Neal Goren: Always Work With The Best People

Startup culture is fascinating. I sing opera. Neal Goren founded an opera startup called Gotham Chamber Opera. Since Gotham is one of the more successful recent opera startups, I thought it would be great to pick Neal Goren’s brain about what he did – and still does – to make the company work. We talk about his relationship with Leontyne Price as her exclusive collaborator, his love of the non-traditional, the upcoming performances of Gotham Chamber Opera’s double bill of Martinu that I’m performing in, and what it takes to stand out as a new company and as a performer.

OperaBox: So, I was thinking that you probably have a lot of singers come to you for direct career advice, and I’d love to cover some of that, but I wanted to sort of take a different tack and talk more about how you’ve gotten to be where you are, running one of today’s most successful opera startups. I’ve read that you’ve collaborated with some incredible people; Leontyne Price, Thomas Hampson, Kathleen Battle. And I understand you were Leontyne’s exclusive collaborator?

Neal Goren: Yeah, after David Garvey died, I got a call one day – it was a Valentine’s Day, I remember – and Lewis [Jacobsen] and I got home and there was a message on the machine saying, “Maestro, Maestro Goren, this is Leontyne Price. I don’t know if you remember me, but we met at the White House.”

OB: Ha! Nice.

NG: Right? And she said, “Call me, it doesn’t matter what time.” And I actually thought it was somebody doing a Leontyne Price imitation, because back in the day when she was performing, everyone did Leontyne Price imitations. She had such a heavy Mississippi accent – Laurel, Mississippi is where she was from. So, I thought it was one of my sopranos doing a Leontyne Price imitation. But I called; it was like 12:30 in the morning, and she picked up and said, “is this Maestro Goren? This is Leontyne Price. Something terrible has happened. My accompanist of thirty years, David Garvey, died today. Can you play a recital for me?” And I said, “Absolutely.” She said, “Don’t you want to know when it is?” I said, “I don’t care when it is, the answer is I can do it. I’ll cancel anything.” And she said, “It’s the day after tomorrow in California.” I said, “Fine. We’re on.” So we set up a time to rehearse the next day, and I was about to hang up and she said, “Don’t you want to know the program?” I said, “Okay, but I think I’ve played most of the stuff you sing.” And she went down the list, and it was almost all new; almost everything. She said, “I’ll send my driver with the music and you’ll have it first thing in the morning.” And it was great; she became like a second mother to me. It was amazing; she was great. And we kept it up until she was seventy; for four years. Because of that, I sort of threw myself into conducting even more, because I realized, sort of, who do you play for after Leontyne Price? She was of course one of the greatest singers of all time, but she was also one of the greatest listeners. She responded to any little thing I did on the keyboard; it was like dancing a tango when we performed together. It was a great experience.

OB: And you’ve gone on to conduct and teach throughout Europe and Italy and you judge competitions. What I find most interesting is the focus you’ve had on non-standard operas; the unusual repertoire. I’ve got a little bit of experience with that, having sung Frank in The Postman Always Rings Twice by Stephen Paulus…

NG: Oh, that’s good stuff.

OB: Yeah, and Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, which is a chamber piece, as well as Il matrimonio segreto. It’s really cool because you get a different perspective than you would get doing just the standard pieces.

NG: Did you see Leon Major there [at Gotham Chamber Opera’s rehearsal of Martinu’s Alexandre Bis and Comedy on the Bridge] today? He was the head of the Maryland Opera Studio, and one of the most important opera directors of the 1960’s, ’70’s, ’80’s. He’s the father of Naomi who works in our office. He came down to talk with me after rehearsal and said, “I so appreciate what you do. Who wants to see another f***ing Butterfly? Who wants to do another f***ing Butterfly? This is where it’s at.” I don’t know if “this” is “where it’s at,” but for people who’ve seen it all, been in the business, or live in New York, this is a chance to get into something new.

OB: Do you look at opera as a genre differently having focused on so many non-standard pieces? How do you view it differently, if at all?

NG: That’s a good question. I do view it differently because I’ve got a wider perspective. When I see the masterpieces and I’m bowled over, I analyze them and figure out what makes them great; why are they masterpieces? And then I try to apply the same standard to other pieces and see what makes them work and what doesn’t work. I do a lot of work with composers and librettists…

OB: Nico Muhly…

NG: Yeah, Nico Muhly. We have great composers-in-residence. Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, and now David Little, who’s just fabulous, too. And I talk a lot with them. We discuss what will make a libretto good or not good, what makes an opera good or not good. And what I do is I talk to them about how to write for the voice, because very few composers now know how to do that. They’re all taught at conservatory how to write for instruments but they’re not taught how to write for the voice. Jake [Heggie] knows how. But that’s because he’s a pianist and accompanist.

OB: He pays a lot of attention to that, yeah. Have you found any things that you think make for a good libretto, or a good vocal line?

NG: Yeah, good storytelling, good clarity of thought and architecture. If it’s the least bit unclear, then it doesn’t work. And also, it has to be very concise. Concision is everything because it takes, on the average, three times as long to sing something as to say something. So therefore, for a piece to take a whole evening, it has to be about one-third as long as a normal play. So, concision is really necessary. As far as a vocal line, composers need to know the difference between range and tessitura. And very few do. I remember hearing an opera that I was really bowled over by in spite of the vocal writing which had the baritone spending most of the evening between F and A-flat and A, and occasionally dipping down two octaves for a low note, with not much in between. Just insane writing. I mean, the character’s supposed to be insane, but that’s not the way to show it. You want to have it sit in the normal speaking range and then hover up and hover down as a special effect. So when I teach the composers, what I do is go through Verdi scores with them and let them come to conclusions about how Verdi writes because he was the one who did it best. Mozart actually didn’t do it so well. He didn’t understand that your voice could stall if it sits in the same three or four notes for a long time. It’s like driving in the same gear for a long time. Mozart learned that with Clemenza di Tito, but not until then. And that was in his own estimation. He was the one who said that. And Puccini knew the rules and violated them on purpose because he usually wanted singers to sound at the end of their rope. He didn’t want them to sound beautiful, he wanted them to sound desperate most of the time. So during Puccini’s lifetime, the singers who sang his repertoire lost their voices quickly. Toward the end of his life it was Nellie Melba and [Enrico] Caruso who went to their teachers and learned how to sing that repertoire healthily and still give it the emotion it needed without ruining their voices.

OB: That’s really cool. Verdi sounds like a great place to start.

