27 June, 2017

"She Enters The Room" from After Anatevka in Concert

Ryan Silverman
"She Enters the Room" from AFTER ANATEVKA in CONCERT

based on the novel AFTER ANATEVKA read and written by Alexandra Silber

Music by Joe Thalken
Lyrics by Joseph Amodio

Performed by Ryan Silverman (Dmitri)

Chapter 44: The Book of Dmitri

    Dmitri Pavlovich Petrovsky had been born with twines of music lodged tight about his heart.  Like a rusted barbed-wire, it clutched at him and the harder he struggled, the deeper the barbs would cut.  The wounds festered, encased in the pus of his dead imagination. 

    Coming from a family of folk musicians in a city as bright as Petersburg made no difference whatsoever to a boy so innately fraught by the simultaneous demands and admonitions of a world in which he felt he did not belong. Depression blanketed the boy from the time he could remember, though his family was quick to dismiss it all as “family flair” or “histrionics.”
    “Mityushka!” They cried, “Nyezh-naya Mitya!” They did not, they could not, know what to do with him. Nor did he know what to do with himself.

    Dmitri’s personage had always been a shroud of mystery—broad shoulders hunched over a lanky body as if to protect the heart that ached within. His face beautiful, but tender and surrounded by a mop of dark, messy curls. Large expressive hands with long fingers worked up into fists plunged deep within his pockets, or else wringing, itching to be used to play his cello. His small but ferociously intelligent eyes held all the world at arms length, shielded further by the spectacles he’d worn since childhood. 

    If the truth of a man lies within him, then it stands to reason one might then be able to simply open him up and grasp at that truth the way one carves into a carcass to extract the tenderest cuts of meat.
    But there are certain men whose inner truths are far too delicate, and whose constitutions far too strong to penetrate. In such a case, one must simply wait for the truth within to creep out of its own accord, like a creature that may break apart if pressure is put upon it. Perhaps it was so with Dmitri.
    But how could the shackled heart, and the poetry that mocked within him; how could the stench of fear,  the cacophonous clamor of uncertainty, and the darkened depths of spirit; how could any of it ever be expressed?

    It was the cello, in the end, that set him free. That gave him peace. Inside the chords and notes and arches of melody, he found an expanse of space where all of what he longed to be could fit— that unnameable, unknowable self.
    He tagged along, of course, to play in the city venues with his family— folk songs soared and crowds cheered as his father lead with accordion, his mother on balalaika and sisters on violins.
He was grateful to his family for the instrument itself (handed down from his grandfather), and for the ability to play it. But his family, however musical, could not hear his music at all.


    Once in Nerchinsk, no cold, no labor, no punishing treatment, no single thing could mar him more than the love that raged within his breast for her. The love he felt but could not utter, which he knew with every scrap of his being to belong not to him, but to the only man he admired, the man he respected above all others. If only he could say what everyone already knew to be true.

    Everyone, that is, but her.

    He felt that ancient barbed twine unravel itself and come between them, it lodged itself into Hodel without her knowledge, and once enmeshed it yanked and ripped at his already riled heart, and made it throb in agony. One moment he would revel in her scent, the next he could weep with guilt.

    When together, the three of them were such a happy triangle. But Dmitri recognized he was the  hypotenuse in a shape perfectly right without him—an attachment, not at all unlike a third wheel on a cart— excessive, unnecessary for it to function, but somehow with its presence the entire structure had better balance. Countless times he nearly spoke, nearly moved to kiss her; Tell her! His mind bawled, Take her in the arms you know were designed to enfold her within them! But every time, he thought of what would happen if he did. Crippled by loneliness, fear penetrated his love—the alchemical result was aloofness. Or often, viciousness.

    He knew that he could never be alone with her without wanting desperately to touch her. Could not touch her without wanting to posses her, to make her his own. So he barely spoke to her at all. He would waste his life away beholding a painting upon the wall of a locked house he would never be allowed to enter…

There was nothing to be done.
Nothing he could do but play, of course.
Every strand of aching music, every forlorn concerto, for her. 


20 June, 2017

ASK AL: Best Acting Books

Dear Al,

What are some standard acting books everyone should read?

David S. ‏


Dear David,

Wonderful question!

Of course acting books, like all books, are very subjective. Sometimes one can read a certain book and get very little out of it, whilst someone else can read the exact same book and have their perspective changed forever.

