Friday, December 31, 2010

2010- Year in Review

It's hard to believe that it's the last day of 2010. This has been a wonderful and incredibly challenging year for me as an artist, as a friend, as a wife and as a human being in general. I've learned and experienced a lot and, barring any incidents today/tonight (knock on wood!), it's been a year without loss of anyone in my family! Woo hooo!!!

So, let's recap the year, shall we?? It was a LOT less insane than 2009 was, that's for sure! I don't think I could have handled another year like that, and I certainly would be divorced by now if I'd tried.

January: Show Boat in Concert
Role: Ensemble
Company: Lyric Stage
Read the Review

May: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Role: Muriel Eubanks
Company: Music Theatre of Denton
Read the Review
Read Another Review
Read my Recap

June: Encore III –The Divas!
Role: Director and Performer
Company: Denton Community Theatre
Read my Recap

August: The Producers!
Role: Ulla
Company: Denton Community Theatre
Read the Review
Read my Recap

I'd say that was a much more manageable year, wouldn't you?? I also kept most of my sanity this time and was able to focus on some Very Important Things such as my very best friend in the whole world getting married:

...and walking 60 miles in the Dallas 3-Day Walk for the Cure:

I also wrote the following reviews for John Garica's The Column before I resigned from that post:

Women and Wallace at Sundown Collaborative Theatre

Tuna Does Vegas at Casa Manana

24 Hours of Love at MBS Productions

La Llorona at Amphibian Stage Productions

Getting Sara Married at Runway Theatre

Again, not nearly as busy a year for me. Last year I wrote 11 reviews! So, 2010 was definitely a lot less insane, but because of that, it was also a lot more fulfilling. The projects I did meant so much to me and they are so special to me (not to take anything away from the wonderful experiences I had in 2009 of course) because I was able to take the time over this recent 4 month break and really reflect on them as landmarks in this year. Rather than a blur of images that I have from 2009, each show I did in 2010 stands out clearly.

I also went through some very major physical changes this year that have boosted my confidence so much that I enjoyed that time onstage so much more because I felt better about myself and I was able to do more and have more energy than I have in previous shows.

2010 was also the year that I had a spiritual re-awakening that caused me to even question what I should be doing artistically. I still don't case you were wondering.

However, I do know that I've learned a lot about what I need to focus on (God, family, work) and that I am going to be a lot choosier about shows; picking of projects are going to mean the most to me and challenge me as a performer.

I'd really like to work with some different theatre companies in 2010 and add a non-musical or two to my resume. I've been to four non-musical auditions in the past two months (though I sang at 2 of them, funny enough) and I have already learned so much about what I need to do to improve. I haven't been blogging about these auditions because...well, I'm a little superstitious and don't ever want to jinx them and also...because I know that these auditions aren't always going to result in a role and I don't want to just blog about each audition/possible rejection. That's just boring, so I'll just save that kind of talk for my husband and close friends. You're welcome!

Finally...I've been hesitating about writing this next part for a few days now, actually, but I really feel like I want to share the biggest artistic discovery I've made this year. I am well aware that this is my own personal opinion, and you should treat it as such.

It really does not matter "who you know" as much as people think it does. "Networking" will only take you so far if you don't have the talent and the work ethic to back up all your "connections in the business."

No, that doesn't mean that meeting people in the field isn't important. No, that doesn't mean that you can just say or do anything you want because you don't care whom you offend. It's very important to meet other people in the biz because they are your future colleagues. But it's just more important, I feel, to show those colleagues that you deserve to be there because you are talented and you work hard and your behavior is above reproach. I've grown so weary of all the fake friendships and the walking on eggshells that so many people do around people who do not matter in the grand scheme of things.

In a nutshell: Don't burn bridges...but also don't worry about the ones that lead nowhere. Consider if the bridge you're working so hard to build and maintain is worth the effort and energy. Don't spend so much time looking at what's on the other side of that bridge that you are completely disregarding all the awesome things that are right next to you.

Is the bridge metaphor getting confusing? I'll be clearer: don't say no to projects because you're afraid of what other people will think -- if it's going to challenge and fulfill you artistically: do it. Don't spend hours and days and pieces of your soul keeping people happy who wouldn't do the same for you if it were asked of them, and especially don't do that if it means you're missing completely awesome friendships and relationships that are right in front of your face and so much easier to maintain.

Okay, I'm officially getting off my soap box now! Cheers to an incredible 2010, and here's to an amazing 2011!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Letter to a Young Artist

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page the other day. It's very long, but it's really just AWESOME. There are Christian references in there, but it's not written just for Christian artists (which you will notice as you read).

Get a cup of coffee or tea, sit down, and read it -- all you artists, I'm talking to YOU. It's well worth the read. I've gone in and put in bold some of the things that spoke most loudly to me. Enjoy.

Essay originally written by Makoto Fujimura for Michael Card's Scribbling in the Sand: modified October, 2010

Remember your first love-how much you enjoyed creating as a child. If you ever lose that sense of joy, you will need to reflect on why you lost that spark. Of course, the craft of expression takes much "dying to self" and much discipline. A discipline of any form takes perseverance. But when we are going through a period of training, we must remember the reason for our training. Our journey needs to have a specific direction. Our direction need not be toward being successful and being famous. We need to start from your first love; what we cherish, what we are, and what we value. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time."

C. S. Lewis writes about what the Bible calls the "Good News": "God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature" (Mere Christianity, p. 167). The message of Jesus has been distorted in recent times in culture. The gospel of Jesus is not a message that we can be trained to run faster and jump higher in a race of moralism. The historic work of Jesus is still relevant in the Twenty-First Century because, despite the advancement in technology and communication, the distance between us is greater, and the bloodshed of hatred continues to spill, spreading our "Ground Zero" conditions all over the world. We cannot possibly meet God's standard of righteousness and goodness. We do not love each other. We cannot even keep our own promises, let alone God's commands. St. Paul reflects on his own efforts of trying to meet God's standard and confesses: "What a wretched man I am!" (Romans 7:24) And he emphatically states, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Jesus' love for us can only be received as a gift. Only when we rest upon him as a gift, does he give us wings, to hover between heaven and earth. These wings are gifts of grace, aligned to the original intention for our being. Our journey will begin in a Garden and end in a City. We are headed toward the City of God, a reconciled city, humanity, nature and God.