NG: That’s why I try to show these composers it’s okay to break the rules as long as you know the rules first. You don’t want to have a baritone sitting in the passaggio all evening and then going and hitting A-flats.

OB: No, that sounds really uncomfortable.

NG: Yeah.

OB: So, you went to Reed College, North Carolina School of the Arts, and you did some study in London.

NG: Yeah, that was really interesting for me. After college I got a grant from the Watson Foundation, it was IBM, and I went to London and I studied with Jacqueline Du Pré, the cellist. I was her only piano student, which she thought was an odd idea. She asked, “Why do you want to work with me?” And I said, “Because you’ve got the best ears in the business. You’ve got the most interesting approach to music. And it’s the most hyper-emotional playing in the world and I want to be able to tap into that.” She didn’t judge herself while she played, she just threw herself into it and I so admired someone who could do that so it was very left-brained, rather than right brained. And she said it was because she’d done all the study work on right brain that she could just let it flip. I’d actually wanted to study with Sir Clifford Curzon, a pianist who died a long time ago. And when I went there, his wife died and he said he couldn’t teach me. And my second choice was Daniel Barenboim. So I went and played for Danny, and he said, “I’d love to work with you but my life is too complicated; I live in Paris now, I’m conducting the Orchestre de Paris. Why don’t you work with Jackie?” And I said, “That’s exactly who I’d like to work with.” So he put in a good word, and that’s what we did. So I’ve sort of been iconoclastic that way in that I wanted to work with the best musicians. When I started conducting I’d already learned what it takes to be a musician but I hadn’t learned what it takes to be a conductor. I didn’t know what the expectations are, what the orchestras expect and what they need. And my job is to give them what they need so they can do their best. So I went to a bunch of teachers and really learned. And one of the teachers told me, “You should just assume that in any orchestra, half of the players think they can conduct better than you can. And of those, half of them can, no matter how good you are.” It’s a very humbling thought. But what that meant to me was that these are people who’ve spent their lives honing their technique as instrumentalists and they really resent conductors who don’t do the same. Many conductors have a lot of buzz about them; they have charisma and maybe good musical ideas. They get ahead that way and they don’t really know what an orchestra needs in order to do their best and feel secure. So, when I was forty and really started conducting I then started really studying and trying to get different teachers to get what I needed.

OB: Neat. Would you say that your career started to happen more after your college training? How did college contribute to the career preparation?

NG: I’d always been sort of an iconoclast; I don’t do, sort of, the expected thing. I didn’t go to Juilliard; I didn’t go to conservatory. I’d already been at Interlochen and North Carolina School of the Arts, so I’d already kind of had that conservatory experience in high school that most people go to college for. And I realized there that it wasn’t all that it was supposed to be. So I realized that wasn’t necessarily for me. I didn’t discount the option. I’d had a great piano teacher [the late Joan Brown] at Interlochen who I’d followed to Oregon when she left Interlochen to continue my studies with her; she was one of my mentors. And I decided that the most important thing wast or me to stay with her and absorb what she had to teach. And I was in Portland, Oregon. Sort of a cool place, but no place in the music world. And they had one great college there, Reed College, which is one of the best colleges in the country and very challenging in the best sense of the word, so I decided to go there and study with her on the side, and it was a great experience. Also, musically, I was a big fish in a small pond because it’s not New York, so I had lots of opportunities I wouldn’t have had elsewhere. I got to play with the Portland Youth Orchestra a couple of times; won their concerto competition. And then when I decided to see what it was like working with instrumentalists, I got to work with the best instrumentalists in the city. And singers – when I was twenty I got to work with the best singer in the city [Alyce Rogers] and I was giving concerts with her. And she’d already sung with Chicago Lyric Opera and all these places. But, I think to the heart of your question, the answer is it’s okay to not go the standard route, if you know what you want to do and you keep your eye on the prize, there’s lots of ways to get there.

OB: That relates well to something else I wasted to ask you about, which is: do you have any routines that keep you focused, or anything that you come back to every day? How do you start your day? Is there something you do every day?

NG: No, not really. I go down to the gym a couple times a week, but nothing like that. The interesting thing about what I do, about having an opera company, is that your life is varied; that no day is like the next. There are always lots of challenges being thrown at me and there’s no way to predict what they’re going to be, so life is never boring. It keeps me feeling alive and young. And the challenges are great. One day, we need an extra five thousand dollars. Another day it’s now to deal with a problematic interpersonal thing in the cast. Another day, it’s dealing with music publishers. Every day is different, but every day is interesting. So I’m sort of A.D.D. that way I like doing lots of things. That’s why liberal arts college was the best thing for me. I remember when I started at Reed, every single teacher I had took me aside and said, “I think you should major in what I’m teaching.” Well, there was no way I was going to do that. I’ve always been interested in everything. And most of the interesting singers are that way, too. These days, when I audition people, as often as not, the ones I think have something special to offer didn’t go to Curtis or Juilliard or CCM. They went to Harvard or Yale or Princeton or something. They have an interesting take on things. And they understand that it’s about communication in a different way than others think it’s about perfection.

OB: There are so many things that I’d like to ask you that that reminds me of, but I think I want to stick to the questions I’ve got here.

NG: Like what I’m looking for?

OB: Sure, yeah. My guess would be that it’s something that’s different, unique, or special, rather than the cookie cutter.

NG: Well, yes and no. If somebody doesn’t have a certain level of technique, forget it. Because then all they can communicate is distress, which nobody wants to see. Unless they’re singing the second act of Tosca, but even then you don’t want to see vocal distress, you want to see emotional distress. So, there’s some technical things, too. I’m not interested in singers who don’t have a good scuro, and a warm, dome-y sound on top. If it’s too spread on top or too thin… there are a lot of people who like that. I’m just not one of them. So that’s the first thing I look for. And then, connection to text. But the big thing is having something you’re communicating; having something to say about the repertoire or just about themselves. Someone who has the freedom to be communicating something about the music and showing me something I might not have thought about before. Trying a new tempo, maybe bringing it off, maybe not, but I’m really big on having strong convictions.

OB: Making decisions and sticking with them.

NG: Yeah making decisions. Lots of people don’t do that. F*** ‘em. Let them go to someone else.

OB: Right. Now I know you said that that Opera Today interview was a while ago [2010,], but I did enjoy the transparency with which you discussed the budget. You mentioned that opera isn’t a business you can sustain through ticket sales. I liked what you said about selling productions with “hooks” like a big name composer or director, as well as creative partnerships. When you’re describing a production to a donor, how do you demonstrate the value for their investment without monetary returns being part of the equation?