The lesson – you have to peruse them all.

Often, the exact same person can return to a text at a different place in their life, and have a mind-explosion they could not have had when they first picked a text up. Life is like that—I’ve had books be “blah” in college that changed my life in adulthood, or sometimes even just understood completely new things I was not privy to internally in the previous version of my self that resonates more distinctly in my present.

Because The Art of Acting is created from the only clay we have—ourselves—we must continually re-visit the craft, look inward, and tune up where our skills are matched with our new personal growth. The more we fully marry and utilize our personal growth with an ever-sharpening skill set, the better actor and human being you will continue to grow to become.

While some of these are practically biblical, some classics and others contemporary classics, each offer differing ideas and approaches to acting; from the practical, to the more theoretical, to the gosh darn spiritual. As you have probably experienced with acting, sometimes one small insight can completely shift the way you think about your art, and how you practically approach it.

I’d like to recommend these All-Star must-haves for students, aspiring and professionally working actors alike.


1. An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski
The be-all godfather of contemporary Naturalism-based acting techniques, and without a doubt THE most famous acting teacher in the world, An Actor Prepares is the Bible of acting books, and thus not only must be included in this list, but deserves to be Number 1.

In this very readable handbook, Russian-God-of-Actor-Training Constantin Stanislavski explains general acting exercises, and and illuminates what acting actually IS, which thus serves as foundation to every actor’s further training, and creation of roles.

The book is beautifully-translated and is an enjoyable read for any actor with a passion for the craft, as wellas for the history of actor training.

Homorous at times, this book takes the actor through Stanislavsky’s self-developed system which helps the actor to master his craft as well as stimulate creativity and imagination. The book includes a variety of exercises and some brilliant autobiographical experiences that focus on relaxation, concentration, and techniques that will help get the actor into character.

Titanic acting pillars such Emotional Memory and the “Magic If” are taught and explored in this book, all of which lay the groundwork for the majority of the great acting we bear witness to today.
I have lived a long life, was rich, got poor; seen a lot of the world, had a wonderful family, children, that life has scattered all over the world. I have longed for fame, found it – been honored young and now I am getting old. I know my time on earth is running out. Now ask me wherein we find happiness? It is in knowledge and understanding art and the labor of cognizing it. While learning about oneself, one can learn nature and the meaning of life – We can cognize the soul. There is no happiness above all this.” – Constantin Stanislavski

2. Respect for Acting by Uta Hagen (with Haskel Frankel)
This book is the heart and soul of my own personal technique as both an actress and a teacher. It is the backbone of my classes, and could not be more practical and straightforward. It also, incidentally, comes in audio format which I love to listen to from time to time!

Straightforward as it gets, Uta Hagen’s p r o f o u n d book has helped multiple generations of actors hone their craft. (I will quote my student Alphonse who, multiple times in his journal wrote in all caps "YAAAAAS UTAAAAA" and just... leave it at that... Great actors do not perform effortlessly, or merely through learning the appropriate tricks and cheats to manipulate an audience.

Her theory is simple and true: dancers have the barre, singers have scales, but waht do actors have to "practice" their craft? Here, she answers that. Uta introduces series of Step-by-Step exercises to help the actor re-familiarize themselves with their humanity; to connect to the moment, fellow actors, and the audience.
     “Who am I?”
     “What do I want?” and
     “What is my relationship?”
are three of the nine questions explored to define a specific character’s role, and Hagen also adds in some invaluable sage-like wisdom about nerves, how to stay fresh in a long run, and priceless anecdotes from her own career.

3. Acting, The First 6 Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky
I will admit that this was my first ever acting book, given to me by my first ever acting mentors Lucy and Jimbob Stephenson. It arrived one day in a beautfiful care package as I was about to perform in Our Town (a play, incidentally, Jimbob performed for wounded veterans alongside Thornton Wilder himself), and came with a beautiful book inscription I shall treasure always. For this, and many reasons, it is my favorite. 

Richard Boleslavsky's knowledge of the theater was based on an impressive depth and breadth of experience. A member of the Moscow Art Theater and director of its First Studio, he worked in Russia, Germany, and America as an actor, director and teacher. He was a leading Hollywood director in addition to producing plays and musical comedies on Broadway.

In his beloved classic, master acting teacher Richard Boleslavsky presents his acting theory and technique in a lively and accessible dramatic form (meaning, he literally writes it as a play, starring himself and his student known as The Creature). Boleslavsky's slim volume has long helped all artists better understand the craft of acting, but above all,  what is truly required to to grow as a lifelong artist.

