The Daily Backstage; A Road Not Taken

WWW.MRSHANEWEBB.WORDPRESS.COMOk so – in my last note I mentioned to you guys that I was taking some time out. That it was for the best, that it was needed and necessary. I do need a recharge, and a space to sit back and breathe. Take stock of my life and goals. That’s really hard to do when you’re in the middle of anywhere from one to three shows at a time. Plus all of the other stuff I end up doing. Standing on committees, starting new endeavours, writing, exploring, training etc… It all gets a little hectic.

I felt really good about it – that it was the right thing to do. Then .. it happened. A fairly major show has had the community rights released for the first time in YEARS.

*cough* Les Mis *cough*.

I felt pretty good when the auditions were announced. Javert is fairly high on my list of roles to play, but I figured “Shane – there are going to be other companies doing the show. Relax. Take the time. You’ll be fine.”

Which, lets face it – is true.

Then the cast announcements started to trickle out. And .. I still felt good. But it was less “totally fine – do you guys wanna go get a coffee” and more … “nah .. that’s good. It’s good that they did that. Yeah … good. *eye twitches*”

And it is – I am so super happy and stoked for every single person who auditioned, regardless of the roles they got or not. Throwing your hat in the ring and auditioning is an amazing feat. It is nothing short of an extraordinary feat of human will power. For the people who were cast I am even more pumped! It’s Les Mis!!! Yes! That! Go you good things!

The voice that I am now contending with is entirely my own, and has nothing to do with anyone doing auditions or landing roles. It is, in part, that feeling of eyeing off the clock and knowing that my years are swiftly spinning out (yes – perhaps a touch dramatic). There is also that feeling that if I fail to try for an opportunity then I will miss “the moment” that takes me to the next level of my career, or advances me as a performer, or gives me the chance at “the part” that I have always wanted. This is similar to what I was talking about in my post about chasing cars, about wanting to chase down all of the opportunities, and filling my time doing all of the things that I want to do, lest I miss my chances.

It can be onerous.

I wonder if we are all perhaps a little like that. Trying to jump headfirst into everything that comes our way. Feeling that guilt of a road not taken, like a lodestone for the soul, pulling you away. A tiny moment of “what if” thrown in for good measure.

Almost like clockwork – I leaped straight away to get the number for new singing teachers, looking at dance lessons, new eating plans, new workout methods, and curiously I went straight down to the pool that night to do laps. I quickly asked for skype singing lessons from a dear friend, and an incredible mentor, the divine Miss MM to make up the time. Chatting to her late at night about the panic, the sudden urge to pack a car and drive to … anywhere something was happening …  made me slow down and realise a few things though;

  • I had that moment of panic – perhaps not because I am missing the opportunity – but because I am aware that with a new chance to rehearse, comes a new chance for growth.
  • If I am worrying about that – am I worried that I am stagnating as a performer and a creative.
  • If I am worried about stagnation – why? What am I not doing in my day to day work to keep myself progressing? What should I be doing? Why am I not doing it?

Once I had that little revelation – it’s become quite an easy place to start drilling down. It is not at all about the road not taken, or the opportunity lost. Although the fact that I am not a superman who can run about and do 87, 000 things at once still galls me.

Taking the time out to stop and think about things, to process it through and to figure out WHY I felt the need to jump straight back in when I knew deep down that I wanted to work on other things for awhile was really telling. I have been letting myself down as a performer and there are things that I should be using my “show free” time to look at and start to address. I think in the long term, it will make me a far better creative, and hopefully a better person. Not taking something at face value is definitely something I needed to be reminded of and if there is one thing I have learned – it’s that the way I feel about something almost never has something to do with the “thing”. It’s almost always about me.

Happy Creating!

S.