NG: Well, if they don’t already believe in the importance of the art form, then there’s no point in going to them. If they don’t believe that culture is important, then I’m barking up the wrong tree. These are the people who already have opera in their lives; it means something to them. People who have the funds will already be donating to the Met or formerly the City Opera, or BAM or something. People who have the interest. Occasionally I find people on the way up financially who can do that. As far as “hooks” go, I’m not always as smart as I should be. This production [Bohuslav Martinu’s Alexandre Bis and Comedy on the Bridge], for example, has no hook. There was someone very involved in Czech culture who was trying to get us to do some more Czech opera. He said that he would find a way to get us $60,000, which is much less than the production cost; maybe, I don’t know, I couldn’t say, but it’s a small percentage of the production. But that’s a lot of money. Sixty grand. And I started to think that with that foundation we could produce this again and I’d find other people. And so I went on that assumption, and then he died, leaving us without that money. But the people in the office were so committed to the project from the beginning that we thought it was exactly what we should do. It’s the sort of pieces that we should do. Especially because we do a lot of weird-ass stuff that are not really operas; they’re pieces that we make into theater pieces. So, we thought we should do a “traditional” opera that had charm that people would like and we thought this would fit the bill.

OB: They’re wonderful.

NG: Yeah. I probably could’ve gotten a name director for this as a hook, but it was getting a little late in the game about a year ago when people would’ve been busy. I thought instead of getting a name director, why don’t I just get the best person I can get. And I of course thought of James because he did such a brilliant job for our Eliogabalo. He’s such a delight to work with, comes prepared, but not rigid. So, he has ideas but then he takes in what people bring to it and works with that. And he’s a good musician and a love to work with, so I thought, let’s do the best show we can do regardless of fundraising and see. My goal for the first ten years of Gotham was to establish a brand. And I think we did it. The brand is that we’re going to do interesting things that you’re not going to see generally anyplace else, or hardly anyplace else. But do them with integrity. With musical integrity, with dramatic integrity, with good values, with great young singers. And with different sorts of theatrical focus. Some directors will want a traditional production, others will want something “out there.” So regardless of whether, as an audience member, you love what you see, you’re going to respect the musical values and the theatrical values and you might, hopefully, be tempted to come back and see another show with a different theatrical approach. And you’ll like that one. So our goal was to establish a brand and establish trust with our public; our small public, of course, but with operagoers who care about music and care about singers and care about theater. So, that’s the brand that we try to develop.

OB: It seems that you manage to find pieces that really fit into that mold and I imagine you must look through so many scores in order to figure out what exactly will fit that mission statement. Because it needs to be entertaining – I’ve noticed that you’ve chopped down the longer Handel pieces.

NG: That’s always painful. I mean, it’s all about the audience experience, of course. And also, my experience. The best thing about having your own opera company is that you get to work with the best people because you get to choose the best people. The least good thing about being an itinerant conductor is that you’re thrown in with these people who other people think are good but you don’t. Whatever, directors or singers or whatever. It was Truman who had something on his desk that said “The buck stops here.” So the buck stops here. If you don’t like the singers, you can blame me. If you don’t like the director, you can blame me. If you don’t like the designers, you blame me. But I chose them. And I don’t back off. I chose them because I believe in them. And, you know, a singer might not have a good day. They’re human. That’s the good thing – they’re human. But their very best is always good enough because they’re at such a level. And the same for the directors, and designers, etcetera.

OB: Well, it’s been a very good working environment because on the one hand you do maintain a lot of musical and dramatic excellence and you’ll crack down when it’s necessary.

NG: I’m a hardass.

OB: But after the rehearsal, you’re always saying, “Great job.” It feels like a family.

NG: Yeah, that’s the thing. What I learned is that it’s important to give people appreciation. If people feel appreciated and supported, then they’re open to suggestions or criticism as it were. Or just ways to make it better. But the bottom line is that I’ve gotta think it’s good in the first place in order to feel secure enough that I can make it better without having to feel that I’m criticizing them personally. And it’s never about that; it’s always about the music. And I’m never harder on anyone than I am on myself. That’s the bottom line.

OB: In that same Opera Today article, you mentioned that in addition to a great deal of money, you need a whirlwind. How did you get that whirlwind?

NG: I didn’t. Never got a whirlwind. It’s just been one step at a time. And it’s frustrating because you’ve gotta do good work all the time. One bad show and everyone’s forgotten that you’ve done seven good ones. So you’ve gotta keep upping your game and you can never let your standards slide because in the days of the internet, it’s out there. Everybody knows about it. So you’ve gotta really keep your standards up and be on your best game all the time. So that’s what we do. In this financial environment people are loath to take chances. So I’ve gotta be very careful to present us as a company that – we are not a risk resistant company. But an arts organization that’s worth it’s salt is going to take risks. We’re not gonna do Bohème. We’re not gonna do Butterfly. That would be less of a risk, but less of an interest also.

OB: And maybe these days it’s actually more of a risk.

NG: Actually, when I was conducting at [New York] City Opera, I remember talking to the administration about another Martinu opera that I’d been reading a lot about; it’s called Juliette. It’s a beautiful piece. It’s more like Pelléas than anything else; ravishing. And it’d just been done in Paris; had phenomenal reviews there. And then it had been done at ENO in London and got great reviews there and I said, “This is the place to do it here.” They said, “We can’t even sell tickets for Magic Flute and for Bohème. We can’t possibly take that risk.” And I said, “You can’t not take that risk, because why should people come to see your Bohème and your Magic Flute when they can go next door and see the A-cast of the world instead of the A-cast of America?” So, the minute you’re risk-averse, you’re dead. On the other hand, you’ve got to promote yourself to businesspeople as being solid and stable. And you have to know what they’re looking for and show them that you’re that. You know, that you’re not going to throw their money away. You’re going to do a really good job. And I personally will stand behind my decision to do pieces that I honestly think are good and deserve to be heard. Look; these Martinu are wonderful. I’m not telling anybody that they’re as great as Trovatore. But they’re delightful and anybody who comes is going to enjoy it. I’m looking for something rather than the Berlin Philharmonic coming in and doing only the greatest masterpieces ever written. We’re doing pieces that are worth seeing that people who like opera will be interested in.

OB: I’ve actually been describing the Martinu night as almost just an evening of theater where there’s some surprisingly beautiful music and just really unique stories that are told in a very crisp, quick, understandable way. So, to my friends who’ve never been to an opera before, I’m sort of saying, “Don’t think of it as opera, although it is part of the genre. It’s going to feel more like a night at a play or a musical because of the pacing of the drama.”