4. The Art of Acting by Stella Adler (with Howard Kissel)
"Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one." - Stella Adler
Of course Stella Adler, uber-quotable diva extraordinaire, one of the first membrs of The Group, who is one of the most important teachers of acting.

In 1931, Adler was a founding member of the revolutionary Group Theatre, which took Broadway by storm with a series of naturalistic productions of socially relevant plays, such as Clifford Odets' "Awake and Sing" and "Paradise Lost." In 1934, unsatisfied with Group Theatre co-founder Lee Strasberg's teaching of Konstantin Stanislavsky's techniques, the determined Adler traveled to Paris and studied with Stanislavsky himself. She returned to the Group with her own understanding of his work and offered acting classes to other members, including Sanford Meisner, Elia Kazan, and Robert Lewis.

In this book editor Howard Kissel has taken tapes, transcriptions, notebooks and other sources to reconstruct Stella Adler's acting course in 22 lessons, which turned into one of the best ever books on acting techniques.

5. Strasberg’s Method
 by S. Loraine Hull
Arguably the most comprehensive book for anyone interesting in Method Acting, Hull very clearly lays out all the ideas of Lee Strasberg’s innovative and deeply culturally misunderstood teachings.

It’s also a very easy read, with understandable exercises that should benefit greatly every actor Method or not, who never had a chance to train with the man himself.

If Stanislavski is the Bible of Acting books, consider Strasberg's Method the New Testament, and this a really terrific prayer book, it contains everything you ever wanted to know about this approach.
Acting is the most personal of our crafts. The make-up of a human being – his physical, mental and emotional habits – influence his acting to a much greater extent than commonly recognized.” – Lee Strasberg

6. Sanford Meisner on Acting
 by Sanford Meisner (with Dennis Longwell
Meisner or Strassberg's The Method? Well, it is not truly an either/or, as both teachers were at the heart of the new American acting movement, and their approaches are not siblings, but rather, cousins. It’s often insightful to be familiar with both.

In this beautiful gem of a book, Meisner gives it to you straight on how not to act, but to live; to live truthfully, in the moment, under imaginary circumstances. KAPOW.

I will also add that this of all books gives one a real sense of being in the actual classroom with "Sandy" as he is called, and you feel a level of personal relationship with him as a both a luminary titan, and as a human being that seems to be speaking directly to you. 

Your library is not complete without this one.
"An ounce of behavior is worth a pound of words." - Sanford Meisner

7. To The Actor: on the Technique of Acting by Michael Chekhov
Nephew to the greatest-of-the-great-Russian-playwrights Anton Chekhov,  and a student of Stanislavski, Michael Chekhov left Russia and Stanislavski behind, forming the first in a strong "anti-movement" of theatrical actor trainging. He went on to pursue a career as an actor, teacher, and director in Europe and America.

While he was an early advocate of Stanislavski, Chekhov differed from the great teacher in several key aspects: particularly in his insistence preference of physical creation and activation versus the psychological, and on the use of imagination as opposed to memory in creating a role. (In a famous anecdote, Chekhov once performed a “sense memory” exercise in which he broke down over the tragic death of his aunt. When complimented on the truthfulness of his emotion, he admitted that his “aunt” was entirely imaginary.) Both of these schools of thoughts were the burgeoning theories behind American Method Acting in the 1940s and 50s.

One of Chekhov’s innovations of technique is one of my favorites, and something I teach my first year acting students in our second semester: the “Psychological Gesture,” in which a repeated external action leads to an internal revelation. Due to his insistence on the importance of the physical rather than the simply intellectual, Chekhov’s book is as focused on following its series of exercises as it is in study; acting, he would remind us, is always fundamentally a verb. For actors who feel “hemmed in” by an over-insistence on “feeling” a part or in drawing from their own experiences to feed a role, Chekhov’s focus on the primal and limitless nature of imagination and physical experience is beyond liberating, and I believe an essential tool in every actor's toolkit.

8. Audition by Michael Shurtleff  

I consider this book to be the contemporary classic for aspiring actors. (Re: If Stanislavski is the Bible, this is East of Eden / Atlas Shrugged / Invisible Man).