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2017 – the first quarter – my year so far

It has been a long time since my last post. Longer than I would have liked and certainly longer than I promised. The time has been put to good use .. of sorts. A lot of articles written. A lot discarded. A lot of planning and long sleepless nights staring at a blank bank. Unsure of my message, my point. Looking back through my articles I realise that’s not an uncommon theme at this point. I’ve been wish-washy and often vague. Letting out a handful of personal truths but offering little else of the real value that I wanted to talk about.

The intervening months have been put to good use for me I think. I did a huge show with the great team at Queensland Musical Theatre. R & H’s Carousel. A masterpiece of golden age theatre. Soaring melody lines, wonderfully drawn characters and a surprisingly dark story. Billy Bigelow is to date probably one of the most challenging and exciting roles I have had the pleasure of portraying.

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I made the decision, somewhat on the spur of the moment, to go back and study. A diploma of screen writing at the New York Film Academy. An experience that has been a steep but much needed learning curve. Painful and confrontational at times. Frustrating. Ultimately though, incredibly rewarding.

Writing for screen, cleaning up my writing in general, and embracing that side of the creative process came hot on the heels of one of the largest disappointments for me in the first quarter of 2017. I was involved with a local composer and his musical, brought in to head up the directing team after a failed first start with another company. I spend a lot of time, hours and weeks and months, rewriting and reworking portions of the show with him, weeks of auditions, advertising, meetings, set designs, lighting notes, charting the show to take it into rehearsal and ultimately (hopefully) to a successful world premier. However, at the 11th hour, after several more set backs and some creative differences the composer pulled the plug. Opting to go it alone and to try to perform the show at a later unspecified date without me. I won’t mention names of show or composer. I won’t bad mouth either of them. The people who are close to me know all that they need to know, and while the process was like pulling teeth at times, and utterly disappointing in its conclusion – I sincerely wish the project well in its future. I learned many invaluable lessons from the experience and as one of my writing lecturers would say, “get the contract first.”

I’ve taken a small step back from performing with the theatre companies in my region for 2017, I don’t even know if it was a conscious decision at the time, but upon reflection (I’ve done a lot of that lately) it is definitely for the best. Carousel and the unnamed show were enormous. They took a huge amount of my energy and focus, and it is certainly nice to have a moment to have a breath and to recharge my batteries a little. I have a handful of my own independent projects that I am working on as well, with a mind to independently produce and create throughout the year. The first of which, a concert series called Conversations, is already in preproduction.

There have been some ups and downs and I have taken some steps towards addressing, and being more open about, some of what I go through as a creative. I suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. Most often they’re manageable. Occasionally they’re crippling. I believe that many artistic people go through this and I want to talk more about my experience with this at a later date. I’m coming into a space where I am more aware of myself, and my needs, and this has been a significant part of 2017 so far. So it warrants being spoken of here – if only briefly.

It has also given me a lot of chance to reflect, regroup, figure out my focus and my goals for the next couple of years. Getting myself a little more financially grounded, and drawing a significant portion of that from my work as an artist and a creative entrepreneur. I have had the very good fortune to have a few wonderful people come into my life lately who are able to mentor me through this process, to start to give some shape to what I actually want from this blog and from my thrival work. Shaping me through the hardest parts of the journey, from finding my why, to narrowing my focus and picking my tribe.

I already feel much more centred and focused. My creative goals not only feel clearer, they also feel closer to being a reality than ever. I have some amazing people around me, my friends and family are always incredible, I am lucky to have a wonderful team starting to form around me to help me start to take my next steps into the big wide scary world of 2017 and beyond.

I really can’t wait to share it all with you.

S.

A day for planning…

On the back of my blog from yesterday – today has been remarkably productive. I’ve answered and sent a bundle of emails, I’ve written, I’ve looked at my calendar up until the end of next year and I started making my list of goals. What do I want to accomplish from 2017. What did I set out to do and not quite achieve out of 2016. It maybe early to start thinking like this – but I can feel a fire burning in me and I want to take advantage of that wave of energy. I want to make every moment of my day count. I’ve started to get a little more focus, a little more of an idea where I want to get to, and who I want to become, and I am starting to work backwards, figuring out what steps that will take and what opportunities I will have to turn down or take up to make that work. Figuring out what I will have to create in order to get there.