Since I do not assume you to be necessarily religious, let me call this state of flight "future grace." When we focus on future grace, then our current reality of frustration becomes an opportunity, not a set back. We will, no doubt, battle with our pride, our ego, in doing so. We have been taught to be self-sufficient, that the ego is the only source of creativity. Lewis' suggestion is that there is a greater source outside of ourselves to create from. There will be a quiet joy even within that wrestling. In that world to come, you are already famous and successful. You just can't hear the sounds of accolades yet. The creative journey is not an easy one. Lewis continues in the same passage, "But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so...The lumps on the shoulders...may even give it an awkward appearance."

Have you ever felt awkward, and felt the "lumps"? If you are an artist, perhaps you began your journey realizing that you are different from others. We have gotten used to having these "lumps" and accepted the fact that to the world the "lumps" looks strange and unnatural. Your teachers and your friends may not fully understand your intuition to try to fly with your winged "lumps." What started out, at first, as trying to be yourself, may have become an effort to shield and protect your true identity from the world. Perhaps rebellion became the only path you could journey on. Your "lumps" became a defense mechanism, or even a weapon.

What if Lewis is right, and you are destined to "fly"? What if our awkwardness, and our uniqueness points to the potential of the person we are meant to become? In order to learn to fly, you need to be patient, and ready to experience many failures; we need an environment where we can fail often, but you also need opportunities to peer into the wonders and mysteries of the vista of the world to come. Since many, including those in the institutions of the schools or churches, will not understand, you may have to create "fellowship" yourself. Do not be surprised by their rejections.

In Mark chapter 14, there is a story of a woman who broke all the social rules to get to Jesus, in a small room full of his male disciples. Mary brought a jar she had been saving for her wedding, and we are told that the jar of nard cost a person's annual wages. When Mary barged in, broke the jar and poured her expensive perfumed oil upon Jesus' feet, Judas and the other disciples responded, "What a waste!" In the same way the world may see what you do and see what you are doing as wasteful extravagance. The male disciples were shocked because what she did was not only extravagant, but sexual. The only time that aroma of perfume wafts into the air is on wedding nights! But Jesus said to all: "Leave her alone... Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me... I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her" (Mark 14:6, 9). What a commendation! Jesus, the ultimate Artist, recognized Mary as an artist, transgressing in love.

Strict moralism has never produced great art. Like Mary's expensive oil, our expression flows out as a response to grace in our lives. Even if you are not cognizant of a grace reality, you can still create in the possibility of future grace. That takes faith to do, but if you can do that, you will be joining so many artists of the past who wrestled deeply with faith, doubt, poverty, rejection, longing and yet chose to create. Know that the author of creativity longs for you to barge in, break open the gift you have been saving; he will not only receive you, he can bring you purpose behind the battle, and rebuke those who reject you. Mary's oil was the only thing Jesus wore to the cross. He was stripped of everything else, but art can sometimes endure even torture. A friend of mine said that in the aroma of Christ, Mary's oil mixed with Christ's blood and sweat, there are da Vincis and Bachs floating about. He will bring your art, music and dance to the darkness of death, and into the resurrection of the third day.

Don't be a critic when you create. You can look at your work later and discern what is good. Your growth as an artist is not in being able to impress others, or even God. Rather, growth comes by understanding how limited you are. Learning to use your wings means learning the discipline as a means to grace. Give yourself boundaries and goals; start with small things, like having a small table dedicated to your poems. Emily Dickinson wrote her poems on a small 18 inch by 18 inch desk in her room in Amherst. Do not put anything other than your poems, though, on that area. Guard against the world invading your boundaries. Learning to paint, play the piano, or dance has much to do with keeping your self-set boundaries, otherwise you will not own your craft. We are each given unique wings with unique particulars of how to use our wings; no one else can fly for you. You have to jump off the edge, and spread your wings.

Pray. Even if you do not regard yourself as religious, pray. As Simone Weil wrote, "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer." Artists know instinctively the artistry behind the prayer of the faithful. Pray that our imagination be "baptized" by this future grace. Pray through your materials. Go into galleries and museums and pray so that you can learn to "see." Listen to Vivaldi's Four Seasons or Charlie "Bird" Parker's Burnin' Bird and pray that you can "hear" the music behind the music. Go see Our Town and Othello and pray that you can experience the drama pulsing through our lives. May your work become a prayer, an offering.

Saint Paul wrote: "creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed" (Romans 8:19). The whole realm of nature waits for our arrival onto the stage of life. God "frustrates" creation so that the very groaning of life produces expression by children of God. In the theater of life, we see in the darkness and suffering all around us a world that beckons for our arrival. Our creative endeavors are mandated to begin with that understanding of suffering and darkness. Art helps us to confront darkness head-on. For that reason, you must not cease to create, even in the darkest of hours; by creating, you can participate in announcing that great arrival. You can also help your community to articulate their suffering, with a deeper call for community.

Further, by "showing up" on the stage, what we announce to the world may be a key to unlocking someone else's story. The Good Book tells us that we are loved. Because of that love, which exceeds our own love, we can move out to take risks in creativity. Love is the ultimate fruit of the Spirit and our total dependence on the true source of creativity will nurture love. Art, ultimately, is expression of that love. Therefore we cannot create but by sacrificial love. We need to redefine art and its effectiveness by how it helps us to love one another sacrificially. Fear and terror, in any form, will destroy creativity and people. Fear and terror will twist our creativity to expand our "Ground Zeros." Even when we cannot paint or write, love is available to us a creative resource to share with others. Stand on the ashes of your "Ground Zero"; look up and create in love and hope.

