.

Now, in my fantasy Gilmore world, I would walk into said situation and sneer something like, "Look, Mrs. Meers, I said no more soy sauce!" which, as everyone knows, is a tip of the hat to the Thoroughly Modern Millie.

But, of course, that isn't very enlightened.  After armed with some terminology from Deepak Chopra, what I'm supposed to do is come through the door and say, "You know, I would really like to be angry right now, but I'm going to fight that urge, because I know it's just me projecting the frustration I have with myself, and instead I will recognize you in your desire to make this place a clean habitat for all who dwell here."

See, not fun.

So here's my point, can we please have the spiritual enlightenment without having to audibly take people through it?  Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than a diagnosis.  I mean, what's the last great conversation you heard that began with, "You have cancer."

Which reminds me, finding spiritual truths does not give you permission to use them as ammunition.  Say I throw a little jab at you to get something going one afternoon, and all you give in return is, "You're projecting."

Now how am I supposed to come up with a snarky response to that!?  I can't!  In fact, that phrase will probably induce big time, projectile projecting regardless of whether or not it was there to begin with!!  Why would you do that!?!

OK, now I'm projecting.  I'm sorry; I'm not angry at you.  I promise.

I also promise that I am honest in my life.  I share my feelings when appropriate, and maybe even a few times when it's not.  So can I please just be a Gilmore Girl every now and then?  Otherwise, I'll have to buy an iPhone and download this app that allows you reread random Gilmore Girls dialogue.

And that's just going too far.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Good Student, Bad Student

I'm going to let you in on a little secret... most people who make their livings as performers weren't the best students growing up.

Now I'm going to let you in on an even "littler" secret... I was not one of those performers.

I've always been a very good student.  ("littler" usage aside)  Growing up, I wanted to learn; I wanted to make my parents proud, and I believe I finished my educational years accomplishing both.

That being said, there are a few other things I picked up along the good student path that haven't served me quite as well in show business.  The most incriminating, I believe, is the "good student" label I worked so hard to get in the first place.

You see, in an educational system where "good students" get A's and "bad students" get F's, the one thing "bad students" have going for them is they aren't afraid of being called "bad" to begin with.  I, on the other hand, considered "bad" a deadly virus and went to great lengths to make sure I never caught it.

This might sound foreign to a few of my fellow artistic types.  Traditionally, we're known to complain about the existence of societal norms and labels.  "Why worry about grades at all?" we wonder.  "Soon enough we'll be wealthy actors, and when do actors ever need to know about quadratic equations?"  (Answer: Laura Dern in October Sky.)

Still, I see our point.  The problem in caring too much about how test scores, professors, or anyone for that matter shape the way we feel about ourselves, is that when it comes time to enter the real world, they're never enough.  And believe me, they shouldn't be!  There is no way to produce a subjective thing like art for a living and expect that everyone will always love it, so it only makes sense that success can't and shouldn't be defined by those terms.  Simply put: you're not always going to get an "A," and that's ok.

So I guess a near perfect report card isn't as important as I had previously considered.  If true power is derived from the way we feel about ourselves, and if the most successful artists answer to little other than their own dreams, then maybe the good student, bad student labels and subsequent behavior we've assigned to them aren't entirely accurate.


Maybe what I'm actually talking about here is respect.  There is no risk in disappointing someone you don't respect.  I was teased plenty when I was a kid, but it didn't bother me.  Why?  Because I didn't respect the ones that were doing the teasing.  On the other hand, there is a lot of risk in disappointing the people you respect the most: parents, teachers, a paying audience...yourself?

As I see it, performers, and humans in general, require a special blend of respect for their audience, mixed with enough self confidence to keep them from crying themselves to sleep if their audience doesn't laugh or clap when they're supposed to.

So how on earth do we teach respect worthy of disappointment AND self confidence worthy of success?

I don't know.

But here's what I've learned: you need both!  You can have one or the other and get a couple A's, but I promise the label won't last.  The sooner you get both respect and confidence, the "gooder" off you'll be.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tony Night: the Holy of Holies

Let me take you back to a time before WiFi, before Amazon, before YouTube, before pretty much every saving grace that currently satisfies the needs of theatre nerds everywhere...

It was 1994.

It was the year I discovered the conduit through which I could travel beyond my small town realities and bask in the light of my Broadway musical dreams...

It was the Tony Awards.

Now I had no idea what the Tony Awards were, but I casually found it, tuned in and ended up nearly wetting myself.  There, on my downstairs television, was actual live footage of that year's Best Musical nominee Beauty and the Beast.  I was floored.  Up until that point, the Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast was something that only existed on the Original Cast Album that my parents bought for me at the Disney Store two hours away.

You can understand my frustration, then, when that evening the Best Musical award went to Stephen Sondheim's Passion, a show I was highly unimpressed with because of the two nudey-patooties they showed singing in a bed.  As far as my pre pubescent self was concerned, they were using sex to buy a Tony Award, and I wasn't falling for it!  (Cut to a decade later when I wrote an entire college paper at BYU dedicated to loving that show, but I digress...)

The only other things I remember from that first Tonys viewing were a redhead from the revival of Damn Yankees belting out "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal MO," and the look on my father's face when I correctly predicted that Diana Rigg would win for portraying the title role in Medea.  Said the young JSP: "Come on Dad.  I mean, it's Medea."

Thus began the creation of my most important Sunday of the year besides Easter.  And even then, Tony Night is basically a religious experience, so I never felt bad.