I’ve realised what some of my biggest mistakes have been, sitting back and hoping that the big opportunities would fall at my feet. Letting myself slip further from where I want to be, instead of hunting and chiseling away at my goals until I could take another step forward, and then another. 

One thing is for damn sure – I may have to start this thing off with a bare light bulb and a rusted chair (that may be more literal than figurative at this point), but I know it won’t end there. I know where I want to be now and I’m starting to figure out how I’m going to make that happen. 

Have a great day you magnificent human beings – make it the best one you possibly can! 

S. 

Rise and rise again .. 

One thing is true – the sun rose on a very different world this morning. I can’t imagine what it is like to be in America right now, my feed is full of people who are now feeling more isolated and are more despairing than ever before. It is true that emotions ran strongly this election – perhaps more so than in any other in recent memory. The vitriol and propaganda and hatred flowed strongly from a right-wing America who in their own way, have been left in isolation and repressed and overlooked for far too long and they took their opportunity and they pushed back. I think that the left grew complacent, they felt that the rhetoric would be enough to secure a victory. They were wrong. 

It’s also not only the US election that has many people scratching their heads about the fate of the world, the public discourse through much of the West is mind boggling and so often plays to the lowest possible denominator. Brexit in the UK was a campaign fuelled by fear and outright lies – and when it all came out (the highest google searches in the UK the day after the vote were “What is Brexit” and “What is the EU” which is .. terrifying but indicative) the people who lied just said “ah well … oops” and people accepted it and moved on. In Australia we have a perpetually low standard of politician – not just that people like Tony Abbott (clearly the best person to handle Women’s Affairs and Indigenous Affairs), but the wunderkind that are One Nation and that creature Pauline Hanson, and the now desolate Palmer United Party. We’re feeling it all over the world. 

The pain so many feel .. I understand it. I felt numb watching the results coming in. I felt sickness in my stomach as hatred and fear and bigotry and mysogeny won and won and won. Bigly. 

Then I felt something else. 

A fire lit somewhere in the back of my mind. Slowly it spread through the night, I could feel it sparking through my heart, and into my mind. Inspiration, and creativity exploded through me. I could see the next four years of my life mapped out in front of me, using my art, and my voice, and my talent. Throwing whatever I can into the world to show my brothers and my sisters out there, who feel so abandoned in this hour, that they are not alone. That they have people with them, shoulder to shoulder. 

I woke up this morning more energised than I have been in a long time. Ready to use my place in the world as an artist, and a commentator, and a motivator to step into the world and share a message of hope, unity, and limitless potential. I want to create new work, and to explore old works with a new perspective. I want to find the beauty that is so prevelant in our world and lift it up. To create more of it, to open up a discourse and shine a light in the dark places until there is no place for fear and bigotry and hatred to hide. We are better than this. We can do better than this. We should do better than this and we must. 

I wondered if I was the only person who felt this way .. then I started seeing more of the same thoughts and ideals and resistance lighting up my news feed. Including this wonderful quote by a good friend and fellow creative human Brenda Hartley who wrote; 

“Up we get. The fight begins today. Make, write, shoot, direct, sing, perform, tell, paint, share, practice – get it out, loud and proud, bright and bold. Saturate it with authenticity, anger, wit, honesty, joy, pain, despair, and love in equal spades. Mobilise whatever you’re carrying in your head and heart, give it air, let it go – repeat. Look down the barrel of that gun and face the uncertainty with courage and generosity. The opportunities we have are there for the making, and there for the taking. Do not drop out of public discourse because in my opinion (which no one has asked me for but I don’t care) you’re needed now more than ever”

I think we can lead the fight back. We can find grace, and humility, and wonder again. We, as artists and consumers of art, have the greatest role to play in the weeks, and years to come. Don’t lose the fire. Raise your voices with me. Talk to your friends and family – even those who dont think the same way as we do. Especially them. Show them they’re not alone either, and that they don’t have to be afraid. That we can be united. As artists, that may be our biggest challenge, and our highest responsibility. 