Lastly, remember you are not alone. A soliloquy can become a symphony of soliloquies. I look forward to hearing many voices joining, , through the echoes of time, when future grace becomes reality, when mourning is transformed into dancing. Live generatively, taking today's challenges head on, spreading your wings at the precipice of your Ground Zero, daring to leap into the miraculous.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Equal Opportunity Offenders

As with most of my recent blog posts/notes, I’ve been stewing over this one and whether or not to post it for a few days now. Mostly because I want to make sure it’s as well-thought out as possible and not some ranting, overly emotional (read: whiny, obnoxious) drivel. I won’t lie; it’s also because I’m always a little timid about the response I might get. But I suppose I was not made to live in fear, right?

I wanna talk about Facebook a little bit…well, all social networking sites really. The two I use the most are Facebook and Twitter. I love them. I’m a social butterfly and I always have been, so sites like these are right up my alley. I get teased for it sometimes, but hey, I can own up to the fact that it’s more than a slight addiction. I like being extroverted and involved and, let’s face it, a little bit narcissistic and nosey. Come on, we all are, or else there wouldn’t be 4039815 tagged photos of us, right?

Lately, though, there seems to have been an undercurrent of frustration on my News Feed about what people are seeing on their News Feeds. People don’t want to see anything that disagrees too much with what they believe. Republicans don’t want to read about Obama, Democrats don’t want to hear about Glenn Beck. Athiests don’t want to read about the scriptures I read this morning and Christians don’t want to read an athiest’s post about there “not being any such thing as heaven or hell anyway, so why bother.”

(Station break to identify some irony: one of the pastors I follow on Twitter JUST posted this: “Don't ever get so shallow that everyone IN your life must see everything you DO in life.” Heh. However, I will continue this…)

I will admit that I have gotten extremely frustrated lately because while there is this general outcry of “Respect my beliefs!” I can’t help but think, “Really? But…you don’t respect mine.” That may seem petulant, but I’m serious. I’m asked to respect the beliefs (or in some cases lack of belief in anything) of other people, but I don’t feel like Christianity is respected at all.

I hate the “Grilled Cheezus” status updates, and the parodies of the Lord’s Prayer being used to ask God to please bring the Longhorns/Sooners a win or the Texas Rangers an ALCS Championship pennant. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rooting for the Rangers all the way, but that is called the Lord’s Prayer for a reason. It belongs to Him. It’s maddeningly irreverent. I know people’s intent is harmless, but it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

It seems more to me that what people are saying is “Respect what’s popular to believe,” or even “Respect what won’t rock the boat and cause dissension (read: 35 comments and subsequent notifications that will just annoy me on my Facebook app I have on my phone),” or worse: “Respect what won’t make me mad.”

Here’s the thing, though, that even I must admit: it’s Facebook. It’s a free country. I have the ability to hide or delete people, as they have the ability to hide or delete me. It usually takes a lot for me to hide someone and a lot more for me to go so far as to delete someone, because I can usually take a step back and discern what is just their thoughts/opinions/musings… and what they are saying just to force an opinion upon the world and/or to be blatantly offensive or stir the proverbial pot. It’s a fine, fine line, sure, but most of the people I’m friends with on Facebook are actually my friends in “real life,” too, so I can usually fairly accurately guess their intentions. I ask that they also do the same for me.

I will admit, humbly, that at the end of the day I don’t want people to just respect my beliefs. I genuinely want them to know the Lord and understand the peace I’ve come to find thanks to His grace…but I will never force-feed anyone my beliefs, because I could not do anything more detrimental to my ultimate desires than that. It’s my job and my responsibility to take a minute before I post anything and make sure I consider how my words will be interpreted.

So what is the solution? Well, I suppose that we all just need to take a minute and remember that Facebook and similar social networking sites are equal opportunity offenders. Nobody will ever believe exactly the same as another person, and as long as we have the abilities and the desire to put our thoughts and feelings out onto the World Wide Web, we will likely offend or hurt somebody…even when it is not our intention. Or, we could make individual decisions on what we decide to share, and whether or not the end result is worth our “right” to share it.

An extreme measure would be to just take a Facebook/Twitter hiatus…but I don’t think I quite have the will power to do that…yet. :-)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anointing vs. Ambition

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about anointing, and what God has anointed me to do in this life for His glory. I heard a message about it at Seven about a month ago, and it has sparked a lot of thought and contemplation and reflection. When I say “anointing,” I mean, “what God has blessed me with the talents to do that will bring them closer to Him.”

Upon first hearing that, I automatically think, “Well, God gave me the talent of singing. Maybe that’s what my anointing is, and I’m supposed to use that.” Then the speaker, Tim Ross, said something like “What you are talented at doing is not necessarily what you are anointed to do.” Well. Hmmm. That doesn’t mean that the obvious talents are NOT what God has anointed you with, but it did make me stop and think “Well, maybe I shouldn’t just default to the obvious – my singing abilities – but instead I should look deeper within myself and ask, ‘Is there something else God has anointed me to do?’”

Since I started performing in the community again back in 2009, several of the shows I’ve been a part of have been reviewed by theatre critics. I’ve only received a passing mention, if any, each time, and nothing notable or detailed about my singing. If I’m being honest, I’ve been disappointed each time that I haven’t gotten a more detailed review. I tell people that I’d “even take a bad review, as long as it was something I could use to improve and do better next time,” but I sit here now and wonder if that’s true. I wonder if I’m just disappointed that I’m not getting more critical acclaim.