NG: I think you’re right.

OB: And it also doesn’t have big arias and big high notes. It’s definitely more of an ensemble piece.

NG: Yeah.

OB: Well I have a couple more quick questions I’d like to throw out here. If you could go back in time to when you were twenty or twenty-five, what advice would you give yourself?

NG: That’s interesting. I think the hardest lesson to learn, for anyone, is that your best is good enough. So that you’re not whipping yourself all the time. Because when you realize that when your best is good enough – if it is; let’s hope your best is good enough – then you can have the confidence to move forward and not check yourself all the time. Not build yourself back. Not be torn. I think it would be to believe in myself. I might have said this in a previous interview that it was Leonard Bernstein who said I should be a conductor. And I sort of poo-pooed it at the time, but you can’t poo-poo Leonard Bernstein. He knows. And so, eventually I let it sink in and I had to do a lot of personal work to get to accept that that was a possibility in my life and move forward. So, it took therapy and lessons. Those are two things that helped.

OB: That’s great. Remember that your best is good enough. I like that.

NG: And if it’s not good enough, then change professions. Or fix what needs to be fixed.

OB: What it does is help you focus on continual improvement.

NG: Instead of beating yourself up all the time.

OB: Yeah. Next question: Do you have any operas, recordings, movies, books, or podcasts that you can throw out there?

NG: Go to the opera as much as you can. Go to the Met, come see us. For a certain level of connoisseurship, the very best book is called Opera and Drama by Joseph Kerman. It’s about what makes the masterpieces great. What about the librettos, what about the music, and how they interact with each other. But that’s for a certain level of connoisseurship; if you’re already a professional or on your way to being a professional. I mean, I’m someone who likes to think critically as well as giving up and enjoying it. There’s certainly a lot out there. A lot of great recordings, a lot of great books.

OB: Anything that’s been transformational to you? Anything you can’t stop listening to?

NG: Actually, my favorite opera is Fidelio. I love Fidelio. There’s a great recording with [Otto] Klemperer and Christa Ludwig. It’s unsurpassable. I come from a strictly instrumental background when it comes to music; I’m a soloist. And I got to know some opera singers and they were extolling the virtues of opera, and I would listen to Verdi and Puccini and I thought, “eh, this is tacky, there are all these out of control people, and the music seems simplistic to me.” And I sort of minimized the value of the art form as a result. And it was only when I learned Italian that I realized how great these pieces are. How they reflect the emotion of the language. So that was the big transformative thing for me. But also, getting to know voices. I got to know voices because when I got to New York I had no money, so in order to make money fast, I worked in voice studios and played lessons with lots of really great teachers, many of whom are dead now. So I got to learn the mechanics. What makes voices work, what doesn’t make voices work. How a little minute thing can make a huge change in resonance. And I fell in love with the sound. And that’s really my motivating factor right now. I so love the sound of the human voice. Even now, I so love the sound of the human voice being done properly. That’s what gets me up in the morning.

OB: Yeah, that’s great. I certainly love it, too. What do you wish young opera singers would focus more on or do more of?

NG: As a conductor, I would say musical skills. You know, knowing the difference between beat two and beat three. Knowing what a sixteenth note is versus a quarter note, which, shockingly, some singers don’t think is important. They’re trained to think they’ve got great voices and that’s all that matters. The whole landscape has changed. That’s not the case anymore. Unless you’re Angela Meade or Christine Goerke. And the interesting thing about them is that they care about every detail: dotting every i and crossing every t. So, it makes a huge difference from my standpoint if a singer is a good musician. And singers need to be in touch with their bodies as well. And in touch with themselves. If a singer is comfortable with themselves then there’s a chance that they’ll be able to be comfortable on stage and give to an audience. If they’re not comfortable with themselves, it’s over right there. So, I’d strongly advise self-knowledge, therapy – therapy’s a great thing – and a willingness and openness for self exploration. That’s the most important thing. You can tell, in any audition, by the way someone walks in whether they’re comfortable with themselves. And then the way the audition plays out, as someone who listens to tons of auditions, the first few notes usually confirm what you expected from the way they present themselves. The rest of the audition is just playing it out. I’ll ask for a second piece based on what I think the first piece is hiding. If the first piece doesn’t have a high note, I’ll ask for something with a high note. If the first piece is all agility, I’ll ask for something legato, just to see how much of the package they’ve got. But it basically just plays out from what I observe the first two seconds.

Tickets for Gotham Chamber Opera’s performances of Alexandre Bis and Comedy on the Bridge can be found HERE.

Neal Goren is… Artistic Director/Conductor: Gotham Chamber Opera. Guest conductor throughout US and Europe. Spoleto USA Festival and Lincoln Center Festival (2005). New York City Opera debut: Magic Flute (2003). European debut: Turn of the Screw (Angers Nantes Opera, 2002). As pianist, concert partner for Leontyne Price, Kathleen Battle, Thomas Hampson, among others. Festivals: Israel Vocal Arts Institute, Aix-en-Provence, Rossini-Pesaro, Mostly Mozart-New York. Master Classes throughout U.S.A. and Asia. Board member, Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Voice Faculty, Mannes College of Music since 1991.

More info about Christiaan Smith-Kotlarek at

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How to create performance opportunities

In this post, I break down the process of getting recognized and gaining traction in your chosen field.

Here are the basic steps:
1. Generate quality material
2. Share it with family & friends
3. Take every opportunity you’re offered if you’re not already busy
4. Support your tribe members, even competitors
5. Collaborate
6. Enter competitions
7. Find a mentor
8. Seek features (blogs, news media)
9. Create partnerships: fashion, social groups, charities
10. Seek Corporate sponsors

– I listed “Generate Quality Material” first because the product or service you’re selling won’t go anywhere if it’s not well-made.

– I’ve deliberately avoided going into too much detail to allow room for your creative thoughts to take you down your own rabbit hole.

Where do your thoughts lead? Add your ideas in the comments section!

20140613-011645-4605568.jpgAsk Questions! That’s what I did at an Ivy Connect event in San Francisco.

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Interview with Kyle Ketelsen on playing Leporello at the Met

It’s the Met. My first time. The show: Don Giovanni. Kyle Ketelsen is Leporello. He’s the sprightly, vocally-magnificent Leporello who comps me a ticket. The always positive colleague who sometimes drinks 5-shot americanos. The family man who shares his spare room, buys me breakfast, and lets me ask him tough questions at 8 A.M. the morning after his penultimate performance. In other words, he’s awesome.