If you are just beginning your acting adventure, this is a really excellent place to start, as it covers everything from craft to practically "getting the role." Shurteff’s 12 (now famous) Guideposts have influenced my own work, my teaching, direction, all with the aim to help actors learn how to empower, direct and guide themselves.

From relationships, to actions, objectives, opposites, to finding the love and humor in any scene, Shurtelff’s Guideposts will help you focus in on the kernel of the scene or audition material every time.


The Actor’s Art and Craft
 by William Esper (comprehensive guide to Meisner's techniques)
Michael Cain: Acting in Film
The Intent to Live by Larry Moss
A Dream of Passion: The Development of The Method by Lee Strassberg

Translating Shakespeare by Dr. David Montee (my personal mentor! There's a photo of me as Rosalind)
A Shakespearan Actor Prepares by Michael York 
Playing Shakespeare by John Barton

The Actor Speaks by Patsy Rodenburg
The Second Circle by Patsy Rodenburg
The Actor and The Text by Cicely Berry

Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristin Linklater
Speak with Distinction by Edith Skinner 

The Lucid Body by
The Moving Body by Jaques LeCoq

The Viewpoints Book by Anne Bogart
The Empty Space by Peter Brooke

06 June, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 3: HEALING

Silly sicky bear. Shoulda taken his Airborne.
Dear Al,

Following up on your Vocal Protection and Vocal Maintenance posts, I’m wondering what you do once you are sick or under the weather,, your voice is damaged or in crisis without too much worry?




Dear Jonathan,

Fantastic follow up question!
Before delving in to any tips and trick, I will begin here [by *healthily* yelling]:

If your issues are persistent you MUST seek medical advice. 


[*Chugs Gatorade*]

Okay now here we go.




•    Nasal Emollient
such as Ponaris, Dry Nose, or other such emollient from the health food store or pharmacy.
    If you can't find the emollient, in a pinch you can use very light olive oil or other light vegetable oil.  At bedtime and again first thing in the morning, rinse each nostril with the saline mist and then blow your nose. Then coat the lining of each nostril with a very small amount of the oil/emollient using a Q-tip very carefully or your finger. Sniff the emollient up as high as it will go. It helps you sleep, breathe, and eliminate dry, scaly, nasal tissues that contribute to mucous, drainage ,and inflammation. 
•    Nasal Saline Mist/Spray (Ayr, Ocean, etc)
and the…
•    Neti Pot
Game changers! I love a good nasal spray on-the-go, but day-to-day, I could not recommend using a Neti Pot more. I use mine twice a day to lubricate, cleanse, and naturally clear my sinus passages (which, because I have a small skull, are highly prone to infection). Follow all the instructions carefully and know that it can take a few trys to get your Neti-system down (I will admit, it feels a little creepy at first, but after a few trys? TRUST ME—you’ll be hooked). It is well worth it the experiment. It has been a total game-changer for my overall health, not just my singing. If one part of your body is in any way inflamed or fighting infection, the whole organism suffers.
•    I also add a dash of a product called Alkolol to the NetiPot, which aids in thinning mucus and encouraging clearing. (It also doubles as a terrific gargle!) 

•    Apple Cider Vinegar and Raw, Local Honey: In a cup of warm water dissolve two spoons of the apple cider vinegar and two spoons of raw local honey if available.  Gargle each mouthful and swallow it. Repeat once more in the middle of the day, before bedtime and again in the morning if needed. Honey kills germs.
•    Salt Water: During the day, gargle with warm salted water and then later, alternate with the apple cider vinegar/honey gargle. Obviously DO NOT swallow the salt water ew ew ew. Salt also kills germs.
•    Alkolol http://www.alkalolcompany.com/: I am a big fan of this product and use it both in my Neti Pot as well as a gargle. Here is what their website says:
“Alkalol is a unique blend of natural ingredients developed over 100 years ago as a nasal wash and mucus solvent. Today it still provides drug-free relief from nasal congestion and irritation caused by sinusitis, allergies, colds and post-nasal drip. And it helps dissolve mucus and clear blocked nasal passages. Alkalol helps you breathe easier.
Throughout history herbal extracts and essential oils have played an important role in healing. From the moment you open Alkalol you breathe in its invigorating scent, which comes from its natural ingredients. And it works. Alkalol helps you breathe easier.
Alkalol’s blend of natural ingredients helps dissolve mucus from your nasal passages. During nasal irrigation and while using the Alkalol Nasal Wash Cup, the Alkalol mixture flows through your sinuses clearing irritants such as dust and pollen. It also helps improve overall nasal hygiene by preventing mucus from gathering in your sinuses where it can become the breeding ground for bacteria.”