I even find myself disappointed that I’m never asked to sing at the local weekly cabaret that happens in Dallas, either by someone already on the bill or to be a part of the bill. There’s a part of me that gets suddenly insecure and thinks I’m just not talented enough to hold my own in this town as a singer, but then recently I’ve stopped to reflect on this. I think it goes back to my most recent post about doing it all for my glory. Maybe God has kept me from getting public/published acclaim and praise for my abilities on purpose, so that I can’t just take off with it and forget that my talents are a blessing and not something I deserve. Which begs the question, then…

Is it possible that God’s anointing for me lies somewhere outside the obvious – outside the performing arts? Is it because I am not yet strong enough spiritually to be able to use my talents without going after my own personal glory? If so, is that something I can grow into? Because that’s something else Tim said in that message…sometimes we have to grow into our anointing. Even Jesus didn’t start doing the things God anointed him to do until he was 30 years old.

Having this break from performing lately and having it happen at the very same time that my husband is in rehearsals for another show has given me a LOT of alone time to think and question things. For one thing, I’m struggling with just being BORED and sick of being at my house every night. I don’t know if this is just because I’m unable to rest or if it’s because, thanks to my outgoing personality, I just don’t really thrive on having so much free time to myself. I don’t really like it.

Even though I have the ability and the time to get things done, work out, cook, keep my house clean, and go to bed at a decent hour…I’m actually worse at doing those things now than I am when I’ve got a full schedule. I think I’ve always worked better on a deadline, and part of me likes the stress and slight insanity of having to get things done in an allotted amount of time (within reason). So I have to try to find a balance of not overworking myself and having no time for myself, my husband and God (not in that order) but also not just being restless and stir-crazy with too much free time.

I guess I’m just feeling aimless right now and I’m not sure what’s next and what God has in store for me with my performing career/hobby – if He has anything in store for me there at all. It’s strange to not already have planned out the next several auditions and performance opportunities after such a crazy spring and summer. And if/when I do get into a show next, will I be able to be the kind of Christian example that will inspire people and not turn them away? Will I remember to give Him the glory? Will I sink back into hold habits and behaviors?

I’ve forgotten where I was going with this, and it’s turned into just word vomit. Must stop before it gets worse!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

But Not for Me

A couple of weeks ago when I wrote this post, I mentioned something that has been going on in my life of late thanks to an invitiation to go (back) to Gateway Church with my good pal Tyler. I mentioned that my husband and I have been attending a church together (or listening to some podcasts from the services when we can't actually make it out to church) and that I really felt like it was time to get back on the path of God's obedience.

Why am I writing about this on my theatre blog, you ask? Well that's a good question. I'll do my best to answer it.

Since I made this decision and prayed the prayer that God would grab hold of me and yank me back into a place where I wanted to make Him a priority -- no, THE priority -- in my life, I've been thinking about all the things that happened leading up to that moment:

  • I did seven -- SEVEN -- shows in 2009. As a result, I put on a lot of weight, was exhausted, and had a strained relationship with my husband because neither of us was ever at home for any long period of time while we were both awake.
  • I was writing theatre reviews for The Column and spending any free weekends driving out and seeing shows for no pay and for more stress in my life.
  • I started this blog and started writing reviews and seeing a TON of shows as a way to network and meet people in the D/FW theatre community.
  • In December of 2009 I decided to change myself physically. Since then I have lost 37 of the 40 pounds I set a goal to lose.
  • So far, in 2010, I have done only three shows, and it's highly likely that I am done for the year.
  • I have stopped writing for The Column because I felt a very palpable urge to simplify my life: husband, family/friends, work, and the occasional show.
  • Possibly as a result of no longer writing for The Column, I have been deleted as a Facebook friend and completely cut off from the publication by its editor and creator with no actual explanation given.
  • Because of my new shape and resulting confidence level, I waffled and waffled but finally decided to audition for a role in The Producers that, 9 months ago, I never would've auditioned for. I got it.
  • I learned a big lesson about why I do shows during The Producers process: because I love it and because I meet amazing people. Case in point:
  • I met several new friends, but one in particular who invited me to church....the type of church I have been quoted as hating on in the past for being "God machines" with thousands and thousands of members and multi-camera praise & worship with stage lighting and rock bands and proudly brewing Starbucks in the lobby....and God spoke to me more loudly and clearly than He has in years. Well...I'm not gonna put that blame on Him....I listened this time. I heard it. Something in me just finally shut up and I listened.
  • Since then I've been going back...talking to my husband daily about what God is doing, doing a lot more listening with my ears and my heart, and trying to make a daily effort to read my devotional emails and a weekly effort to go to church in some way.

Last night, when I was at Seven with my friend and my sister-in-law, Preston was talking about God's plan and promise for our life. He said something that really struck a chord in me. This may be paraphrased, as I left my notes in my car and it's raining REALLY hard right now so I don't wanna go get it, but it was something like this:

When you are walking in God's promise/plan for your life, He will make it obvious.

I don't have to ask why I got deleted by John Garcia and deleted from receiving the Column.

I don't have to ask why The Producers was the best show experience I've had in a while. I don't have to ask why, of the other thinner girls that were at auditions, I was cast as Ulla. I don't have to ask why Tyler decided to invite me to church one weekend before the show opened.

I don't have to ask why I suddenly am exhausted by the "business," the drama, the fake friendships of the theatre community.

I don't have to ask why it happened to be now, in a non-crisis-driven moment of my life, that I decided to walk in obedience to the Lord again for the first time -- no lie guys -- since high school.

These things are not a coincidence. He will make it obvious.

All of this happened for one reason and one reason only. I was doing things for MY glory. Not His. I was working for MY benefit...Not His. I wanted to network and meet more people in the theatre community. Why? So I could get cast in shows -- not based on my talent but because of who I know? So I could write theatre reviews and have my name known? So that I might get nominated for and subsequently win a Column award?

Really, Mandy?!