I don’t think our greatest qualities are gone away, I don’t think that this was the day that hatred won. I think this was the day that hatred made it’s last stand. And it’s going to lose. Bigly. 

S. 

My Name In Lights: Rehearsals

The rehearsal process can be labourious. It can be lengthy. It can be mind numbing and involve hours and hours of “hurry up and wait”, followed by frantically throwing yourself through your paces at maximum energy. You leave with your muscles aching, your voice stretched and knowing that tomorrow is probably a day of vocal rest, your eyes are sore,  your head is pounding, and you are soaked head to toe in sweat. At least this has been the experience for me from time to time. 

So many actors I work with hate rehearsals. Or at least seem to view them with disdain. They treat them like the optional part of the process. Turn up, or not. Prepare for them or not. So long as it all is ok by the time it gets to stage that’s fine right? 

Especially in community theatre. 

I have to say though, despite the highs and lows, working with people who don’t seem to want to be there, with directors who might not be as prepared as they should be, whose process you don’t agree with, people of varying levels of skill, who treat it as everything from a stepping stone to a hobby. I love it just as much as I love stepping out onto the stage in front of an audience. 

This weekend I had an an intensive rehearsal for the production of R&H’s Carousel with Queensland Musical Theatre. I am lucky enough to be playing the lead role of Billy Bigelow, a tragically flawed man who sings what is arguably some of the best music ever written for the male voice (I am still surprised every time I sing Soliloquy that they’re letting me sing it – but that’s the subject of another post).  

Photo Credit: Stacie Hobbs

For those of you who haven’t experienced an intensive weekend, it’s the closest that community or pro-am theatrecan get to a professional process, we turn up at 9 and leave at 5. We have sitzprobe (a sitting rehearsal where we get to sing through the show’s score with the orchestra for the first time – it’s magical and is my favourite moment of them all), we stagger through a full run of the show, we go through photoshoots and we begin to rapidly fix all of the small technical pieces of the show that are not quite right. It’s a long process, and it is exhilirating. 

Usually an intensive weekend will come just at the point in the rehearsal process where you are starting to find yourself falling out of love with the show. You’ve heard all the jokes a thousand times, you’re a little over the music, you’ve sung about clams until you’d throw up at the sight of them, and you’ve run lines with as many people as you humanly can, and the script is starting to feel like gloop in your head. then you have sitzprobe, and you run the show, and you stagger your way through and it’s wonderful. 

You defy the odds and you make it through. It may sound like a cliche but you will know more about the show, your character, and oddly enough – yourself – by the end of it. 
Waking up Tuesday morning, I was sore, dehydrated, and I regretted collapsing into bed without doing a physical and vocal warm down the night before. It told me a lot about where I am at as a performer. How stage ready I am. How mentally prepared I am (for those of you who don’t know the story of Carousel, it delves into some pretty heavy topics including domestic violence, depression, suicide, and what lies beyond this life. Which is a lot for a musical written in the 1940’s). How physically ready I am to perform this titan of a role. Most importantly though – I was reminded how much I loved what I do. Why I keep striving to be better. Why I push myself harder and harder to find my peak. 

There are so many things to love about rehearsing. If done right, it can be an artform that is breathtaking and challenging and motivates me to go beyond my boundaries. I love the smell that almost all rehearsal spaces I’ve ever been in have. I love meeting new people, working together with them to create something, striving to have a single moment of realness on the stage. Missing the hours pass easily as I lose myself in the work. The families I build that last years. The trust that I have in those people to be there to catch me every time I fall. Every single part of the blood, sweat, and tears is wonderful if I just give myself over to it.
It’s also easy for me to forget all of this. I find myself at least once a show struggling to get up off of the couch to trudge back out into the night to a rehearsal. I owe myself more than that. I love this craft beyond anything. I couldn’t stop doing it, it’s like air to me. But once a show, around the 8 – 10 week mark for rehearsals it will happen. I’ll struggle with it. Kick myself a little that I signed up to do another one. Get lost in the process of creating and I won’t be able to see the end point just yet. But then there it will be, and I’ll lie in bed at night after a rehearsal grinning to myself about what an incredile world I get to be a part of. 