Here’s what we talked about:

Christiaan: You came in as the replacement for John Relyea, and I’d like to know what was done to get you up to speed. What was the rehearsal process like?

Kyle: Well, it was a short rehearsal process to begin with, so I didn’t miss anything. And everybody except Marina Rebeka was new to the show. So, it’s the first revival, and it’s kind of standard; we had six days of rehearsal. They called me on Monday and said, “Can you be here on Wednesday; rehearsals start on Thursday.” And we had about ten days, of which we rehearsed six stage-wise. I rehearsed six hours every day, and then we had a sitzprobe, the next day we had an orchestra dress on stage – which is rare, I guess. Normally here, they don’t do that. They’re not going to give you an orchestra dress on stage; they just kind of throw you up at the last minute and it happens. But I’ve done that before. And then we had three days off and we opened. Quick and dirty. But thankfully it’s not a very technical production as far as the singers are concerned. I mean, there are some things, like fire, where we just have to sit there; we don’t have to rehearse anything. I just rehearse covering my face so I don’t get, you know, Michael Jacksonned. Were you even born when that happened?

C: I don’t think so, but I heard about it. I loved MJ.

K: Yeah, we liked Michael Jackson, too.

C: So you’ve been through short rehearsal processes before; do you do much review on your own after rehearsal, or does it stick pretty well?

K: It does stick pretty well, but yeah, I do a little bit of that. A little bit of that. But, I mean, at this point it comes pretty quickly, you know?

C: It must be nice having done it so many times, you must start to anticipate basic staging moves that typically happen in certain places.

K: Right, that’s true.

C: Were there any particular parts that were challenging?

K: Uh, challenges… Well, no, not really.

C: I really liked the interpretation.

K: Oh, good. It’s actually very similar to the one I did in London that’s on the DVD – they had this rotating truck on stage that could be rearranged to create different scenes. There was a lot of coming in and out of it and going to the top of it, and even the costumes were similar.

C: Yeah; I remember the wigs with the long hair.

K: The wigs, the green coat, the baggy pants, even the hat. I remember I had this hat that was all beat to hell – I thought it was going to be my hat – and it looked like it had been run over by a semi a couple times. But they ended up changing the hat. But, I mean it was a pretty standard, traditional production, so nothing out of the ordinary, really. So, Gerry [Gerald Finley] has done this more than I have, and I’ve done it a number of times, so you bring your standard repertory of moves and sometimes they apply and sometimes not. And they’re always changing with the combined knowledge of all your past productions. All you can retain, at least, for over a decade.

C: That reminds me of another question I had… It was so fun for me to finally see your Leporello.

K: Thank you.

C: I love how you portray Leporello as a “bravo uomo” [good guy] who still sort of enjoys the ladies your master throws your way.

K: Yeah, it’s such a rich relationship between Giovanni and Leporello; it can go in so many different ways. I think Leporello’s caught between worlds – Giovanni couldn’t really do anything without Leporello, but does Leporello even really have any lady friends? I think so. But it’s piecemeal, you know? Here and there, you might have a girlfriend. There’s that line right before the graveyard scene where [Don Giovanni] says “she mistook me for Leporello.” So there’s sort of a sense with the ladies that we’ve been here before. Leporello likes to play the gentleman, but he’s not really. He’s a peasant; he’s a servant.

C: But, in the banquet scene at the end, you were very separate from the debauchery that the Don was creating, and it made you look very chaste; like a good guy.

K: Yeah, I think that’s Mozart and DaPonte. Leporello still has to sing the message at the end. And the Commendatore doesn’t address me, even though I still have free will – maybe he considers me just another victim of the Don.

C: Are there facets to Leporello that you’re proud to have picked up over the various productions you’ve done?

K: Yeah, I mean, I like the childish nature of him. You can see it – it comes out in some of the lines. He tells the Don, “What you’re doing is really bad; you should change.” And [Giovanni] gets pissed off. Or, I’ll say, “Yeah, I’ll stay, but leave the ladies alone.” And, he’s not going to, of course. I like to give him a sense of childishness at times. And also a quality of no inhibitions. In the trio in the second act with Giovanni, Leporello, and Elvira – at some point, Leporello is enjoying it. He doesn’t always know things you should or shouldn’t do… like sometimes I’ll be picking my nose [mimes nosepicking, then looks around the restaurant]. I probably shouldn’t do that.

C: [laughs] So, he’s being repulsive, but she still digs it?

K: Yeah, I do like being kind of caveman-y. Like, he doesn’t know any better. I have kids, and you know, they would try to get away with things if they could – If we didn’t say, “Clean up your plate,” they wouldn’t do it. They would grow up and have certain adult things that they’d do, but then they wouldn’t clean their plates. And I think that’s childish. Their friends would be like, I think maybe you should tidy up a bit. So, Leporello picks and chooses. And then in the sextet in the second half he’s damning Giovanni, saying it’s all his fault, but he [Leporello] is just trying to save his own skin. Which is childish, as well. But he is, in this production at least, sincerely sad that Giovanni is gone; sort of freaked out, like what am I going to do now?

C: How do you keep your physical energy up, since your Leporello is such an active guy? Do you do anything specific beforehand?

K: Drink lots of water. Nothing specific. I make sure I have a good meal. But, you know, I could have eaten crap, and I think I’d get through it. And also, I make sure I stay in shape off the stage. If I think of it, I’ll have something like a banana along the way to get a little energy, but by the time curtain rolls around it’s usually worn off.

C: You said you look forward to Giovanni because of the banquet scene – you get to have a meal. Are there other parts you look forward to in this opera?

K: Well, I haven’t done it in a while, but Colline in La Bohéme, because there’s Café Momus, and so you just nosh, have a full mouth and sing a little bit. But yeah, I’m kind of joking because I actually don’t eat that late. But I make an exception – I mean, I swallow a little bit, but most of it I spit out.

C: Ah, the spit take. I just had a rough experience with one of those in Il matrimonio segreto – on the night of my final dress rehearsal, I accidently spit almond milk on a cello.

K: Haha. I bet he was pissed.

C: Yeah, he was pissed and I was pissed. I felt so bad – that’s the kind of thing I hope only has to happen once in life, if at all. I felt so terrible that it’s now ingrained in me to be extra careful about things like that. Wish it didn’t happen that way.

So, I’m curious about the statues – how many different types of statue have you had to deal with?