In the past 17 months, I have worked with directory Bill Kirkley on 3 shows. In my life, I have worked with him many other times. Before every show during our cast & crew "circle time," he always says the same thing: "Your talent is your gift from God, and how you use that talent is your gift back to Him."

Have I been using my God-given talents as a gift to Him? Or to me? Have I been using these many opportunities for His glory? Or mine? It's not a fun question to ask because I already know the answer. :-/

You guys, the arts community is a tough place in which to be a Believer. But as a very talented young man I've only (sadly!) met in person ONE TIME, Max Swarner wrote on his blog:

People have challenged me for a long time that I can't be following God's plan by being in this industry. All I can say is those people are wrong! This industry needs Christ just as much as any other industry does, and I want to do my part!

I can do this. I can certainly still be a part of the theatre community. But I need to be doing it for the right reasons and never let it consume my life and become all about my glory and recognition again.

It's not going to be easy. I may lose friends, networked contacts I've made, Facebook friends, Twitter followers....but there is no loss that will be greater than the ultimate gain I will receive by putting the Lord and His glory first so that I can walk in His path and promise for my life.

Even now...I'm afraid of hitting "publish." This blog directly posts to my Facebook notes. I'll be afraid of what happens when I share it on Twitter. But I have to. This is what I need to do to show people that this is really who I am.

Here we go!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sappy Re-Cappy Time

Another show is in the byukes...I mean, the books...

...a show that may have just topped all other show experiences I've had so far.

...the material was priceless.

...the cast was gorgeous, amazing, hysterical, talented, fun...

....the audiences LOVED it, and there isn't much better than playing for a crowd roaring with laughter.

...I learned some amazing things about myself and my confidence, and have so much gratitude for the supportive and edifying cast I was surrounded by. and lasting friendships were created, and current friendships were strengthened.

...once again I was blessed with an absolutely DARLING co-star who is talented, funny, giving, and an absolute dream to work with. often do you get to wear THESE kinds of costumes?

There's a part of me that genuinely wants to send a thank you note to every audience member – whether they be friend, family member or stranger – who came to see this show and helped make this one of my favorite show to date.

I know. I say that about all of them, right? Well, in my defense, it's not once been a lie.

If the shows I do and the casts I'm lucky enough to be onstage with keep one-upping each other like this, I don't think I'll be able to handle much more. My heart will just explode. Melodramatic? Maybe. But consider the source. :)

I honestly don't even know what to say....the words just aren't enough to explain what this was like. The book and the music that Mel Brooks came up with for this show are just SO freaking funny, and it was so invigorating to get to perform it onstage every night and have to just stand there and wait to say the next line while the audience doubled over laughing.

Working with tremendously talented and funny people...the ones who can stand there and look at you straight-faced while you try not to crack up one of the best, most fun feelings in the world.

Hearing the audience crack up even more when you can't keep a straight face comes in as a close second.

I wish I could write something special to each and every cast member as well....because there wasn't ONE of them that didn't lift me up in one way or another every single night with kind words, a smack on the ass, a hug, making me laugh, etc. That's not an exaggeration, either.

After our last performance this past Sunday, I couldn't stop crying. It's not unusual for me to cry on the last day of a production's run. Of course I'm sad to see it end. I HATE striking the set immediately and systematically tearing down all of the physical aspects of the production so quickly. I both love and dread the cast dinner afterwards, because I know that I won't for sure see everyone again the next Thursday in preparation for another weekend of shows.

However, this was a whole new emotional level for me. Playing What a fun character that Swedish gal is. I had a few people who know the show well tell me that I "made her a different character" than they had seen previously, and that they liked the choices I made.

I feel like, since I am not the stereotypical Ulla, I was given the opportunity to tear down some pre-existing notions of what she should be like and how she should be played, and bring her down to earth (though still floating somewhere up in the air, I mean....she's not a rocket scientist) and make my own character. Our lone review of the show called her "the adorable blonde bombshell next door," which just made me feel good all over.

Yes, I had one minor meltdown when buying all the spandex accoutrements necessary for Ulla, but after that? Forget it. I got out there every night and sang "When You've Got it, Flaunt it!" and I meant every word of it. I felt good. I felt strong and sexy and better than I can remember feeling about myself in years.

I cried on Sunday because of how far I've come. I never would've played Ulla six months ago. Hell, I may never play her again. But I did it. I earned it. I busted my butt, I sweated in the gym, I did the lunges and lifted the weights and cursed at the elliptical machine, and I did it.

The reward has been incredible. Something I can't even describe because it's so personal to me. That feeling is such a high that I was heartbroken to say goodbye to Ulla. But a part of her will always be inside me, and as long as I keep working hard and reaching towards my goal, she'll always be there as a reminder of the rewards of my hard work.

Also....I learned a lot and remembered a lot of things about myself in this process. I was reminded, thanks to a completely drama-free cast, that we do theatre because we love it. Not because we get some stupid Column award nominations or reviews or critical acclaim. But because we love being onstage and creating something that others can enjoy and escape into for a few hours in a dark theatre. A place where people can laugh until they cry, and where we can use the talents we've been so blessed with.

I've also...and this will be the subject of another blog for another day, I think, thanks to the length of this one...started going back to church with my husband, thanks to an invitation weeks ago from my dear "Leo." My heart has been so full ever since we've been going, and I just didn't even realize how much I've missed that as a part of my life until we went back. I've been given a very large and very important reminder that all things do happen for a reason, and I wouldn't (and shouldn't) be doing any of this if not for the grace of God.

As our director reminded us each evening, "Your talent is your gift from God, and how you use that talent is your gift back to Him."

I'm tired of all the "business" of this business, and I'm tired of caring what the theatre community at-large may or may not think. I do this for the love of it and for the relationships that I am blessed with as a result of each show, and to use the gifts that I've been given.