Speaking of which – I have a rehearsal I should be getting ready for. 

S. 

My name in lights .. 

I’ve been wondering about the best use of this blog, and ways that I can use it to engage a readership and explore more of my journey as an actor, producer, and writer. After rereading my previous posts, and the unwritten, unfinished posts that sit half done, or as titles and themes on a list in my office – I realised that all of those dealt with parts of my journey. Dealing with things from stage fright, to what kept me coming back as an actor, what keeps my writing and struggling and reaching. 

There are reoccurring themes that I find myself running into – but to lay them out on the table and openly discuss them is confronting and I think that in that confrontation lies something worth really discussing and expanding. 

Looking back through some old photos from my trip to London last year, I came across this photo of myself standing on the stage of Les Mis and I can still feel the electricity under my skin and taste that potential. 


So to kick off a very soft relaunch and repositioning of my little online home – amusingly to bring it back to what I had intended to use it for in the first place – I will be posting weekly blogs journaling and discussing the things that I love about the acting “game”. Inside and out. These are the things that may be challenging but that keep me coming back time and again. 

Hopefully exploring this will be a little helpful to some people who are struggling with their own journey – I love the creative world. It is so rich and deep and varied and it never ceases to amaze me how inspired I can become.

The arts can, and should, and does change the world. 

There is a reason that I fell in love with it. There is a reason that I am still in love with it. There is a reason that I fall a little more in love with it every day. 

I want to share that with all of you. 

S. 

Productive Places 

Happy Monday!!! Arguably the greatest day of the week (not just because I am currently fuelled by a half dozen shots of coffee). Recently I’ve spoken about my productivity levels, my procrastination levels, and my scattered mind trying to adjust and understand the billion and a half things I have going on at the moment. As a part of this development I have spent some time reflecting on “How” I work and what impact that may make on my productivity. 

I have spent quite a few years trying to fit myself to the work style that I “thought” I should use. Trying to embrace patterns and getting up early to take advantage of the early mornings, finding my 9-5 creative groove and work the system as best I can. So after several years of that .. Yeah … No. That’s not a thing.
I’ve found that I work really well from 11pm – 5pm. I’ve found that this isn’t done well in isolation. I find it really difficult to get my mojo on (yes I have mojo – I’m basically Hermione Granger yo #ministerformagic) in a vacuum “early” in the day. Ergo I frequent lovely little cafes and public libraries. I love a space that is full of bustle and noise. I know so many people hate them, and find working in them as being far too distracting but I find them to be soothing. The grinder whirring away in the background is wonderful white noise for me and let’s my settle in with a cup of coffee (that I didn’t make myself – this is important – they’re always better) and gently ease my way into the day. I can find my rhythm in these little hubs, and if I frequent them often enough to be a regular, find wonderful opportunities for breaks with other regular costumers and staff. 

The other point of the day that I find I am equally productive in is a little harder to manage. Between the hours of 11pm and 2am the world is silent and still. My creative energies will always get a second wind and I can lose whole hours pacing the house with a notebook in my hand muttering to myself. Throw on a white noise / rain track / quiet jazz album (with no vocals – again important) and I can, and do, work until the sun creeps over the horizon and I retreat to my bed. 

The schedule is then broken up nicely, and while I don’t always maintain it (the midnight writing sessions are hard to keep up – plus the pull of Netflix is real – House of Cards – oh my god) I find a couple of night sessions a week give me a really great output of work, far more than when I was trying to manage a 9 – 5 schedule. 

S.