K: Well, most times it’s the actual singer up there. Then there’ll be those productions where there’s no statue, there’s no singer up there; it’s in your head and it’s in Giovanni’s head. So, there’s a big suspension of disbelief that happens there. Although, in the design presentations at the beginning of the rehearsal period, I like to put my faith in the director, and it usually makes sense. Whether it actually works on stage or not is another thing, but it can make sense in theory. But I think this might be like the 8th Leporello; it’s not a ton. Orange County, Madison…

C: [Kyle offers me the last sausage on his plate] You’re not going to have that?

K: I’m trying to cut down on fat and cholesterol.

C: Thank you. [I eat it] Delicious. Have you worked with directors who rely heavily on your interpretations for the staging?

K: Well, they probably don’t come into the rehearsal period with that in mind, but the more they see from you the more they borrow from you. And, most of them realize that it’s a collaborative effort and that they’re not a dictator, although sometimes that is the case. Sometimes that’s very much the case, but usually it’s not. So, sometimes you can suggest things, and they’ll say, “Yeah, yeah; let’s go with that,” if it goes along with their concept. Usually it’s no problem to do that. And then, especially once the show gets up and running, you get on stage and everything’s kind of coming together – that’s when I really start to relax into the role, and I start adding more things. And then you add certain things and they say, “that’s great,” or they’ll say, “let’s taper that a little bit; that doesn’t fit with how I see the arc of your character, or there’s too much motion in the corner and you’re drawing attention from Elvira,” or whatever.

C: This is after opening night?

K: Um, no. I’m not talking about here, necessarily. It’s the same everywhere. You add something, you suggest something, and if they want it they take it and if not, no big deal. I like to think I give a director more than he’s expecting; you know what I mean? Because so often, like the director here [Michael Grandage], opening night, said, “Thank you for the humor! That’s something we didn’t have last time.” And it’s very much a process for me. I don’t show up and just do everything the first day; I have to let it layer and build. And so usually one of the first days of rehearsal I say to the director be patient with me; it’ll take a while and then it will become much more of a complete character.

C: Well, you probably want to understand the director’s concept first and let that sink in for a while.

K: Yeah. But a couple directors in particular were concerned at first. Like, and they wouldn’t tell me at the time, but like, Dmitri Tcherniakov. I told him, through his interpreter, the first couple days – and we had six weeks of rehearsal, which is kind of standard in Europe, unfortunately. I said, “I might not be all that stellar right now, but it takes a while, just give me some time.” And then he’d come back after rehearsal and he’d be like, “Oh, you’re so, you’re so funny, oh, you’re so great.” And, you know, I’m doing it three more times – his production – in Toronto, in Aix [en Provence] again, and in Madrid. But anyways, at the end, he told me you know, through his interpreter, he said, “I was nervous at the beginning.” We’d be in rehearsals – although, you know, he’s kind of like a tormented genius type.

C: He probably wants it to be perfect right away.

K: Yeah. Oh yeah. Because in his mind, he knows exactly what he wants. He never, like, referred to notes or anything. So we had six weeks of rehearsal, six hours, sometimes eight hours a day of rehearsal. Every single day. And he went like this, and just didn’t stop. It was like attending a lecture. There were many rehearsals where we staged for two hours and forty five minutes, and then we sang for fifteen minutes. I mean, I remember a few where we staged, and then there were five minutes left in the rehearsal, and the music staff was like, “we should probably go over this musically.” And then Dmitri would be like, kind of begrudgingly, “okay, we do, we do.” The music staff, we had a harpsichordist and a pianist, and they read book after book in rehearsals only. It was a little tough.

C: Yeah, I’m familiar with that style. It’s hard to keep your energy up when you’re sitting there and listening, and then try to remember everything they said.

K: Yes. Yeah. Yep.

C: Did you work with Michael Grandage on this show, then?

K: Yes. But sometimes with the remount – the revival – they’re not around. I’ve done three David McVicar shows, and he was not at one rehearsal. I’ve known him otherwise from meeting him around and just being in the same places, but…

C: Is that what it’ll be like with the tour of Dmitri’s show?

K: No. He doesn’t leave things like that to chance. He will be there, you know, like, fine-tuning everything. What I’m trusting is that he knows me now, he knows what I can do with it, he knows he can have a little faith, and he doesn’t have to micromanage so much. Let’s see; Michael Grandage was here the first day, he presented his concept quickly, and he was very good to work with. He’s used to Broadway. He’s a Broadway producer. He’s doing Evita now, and it’s still pretty new to him.  The one thing he really appreciates is that we all know our roles from memory. Because on Broadway a lot of times, everybody has the music with them. But he’s just pleasant as can be; very friendly, very nice. And he has very good ideas and he’s very good at conveying his ideas. He has one of those minds, which I do not have, where he’s able to visualize what he wants and then put that into very specific verbiage in a creative manner. It’s not like I’m describing a car engine to you; he’s telling you what he wants and giving you analogies. And, he’s a Brit, and they have such better vocabulary than we do. I mean, within one week of rehearsing my first show at Covent Garden, which was The Magic Flute, speaking with the kids, these schoolkids and the words they’re using – I mean, I understood them all, but they’re talking and I’m thinking, “Wow, we [Americans] are inferior. It’s called English, it’s not called American. You speak it well.”

C: They do, yeah. I had a friend give me all these English sayings because we were playing Count Robinson as…

K: Is he a Brit? I saw the banner [in this YouTube video].

C: Yeah, he’s a British count, so I had a British friend give me a bunch of phrases to use.

K: Could you add them into the show?

C: Yeah, the director [Amy Hutchison] wanted me to add British phrases.

K: Oh, really? What’d you say?

C: Uh, “Hello? Is anybody home? Signor Geronimo, what ho?”

K: What ho!

C: And there were fun moments where the British accent could creep into the Italian recitative. It was a fun show. And, I thought it [Cimarosa’s Conte Robinson in Il matrimonio segreto] was a really good study for the Le nozze [di Figaro] count because both are chasing women, they have arias in a similar musical style, and

K: And the stature.

C: Yeah, similar poise. So, I liked it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s actually not just a second-rate [Le] nozze di Figaro. The music is actually different – and quite pleasant. It’s slightly different from what people would expect to hear. There are some slightly different cadences and melodic twists than [the ones] Mozart [would write], and you hear it, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s intriguing. And it works.”

K: It’s cool to discover things that are of the same kind of vein but still do their own thing.

C: Yeah, yeah. And the thing is that it’s all just very, kind of “pleasant” music, so it could be that a hardcore connoisseur would

K: Want something more dark.

C: Yeah. It’s a lot of C major, and G. A little bit of E-flat and D.