The post-show blues for this one are deep, but it's the best kind of blues I think I could ever have. Because these people aren't going anywhere. They're my friends. They are a part of my ever-growing family of crazies that all do this and get exhausted and spend night after night at late rehearsals and long dance calls. Family who understands that complaining about it doesn't mean we hate it --- but just the opposite. There's no people like show people, and I love them! :)

And until our reunion(s) -- because if I know this group, we won't be able to stay away from each other for long -- I'll miss you all terribly!

Friday, July 30, 2010

I Wanna Be a Producer

The marquee at the Campus Theatre

It's almost that time again! One week from today, I'll open the next show...the hilarious Mel Brooks musical The Producers.

Tyler Lohr as Leo Bloom, Mandy Rausch as Ulla

This show will go down in my own personal history as a really big step in my progress towards becoming a healthier, more fit ME and as a result, a more confident person as a whole.

6 months and 30 pounds ago, I never would've gotten this role. I'm still battling the "old Mandy" inside my head as I go to costume fittings and step onto the stage and put on the persona of a character who causes every (straight) male character's jaws to drop to the floor.

I'm not gonna lie...this process has been one mental struggle after another. My biggest enemy has been myself, and I can be a stubborn pain in the ass. ;) The thing that's really interesting about this whole process has been that I've noticed myself NOT promoting the show as much as I normally would to my friends and family. When friends asked me what I'm rehearsing for, I would quickly answer "Producers" and then change the subject because I genuinely feared the reaction I would get when I answered the inevitable next question of "Which role are you?" If I wasn't able to avoid the question, I'd mumble "....Ulla" rather than stepping up and OWNING that shit.

Then came the inevitable meltdown when "old Mandy" took over in the poorly lit dressing room of a dance store where I went to buy my tights and leotard and VERY SHORT black shorts for the show. I felt sick to my stomach and embarrassed at myself for even auditioning. It was not a good night.

The next day, I emailed one of my best friends and just spilled my guts out to her and said everything you're not supposed to say because it's obnoxious and sounds like you're fishing for compliments. But that's what friends are for, right? She pointed out some things to me that I knew, but needed to be reminded of:

* I have come a LONG way. No matter what, I need to remember that and be proud of the body I have now. It's not perfect, and who the hell knows what a "perfect" body is anyway?

* NOWHERE in the script does it say that Ulla needs to be "tall" or "thin." The only thing it says in the script description of her is that she is "Swedish" and "very beautiful." Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think I can pull off "Swedish and beautiful" with the right wig and makeup. ;)

* I am working with an incredible cast, and as long as I sell it and Max and Leo sell it (and Sean and Tyler are just making me feel like a million bucks every night), the audience will buy it.

So I got over myself (mostly) and started thinking, "You know what? I will own this. I'll probably never play this role again in my life, but that's what's so great about doing community theatre sometimes. Because of the limitations and the crappy pay (haha), we get LOTS of opportunities to play roles we may never get in the 'real theatre world.'"

Ulla's song is called "When You've Got it, Flaunt it." I may not have what everyone else thinks, but does that really matter?? No. It's my job to take what I do have, and flaunt the HELL out of it. And I damn sure will do that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Divas: Directorial Post-Mortem

The Divas singing their fabulous hearts out on "I'm a Woman" - the opening number!

Director Diva with her music and Blackberry saying "Can we get a follow spot here?"

Last weekend, I made my directorial debut. No, I didn't premiere a huge tap musical to sold out audiences for a four-week run. It was a much smaller scale than that, but still a very worthwhile experience from which I learned a lot.

Every summer, Denton Community Theatre puts on a summer fundraiser. For the past six years-ish, it's been a musical revue of sorts. For three years, it was called Bravo for Broadway, and it was an invitation-only concert of new and old Broadway songs performed by some of the local favorites. The next three years (including this year), it was called Encore! and featured local actors reprising songs they sang within the context of the shows when they were performed as mainstage productions.

For the summer 2010 version of Encore, we decided to celebrate all of the gloriously talented women our little town has had to offer over the past decades. I was asked to come on board for two reasons. One was because I'd had an idea to do a similar One for Mahler performance as a fundraiser for Anna's and my Susan G. Komen 3-Day minimum fundraising goal, so the seeds of a "divas" concert were already growing in my head. Secondly, the managing director of DCT was asked to direct it, and he had also never directed a show before. Apparently he valued my opinions and knowledge enough to ask me to come on board and head up this process (as well as perform in the production) and, after some thought, I graciously accepted.

We met a few times, compiled a list of women we'd love to see come and perform, sent out the emails, gathered up all the "yes!" answers, found a production team, and Encore III: The Divas! was born. Act I was to be comprised of songs from any show that DCT has produced in it's 40-year history, as well as a song from each of the 3 musicals in it's upcoming 41st season (in order to keep up the "encore" theme), performed by ladies in the cast. Act II was when we let the Divas pick their own song...something they could really cut loose and wail on.

The thing about the summer fundraiser that makes it so difficult is that there is very little preparation time. Mike and I, along with our musical and technical design team, met several times in the months leading up to June 21st, but we only had one week of actual rehearsal in the performance space to put together a beautiful, seamless production.

At the end of the day, we definitely succeeded. I am still getting emails and Facebook messages about how much people enjoyed watching, performing in, and working backstage for this production. I know I enjoyed being a part of the ROCKING group number to start each show ("I'm a Woman" from Smokey Joe's Café) as well as singing my two solos ("Moonfall" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood in Act I and "Spark of Creation" from Children of Eden in Act II) and working with some incredibly talented women.

However, I won't be lining up to direct a show again any time soon, I don't think.