Every year I instructed my family not to interrupt me during the Tonys because I had to record it on the VCR with controller in hand to avoid commercial breaks.  This was essential to the Tony viewing process since I'd be re-watching the broadcast countless times before the following year.

This continued even when I was serving as an LDS missionary.  My mom stepped in and vicariously watched the show for me in 2001 and 2002 since I was not able to watch them myself.  She not only recorded them, but took copious notes on their proceedings and sent them to me in far away west Texas.

And now today I still watch the Tony Awards.  I admit it's a little different, and that's ok.  I have opinions now.  I've worked with some of the people nominated or performing, and I get more excited for them than I do for myself.  In general, I don't care nearly as much about awards anymore, but I do love celebrating Theatre.  Tony Night continues to be one of the only opportunities America gets to view one of the great traditions that we have as a nation: Musical Theatre... also known as the best two words in the English language. (That's right Julian Marsh, I'm talking to you.)

So from a true theatre nerd to all those out there that might feel the same, Happy Tony Night!  

May you forever keep it holy.  :)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

"God Is Not a Hoarder" & other Sunday epiphanies

I have decided to begin this blog with a musical number.

Now I know what you're thinking.  "Why isn't this song burning up the radio waves?"  Well friends it's 2013, and no one really listens to the radio anymore.

But we did listen to it long ago when I first learned this nugget of a tune.  It was an easy song to remember, especially since we lived it every week.  While Saturday was always a special day, it couldn't hold a candle to Sunday.

For Latter day Saints, Sunday is the day to reflect and refuel.  It's a day with some pretty strict guidelines, but somehow always ends up being one of the busiest.  Perhaps that's because it bears the symbolism of Christ's resurrection, and in doing so, asks us to follow his example by not laying around a tomb all day.

Now that I'm older, I may be past the age of singing the "Saturday" ditty, but Sunday continues to be a big deal to me.  In my most connected times, it's a weekly opportunity to bring balance to every part of my life.  Lately I've noticed that when I take advantage of that opportunity, I end up having an influx of personal epiphanies.

These epiphanies come in all shapes and sizes and from all manner of sources.  Just last week, for example, I was in Sunday School listening to a lesson about prayer when suddenly I saw written across the caverns of my mind,


How wonderfully specific to receive spiritual lessons via the unfocused lens of basic cable programming!  But though it may sound weird, or even sacrilegious to some, the fact is the clearest way for me in that moment to understand the true nature of God was to imagine him holding on to blessings like hoarders hold on to expired yogurts.  I was grateful.

Another example of these epiphanies is what I've started to call "divine hello's."  These are times when I'll be sitting in church on a Sunday and have the impulse to text somebody.  So I do.  Yes, I know, texting while churching is dangerous, but I only do it if I think it's Sunday worthy.  After all, if God can inspire his children to communicate with each other through scripture, then dang it, he can do it through texting too!

Other recent Sunday epiphanies include realizing how much I love naps, or how girls should never wear "bump-its" when there might be someone in the pew directly behind them.  Sunday was even the day this year I realized what my New Year's resolution was going to be.

The fact is I love Sunday, and I love what I learn while I'm loving it.  It's why I look forward to it every week.  It has nothing to do with champagne brunches or trips to the beach.  I love Sunday because I need it to think about things in a much grander way than I might the rest of the week.  It's a day that somehow forces me to think about myself and not think about myself all at the same time.  Is that was even possible?

Regardless, I invite you all to try and make Sunday a little more sacred for yourselves.  The good news is it's already a day of the week, so you don't need to actually go out and get anything.  It's just about rearranging.  Do like the song says!  Clean the house and shop at the store on Saturday.  That way you'll make sure to have time for the really important stuff on Sunday.

A word of caution, though.  There's one lyric in the song that basically implies you shouldn't wash your hair on Sunday, and I totally think that's a judgement call.  Personally, I have to shower in the morning.  But I suppose you can have your own epiphany about that one...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Getting Creative

For the longest time I thought "creativity" was a word reserved for people who decoupage.

Terrifying right?  But disturbing as this paper mache pussycat might seem, I'm afraid the greater sin lies with the mind that considered it the creme de la creative in the first place.  And if I thought that way, then who knows what the rest of America thinks.

Actually, we all know what America thinks.  All around the country, arts programs are being dissolved from public education, and our most popular television shows do little more than exploit fame hungry zombies.  It seems we're just not facilitating actual "creativity" like we could or should.

For that reason, I've decided to propose a new definition for this word.  Pretty creative, right?  Hardly.  But here goes:

Creativity definition- the potential to see beyond what already is.

Isn't it fascinating that we put such emphasis on learning what already is or has been proven when our wants and needs are so often attached to what has yet to exist?  I mean, even if we do already have the answers, there's a reason they haven't become realities in our world.  It's because creative inspiration hasn't connected the dots.

One of the greatest gifts we can give to the world as well as our future generations isn't what we've already studied, but the example of a blissful relationship with what we can't.  Embracing our imaginations and creativity cannot be more or less important than what we learn.  Simply put, they are equal partners.  As it was recently explained to me, you can't wait to see if a cake turns out before you add the eggs.

Creative inspiration is out there.  Sometimes it's inside of us.  Sometimes it's painted, or filmed, or written.  But whatever it is, creative inspiration turns on a light that can shine on everything in our lives, from making dinner to presenting in the boardroom, and in doing so, allows us to see beyond what already is.

Don't shake your needle point in my face, America!  I'm serious!  It's time to get creative, and I think it's possible in more ways than we can count.  As the old saying goes, "There's more than one way to decoupage a cat."