K: Oh, god. Was it written for a children’s orchestra?

C: [Laughs] Right. No, I don’t think so.

K: Funny. That’s cool. Very cool. So did you write all these [interview questions] last night? I noticed you sent them in the email at 2:15 [a.m.], and I thought you either took a really long shower, or stayed up and typed.

C: Yeah, I just took a quick shower and then had to get these thoughts down while they were fresh. This is definitely going to go down as one of the all-time great memories in my memory bank.

K: Well, you’ve still got a lot of memories to put in there.

C: Yeah, but just that, I mean, well, whatever. I know you don’t like ego inflation, and I don’t say any of this to suck up, but just that you would do that for… I’m kind of, I mean, we know each other and stuff, but I’m not like… It was just very nice of you to let me stay with you and get me a ticket.

K: Well, you know, I enjoy doing things for people who will appreciate it. Occasionally I’ll do something for someone who doesn’t acknowledge it, and I think, “What is wrong with you?” No, I mean, I’ve always enjoyed – I’m not sure you call it mentoring – but something along those lines. That’s why I always leave question and answer time with masterclasses, that’s why I have my email address on my website. I get emails from various students, and I’m just happy to help. I remember being a student at Indiana [University-Bloomington], and I had so many questions; so many questions. And nobody was there to answer them. I mean, I studied with Tozzi, but he hadn’t been in the business for twenty years, and Arroyo and Zeani and King, you know, same thing. We didn’t even have a stage motion class.

C: Yeah, no, we didn’t either.

K: It’s the largest school of music in the world, and there’s no stage motion class. We didn’t have an acting class. Like, if you want to act, go to the theater department.

C: And no coachings, either.

K: But you did coachings to prepare for your roles, right?

C: Yeah, there were one or two to get you ready.

K: What? I can’t believe there’s no coaching.

C: You have to pretty much learn it on your own. But your movement class comment reminded me of a scene you did last night, because your bow was really good.

K: There are a couple bows. Was it after the trio, where Elvira is coming down, after I pretend to be the Don?

C: Yeah, that was it. It was a great bow.

K: [Laughs] Thank you. I’m so glad you said that. You’re the first person who has said that, and that’s what I was going for.

C: It made me think – because we have movement classes at the [BU] Opera Institute now – somewhere along the line, “oh, yeah, Kyle had a movement class, too, somewhere in there. Because that’s a ballet bow right there.”

K: I’m sure I just picked it up somewhere along the way. It might have been at IU. I’m sure it was in a rehearsal somewhere. The director might have been like, “no, no, put your feet this way.”

C: You also had a good offset body angle, where your shoulders and hips were canted in an elegant way.

K: [Laughs] Only you would notice that. That’s funny. Normally, I would try to be more florid and funny in that scene, but last night I didn’t go overboard with it.

C: That scene is hilarious.

K: You always like to add things of your own. There are certain things I like to bring to every performance. “Poverina, quanto mi dispiace…” and I like to aim that towards Giovanni. And the good Giovannis pick up on it and they’re like, “uh, shut up.” Gerry [Finley] is one. I mean, he’s tremendous. And you can just tell, you know, last night after the show [backstage]. I mean, that’s how he is. He’s just a great guy. Nice Canadian chap, you know.

C: He said the nicest thing when we were leaving. “Enjoy your singing.”

K: That’s something that I’ve always searched for because I’ll say things like, “Keep singing,” but that’s good; I’ll have to keep that in mind.

C: It was just so specific, and it just made me realize what a kind heart he must have. So I took it down in my notes late last night.

K: I will note that one, too. Yeah, he’s a sweetheart.

C: Yeah, people like you guys. I think people like you are going to keep opera alive. Audiences now come to expect so much contact. With Twitter and Facebook, there is no wall anymore. And it’s people like you who embrace that and are willing to reach out to the fans…

K: Yeah, and if for no other reason than just spreading your own name.

C: Yeah! People enjoy it so much more when they feel like they know someone on stage.

K: Yeah. It used to be sort of reserved for people who would donate to the opera – they would get to have the up close and personal look. Anybody can wait outside the stage door.

We continued to discuss the health benefits of walnuts, dark chocolate, cacao nibs, and chia seeds. Then we got onto comedians with messages – Kyle is a big fan of Ricky Gervais and Chris Rock; who have messages like “stay with your wife and kids,” something that is very important to Kyle.

The Met was as grand as I dreamed it would be – a huge set, wonderful dancers, fantastic acting, and singing done right. I was totally absorbed in the story of lust. A heartfelt thanks to Kyle for making my first time seeing a show at the Met a memory I will treasure for my lifetime.

Learn more about this awesome dude on his website:

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Wisdom from Jake Heggie

Maestro Heggie and I coached a couple of days ago, and here I’ve detailed most of what he said:

Be yourself, and keep an open heart. (My favorite piece of advice, and arguably Maestro’s most admirable quality)

Find the parts you love about each piece. Try each piece many different ways, and then actually perform them the way you liked best. This keeps you authentic and creates your own style.

Practice where no one can hear or see you. That way you are free to experiment as extensively as possible. Protect that time!

Break your habits in order to expand your expressive palette. Do things you never would otherwise do. Lie on your back and hum the tune to yourself. If you have a habitual non-communicative gesture (I bring my hand to my belt line), break the habit by using an opposing gesture instead (practice with hands in pockets, in my case. By eliminating the generic gesture, I naturally focused more on phrasing). If you write music, try atypical meters, chord progressions, tempi, or melodic motions.

As you play with your pieces, see if you can take dynamics to the point of ridiculousness. To a listener, they probably won’t sound as ridiculous as you think.

Generate a large body of work. These are your products to sell. (For performers, products include repertoire, recordings, and merchandise.) The best place to start is with repertoire.


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Singer Safe Exercise

Types of Training

Tornado Training involves twists and complex body positions, including going down to the floor and coming back up.

Tabata training is a training method based on short, intense bursts (20 seconds of full-capacity work and 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times), and it burns more fat in 4 minutes than an hour jogging on a treadmill! There is a lot of research that shows you can build muscle while you increase your cardio capacity by working in short, intense bursts, like sprinting, jumping rope, doing burpees, or even squatting. There is also research showing that such training can induce an anti-inflammatory response in the body and reduce swelling.

Training Goals

First of all, if you go to a gym, it is important to remember that everyone has his or her own training goals. You might think the big guys are judging you because you’re only using 5 lb. weights, but I assure you they respect you just for devoting some time to your body. We all start somewhere, and the truth is, everyone’s goals are different, and that’s okay.