At the risk of sounding incredibly arrogant, I will say that I think I did a pretty bang-up job, overall. I had some good ideas, learned how to wrangle a group of people and face LOTS of different ideas, opinions, attitudes, and the ever-present "too many cooks" problem with grace and professionalism...mostly. Okay, I did lose my temper once, but nobody's perfect, right? RIGHT?! :) I was treated with respect by people who suddenly had to have me as a director when they were a peer/castmate only weeks before. I was humbled by the gratitude and sweetness of the performers, overall. It was in no way a negative experience.

I am very tired now, though, and just ready for a great big vacation from the theatre. Having to balance all the production emails, cast member emails, organization and planning with the responsibilities of my day job, learn my OWN music/lyrics, and still remember that as soon as it was over I had to go back to another rehearsal process for my next project was just too much. Being at the theatre until 1am and back up at 7:30 for work the next day. Having to eat a quick, unhealthy dinner (or no dinner sometimes) and skip the gym so I could be at the theatre to run through some logistics before the actors arrived. Too. Much.

I've started to associate the theatre -- my second home, the place I love and the venue in which I can express myself artistically on a fairly regular basis -- with stress and exhaustion. Booo. I'm fairly sure that this is going to be VERY short-lived, but it definitely could not have come at a better time. Next week I will be on vacation from all things work and rehearsal, and I think I desperately need it.

I feel like this is coming across as negative and/or ungrateful for the opportunity, and that is VERY MUCH NOT the case at all. I had a really great experience, and I gained a lot of respect for my past and current directors, musical directors, vocal coaches, and designers since I had to fill all of those shoes in at least a tiny way throughout this process. That knowledge and respect of what all they do is invaluable to me now, and will change the way I behave and act as a performer from now on. I also got to sing some KICK. ASS. SONGS with some incredibly talented women.

But for now? Just give me my blocking and my notes and I'll quietly write them in my script and say "thank you." :) I'm ready to go back to just being a performer!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dirty Rotten Recap and "When You Got it..."

Well another show, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels has been put on the shelf. Due to my ridiculously busy schedule at work (the spring months are when all of our biggest deadlines are, and adding a show to that damn near killed me this time around), I didn't blog NEARLY as much as I wanted to about the rehearsal and production process of this amazing show.

I enjoy every show that I do and I always bond with cast members and find a way to love the role I'm playing...but only once in a blue moon do I get truly sad to close one. The last one was Crazy for You, which just happens to have been exactly one year ago. For that one and for DRS, the Monday after closing was just a dreadfully depressing day. I hated knowing I wouldn't do it all over again in a few days, and even listening to the cast recording when it happens upon my iPod shuffle makes me a little blue. It always passes, and I always keep in touch with the people from the cast, but the first few days are a little rough.

This show was particularly special to me for a couple of reasons. The first is indicated in the pictures heading up this blog post (all above). Kenny Fudge, who was the Andre to my Muriel, made this show so special for me. He has been on my theatre "wish list" ever since I saw him act when I worked backstage last summer for Don't Dress for Dinner, and I am so fortunate to have been cast opposite him.

The roles of Andre and Muriel in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are an absolute trip. They may be secondary plot characters, but they have the ability to steal the show with their fabulous, cheesy (and sometimes dirty!) one-liners, the adorable song and dance number "Like Zis, Like Zat," and possibly the only real moments in an otherwise cartoony show. Muriel is also a very isolated character...all of her stuff is with Andre after a certain point, so I got to spend lots of stage time with this brilliant actor. And I think I fell a little bit in love with both Kenny and his Andre! I am so honored to have been cast opposite him. Kenny is absolutely no-drama, which I love, and his work ethic is incredible. Any time we had down time, we were running lines or talking about why scenes still felt a little off and figuring out how to fix it.

ON the stage, I have never worked with a more giving actor than Kenny. As someone who fancies herself more of a singer than an actress, I can't even say how much I appreciated working with such an amazing actor. His dedication onstage and the way HIS actions brought Muriel out of ME was amazing. I'm so grateful for it, and I think I'll ONLY do shows with Kenny from now on. :)

The SECOND reason this show was so special to me is why I can also post this on my weight loss blog. This show very much felt like a coming out party for me. I haven't been onstage in a lead or supporting role ever since The Reckoning. The last show I did was Chicago, which is when I was at my heaviest. So, some of the audiences have not seen me since I lost the 30lbs (!!!) I've lost since December.

I have to tell much as I love and appreciate every compliment I got on my acting and singing in this show -- probably the most I've gotten yet on my actual performance of a show to date -- I NEVER once got tired of hearing, "Oh my GOD you look AMAZING!" when I'd greet friends, family and strangers after each performance. And honestly? I felt amazing. I felt lighter, my breath support during dancing and singing was better and easier to handle, and I loved all my costumes. I loved how they looked and I loved how I felt in them.

Below is a couple of pictures just to illustrate some of the awesomeness of weight loss. The first one is a picture of my friend Olivia, who was in the show with me (and was also in Crazy For You). Olivia has been on a very similar weight loss journey with me over the past 6 months or more. She has, to date, lost over 55lbs. Since I have lost 30, I felt it necessary to document in a photograph the AWESOME-ness that is 85lbs lost combined:

This picture is just one I threw together when I was scrolling through old Facebook photos last week. The picture on the left is a picture of me after a performance of Chicago, and the picture on the right was taken during the rehearsal process for DRS. I feel like I look SO different (besides the lighter hair color, obviously) in the two pictures. I look YOUNGER in the picture on the right, so I guess it's true what they say, that losing weight can make you look (and feel) younger!

So, speaking of weight loss...I feel like it's time to make the announcement of the next project I'll be working on. I'll just go ahead and come right out and say it and THEN tell the story of how this came to be:

I will be playing Ulla in Denton Community Theatre's production of The Producers this August.

I know, this is VERY unlikely. For several reasons. One, I'm 5'3. Two, I'm not tall and thin with legs that go for days. Three...I'm not a skinny girl.

But, it happened. I'll never play the role again, so I'm going to take my chance since I have it. I need you to know, blog readers, how much I AGONIZED over auditioning for this.

I talked to two very honest, to-the-point friends of mine, who are also directors. I asked them, "If you were directing this show and I auditioned for this role, would you smile politely and then write "fat chance, sister!" on my audition form?" Both of them were honest and direct in their responses and both said something similar to "No, but we'd put you in the maybe file and hope and pray that a tall, leggy Amazon showed up to rehearsals." Okay, so at least I knew I wasn't being completely delusional with the audition. So I went, and I did my best.

Then came the agony of "What happens if I DO get cast? Are people going to see the cast list and scoff? Laugh at the fact that a 5'3", size 10-12 girl is playing Ulla? What are people goign to say to me? How am I going to prove myself? Can I lose another 20 lbs by August if I'm cast?"

Then I got offered the role. And I almost puked. People keep asking me, "Are you so excited?!" The answer deep down is yes...but I have found myself TERRIFIED of what people are going to say/think about this.

I was vague-tweeting about this on Twitter before I was offered the role, and another local actor who is also a fitness coach, Jimmy Hays Nelson, tweeted back to me, "Don't let someone else's opinion of you become YOUR reality." Boom, reality check. Why am I SO concerned about what other people are thinking?

Honestly I could go on and on about this...but I'll save that for another blog. Right now I'm just going to re-focus on making HEALTHY changes in my life, start religiously counting calories again (had a leeeeeeetle too much indulgence over the holiday weekend), and up the ante on my workouts. Not so that I can prove to anyone else that I deserve to play this role, but so that, just like I did in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, I can walk off that stage every night feeling amazing and confident because I know I have worked hard.

As Ulla says, "If you got it -- FLAUNT it." Bring it on.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Dirty Rotten Update

Remember when I actually used to keep up with this theatre blog? Unfortunately, work (!!!) has been completely insane during the months of March and April due to looming deadlines, and will continue to be pretty busy throughout mid-May or so. I still need to post a blog with my pictures from The Column Awards and a post about our upcoming One for Mahler performance, but, first things first...

I'm in a show. Did I mention I'm in a show? I'm sure I mentioned I'm in a show.

I'm currently in rehearsals for Music Theatre of Denton's production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as Muriel Eubanks (the role Joanna Gleason created in the original Broadway cast). This cast is honestly (no, really) one of the best casts I have ever worked with in Denton. It contains some of my closest and dearest friends, and we are having the time of our lives.

The show runs May 14-16 and 21-23 at the Campus Theatre in Denton. Friday and Saturday evening performances are at 7:30pm and Sunday matinees are at 2pm. More information can be found here.

This is really going to be a fun (and SO FUNNY) show, so try not to miss it. Here's a quick little video I made of our leads, Kelsey Macke (as Christine Colgate) and Justin Harmon (as Freddy Benson) and the ensemble rehearsing "Love is my Legs," one of my personal favorite songs in the show:

The cast will also be performing four songs this Saturday (April 24th) at 2:00pm on the Festival Stage at the Denton Arts & Jazz Festival, so that'll be a good time, too!

In the meantime, while you're waiting on pins and needles for OUR show to open, I encourage you to trek on down to the Kalita Humphreys theatre to see the Uptown Players' production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels as well! There are some incredibly talented people in that cast, and I am personally super proud to go see one of Denton's own (Miss Whitney Hennen) dance in the ensemble. I'm going to see the preview tonight, and I can't wait to see what they're doing with the show!

It'd be easy to get intimidated by a larger theatre with, let's face it, more money and resources, doing the same show you're working on and running right up against yours (we share one weekend—our opening weekend is their closing weekend).

However, I'm just excited that the D/FW theatre community gets TWO opportunities to catch this show the first time it's done in the area (other than a tour). So get out there and see both!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Headshots Recap!

I am THRILLED to report that I have officially met my minimum fundraising goal for the 3-Day walk. Each walker had to raise a minimum of $2,300 in order to participate and, thanks to generous donations from friends and family and a hugely successful fundraiser, I am currently sitting at $2,330 raised! So remember when I talked about Headshots for the Cure?

Well that event was this past Sunday, March 28th, and it was a lot of fun and a HUGE success.

I won't bore you with a lot of words, but I will say that I absolutely couldn't have pulled it off without the generous, talented photographers of Fresh Focus Point, with whom I am pictured here: well as makeup artists Cassie Cole from Blue Issue and Jerry Rogers from The Clutts Agency (pictured further down, hard at work).

I arrived early that day to help set up, test lighting, blow up pink balloons, anything I could do, and had a wonderful surprise when my best friend and teammate Anna showed up with her beautiful daughter Bridget (also known as Queen B). Bridget was very happy to be there:

Then the clients started arriving, and I'm happy to show off some of my favorites of everyone's headshots:

Me -- the "brains" behind the event (ha).

My handsome and talented husband, Michael Rausch! Perfect shot for opera auditions, yes?

Steven Young

Amber Guest

Whitney Dewell

Valerie Rowekamp

Tad Hopp

Shannon Jones

Rebecca Iverson

Leslie Standlee

Joshua Diaz

John Norine

Jessica Cope

Heidi Lewis

Clyde Berry

Bianca Sias

Andrew Bryan

Allison Wing

Ashley White

There was also a self-shooting station and some fun, pink (naturally) props to play with while everyone was waiting to be shot or to get their discs printed. I LOVE that everyone had fun with it:

The following photos were taken by Andy Post as he walked around during the day:

Overall it was just a really amazing (not to mention exhausting) day. Everyone had a great time and everyone left happy with their photos. AND all the proceeds went to such a wonderful cause and helped me to reach my goal. MAJOR thanks to everyone and every dollar contributed. I plan to keep fundraising, but it's such a relief and a blessing to know that the minimum goal has been met.