I am an ectomorph, which is the body type that doesn’t store fat and has a hard time gaining muscle mass, so my fitness goal is to gain some mass to look more full. For me, the traditional push-pull free weight hypertrophy (size gaining) workouts have really taxed my body to the extent that it was too tired to sing, even though I was doing everything I could to stretch the back and shoulders well and protect against vocal tension during workouts (I still exhale on a lip trill if I’m doing one last tough rep, instead of using my glottis to stop the airflow).

In order to keep a consistent workout schedule that can co-exist with a full rehearsal schedule, I have resorted to higher intensity, shorter workouts involving full body movements and light free weights with an emphasis on high reps, intensity, and heart rate, not maximum weight stacks. The high reps mean I don’t tax the vocal folds by grunting out a heavy load, and the intensity (little to no rest between movements) means I’ll still build muscle just from a half hour of work.

(Not so) Easy Workout to Start With

A great example workout that I use quite frequently is the Spartacus Workout. Despite the fact that it was developed for a T.V. show, this workout uses principles of Tabata and Tornado training and it’s not easy… it builds muscle and cardio simultaneously, and it leaves me ravenous for about two days, so I’ve experienced firsthand the 48 hour metabolism boost that has been documented in Tabata and Tornado training research. It also utilizes a movement from kettlebell training, (the dumbbell swing), which is also right on the cutting edge of the personal fitness spectrum.

One guy I talked with in the gym said he tried the Spartacus Workout once and almost threw up afterward (don’t worry… you don’t need to push yourself that hard! Only push yourself to a level you can sustain. You are in charge of your workout).

Here’s the sequence:

Goblet Squat
Dumbbell Swing
Split Jump
Side Lunge
Lunge and Rotation
Mt. Climber
T Pushup
Bent over Row
Push up position Row
Push Press

And here are some slides so you can see what the movements look like, but the slides are out of order, so follow the order listed above if you try this workout:

If you go lighter weight and higher reps, you’ll get a fantastic cardio workout and kick your metabolism into high gear without stressing the vocal folds!

Guerrilla Workouts

When I’m running really low on time, I will do one of these bodyweight workouts:

From newfitnessVIP on YouTube (
20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest

Alligator pushup (20 sec, then rest 10)
Jump sq (20 sec, then rest 10… and so on)
Recline pull
Alt split squat jump
Dive bomber
Prison squat
Reverse lunges
Ball Plank

spiderman pushup
pistol squat right
Recline pull
pistol squat left
Shoulder press
Jump squat
Alt split squat jump
Windshield wipers

Shuffle pushup
Jump squat
recline pull
alt split squat jump
prison squat
mtn climber

v.4 – Outdoor
Rope pushup
pistol squat
Recline pull
jump squat
side pull up
alt split squat jump
shoulder press
bulgarian squat
windshield wiper

A Note about Warm Up and Cool Down

You have to do it… it adds about 15 minutes to your workout, which we already discussed can be very short if you are really pushing the intensity.

Warm up with at least five minutes of light cardio. Do 10 arm circles on each side, a quad stretch, hamstring stretch, and a glute stretch for 10 deep breaths each. Dynamic stretches (walking toe touches, skipping, etc.) are fantastic to add to your warm up routine.

Cool down with a short, slow walk to reduce your cortisol (stress hormone) levels and about eight minutes of static stretching.

Happy training!


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How to act for Opera

Why do people like watching people so much? Because, as a species, our primary survival tool is our ability to register and record situations of both satisfaction and danger and apply that knowledge to new situations… In other words, we are hardwired to learn. We love people watching because it is one truthful moment when we can observe how another person performs a familiar action in his own way and measure our own methods against his. Often times we don’t even need to view a scenario; we can just imagine it. Art gives our species the opportunity to examine events and scenarios that we would otherwise have to view in our imaginations.

As actors, choosing our own way to play a character can be daunting because we desperately want to avoid the typical and the mundane. We want to challenge people to see the character in a new light.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts and it takes time to develop a character. (If you think you can just wing it, don’t expect to be the next John Barrymore)

The Way to Start:

First off, there is no one right way to play any given moment. Any choice can be believable as long as you commit to it. That’s where your personality becomes interesting to the audience because it informs your performance. The audience wants to see the way your life experience causes the character to act. They want to see you be yourself.


  • Speak the text as if it were a monologue, separate from the music.
  • Approach every line as the gateway to a whole new universe. Explore every direction you can as deeply as possible. Your instinct will guide you to the best choice after you’ve gone over it enough times.
  • Treat everything on the page as text (rhythms, dynamics, phrasing, tempo)… and, like text, explore different ways to interpret it.
  • Do targeted research. Find out what you need to know more about in order to know how to act that moment.

The potency lies in the danger, in the thrill of taking the risk to be yourself instead of adding false character as protection. The minute acting becomes less scary is the minute it loses its potency.


  • Think about your character’s goals, roadblocks impeding those goals, ways through the roadblock, and the negative consequences of failure to reach the goal.
  • Consider location at a given entrance: What is the character’s origin, destination, and the reason for shifting locale?

Make a three-column worksheet

  • Column 1 (Present Givens) Everything that is explicitly said about the character; concrete things that will never change about the character.
  • Column 2 (Personal Commonality) Everything about the character that is similar to your own habitual self.
  • Column 3 (Dissimilarities) All the qualities that you don’t personally share with the character, but are still possible for you simply because you are human. For example, while you personally are not a barber, you could, still trim a beard.

You don’t need to double up on the feeling that’s already in the work.

To create more counterpoint and tension between the text and the action, make the acting choice that says something contrary to what the words depict. This adds another layer of meaning to your message.

Let People Learn From You

While it can be difficult to find unique acting choices, your body and your personality will naturally find the ones that fit when you’ve spoken through the words enough times with your evaluative ears on (just make sure you don’t evaluate while you’re in a performance). Once you’ve done some research, your character will take shape and grow along as you grow personally. Keep the courage to be yourself, and your commitment will pay huge dividends.


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Overcoming Audition Nerves

An audition is not about you.

It’s about giving to the people behind the table. It’s about being free to be who you are. It’s about being generous.

Find a way to diffuse whatever energy is in the room that makes you feel unequipped to be generous.

Try this:

  • Decide that you like the people on the panel. They want to like you. They want to be excited about you. If you think well of them, chances are they’ll be keen on you.
  • Think about your favorite part of the aria, how cool it is, and how stoked you are to show them that part.

Oh yeah, make sure you’re super-prepared, too. That’s rule #1.


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