IMMUNITY (repeating from Part 1, but crucial)
•      We all get run down, and singers are the first to get colds in the chest, ear, nose and throat. I have benefitted hugely from the use of Zinc, as well as Airborne and also Wellness Formula available at most pharmacies and online. These should be used as soon as you experience symptoms of a cold or a sore throat, or prophylactically if there is a risk of being exposed to a myriad of new germs (such as on an airplane, subway, or with children).

•    Be cautious about taking Aspirin (Bayer, Excedrin, etc), Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, etc.), and Naproxen (Aleve) within two weeks before very demanding singing, especially if you are prone to vocal cord hemorrhage. These medications encourage the blood to thin, and can make it more possible to bleed and have a vocal cord hemorrhage.
•    Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not a blood thinner, and thus, at least I believe is a better EMERGENCY pain relief option.
•   Do NOT take decongestants and then sing. OMFG: Decongestants do not REMOVE the mucus! They cause dry mouth and dehydration. They only remove the watery fluid FROM the thick mucus which then still remains, making it even more sticky, thick, and very difficult to navigate. This can cause more vocal fold friction, swelling, and vocal fatigue. Yuck. Healthy mucus production is necessary and protective of vocal function and lubrication as long as it is thin and fluid and not thick.
•    Never try a medication for the first time on a performance day.  Plan a trial period to observe your own individual response, and then adjust the dosage if necessary or discontinue if appropriate.
•    If you have an “emergency” where there is no trial period possible, you will have to evaluate the the entire context as well as the relative importance of the performance versus the risk of vocal injury.  Singing demanding music with a pre-nodular swelling, inflammation, or an upper respiratory infection, for instance, can cause serious vocal fold injury that may not heal for weeks or months.
•    “As natural as possible” is always best. Full stop.

•    Avoid foods which create acid indigestion. For some people this is coffee, tea, citrus, chocolate, hot spices, tomato products, or any food which you note causes digestive and acidic indigestion.
•    Certain foods have been know to cause reflux laryngitis, inflammation, and swelling of the arytenoid muscosa and posterior vocal folds. It is very personal body to body so take note of your own body’s responses.
•    Many people also have dairy and/or wheat intolerance causing indigestion (especially since the advent of excessive use of GMO’s, hormones, preservatives, pesticides, and toxic fertilizer which is a whole other post of terrifying what-is-happening-to-food but I digress). Avoid them.
•    In addition, be sure not to eat or drink anything two-three hours before bedtime. You will find that your reflux and your sleep both improve dramatically.
•    It is much better to solve this without medication since all medications have side effects such as dehydration.
•    Know yourself.  Know what foods cause this response, which can vary a lot from person to person. 


•    Don’t sing while flying on an airplane, and keep your talking to a minimum. The background noise is 30 to 60 decibels. It is  an extremely loud environment.You will absolutely fatigue your voice speaking over the noise!
•    The humidity on an airplane might drop as low as 3%—drink one glass of water per hour on the plane, and do everything to avoid singing the same day you fly.
•    Go straight to the hotel after getting off the plane and take a 20-minute steam shower.
•    Call ahead to hotel and ask concierge put a vaporizer in your room so it’s running when you arrive. Most of them have them for guest use , you just have to ask ahead!
•    If they do not, BYO vaporizers. I know I know. It seems bulky, but it is so worth it. Warm or cool mist-at hotels where the recycled air is also very dry.
•    Use only plain water in your vaporizer – no additives or fragrances.
•    Always use saline nasal spray or your a travel Neti Pot to keep membranes moist.
•    If your hotel has a steam room— use it!


•    Vocal fatigue requires vocal rest and sleep.  Noooooot complicated.

Read More:

Part 1: Protection
Part 2: Maintenance

02 June, 2017

"Let Love In" from After Anatevka in Concert

Ron Raines
"Let Love In" by Matthew Sklar and Amanda Green

Based on Alexandra Silber's AFTER ANATEVKA from Pegasus Books

Read by John Cullum and sung by Ron Raines (Chekhov)

at Symphony Space, NYC,


Chapter 29, The Man in the Bar

    Perchik had always been driven by other forces, just as he had in the winter of 1903 when he stumbled into Moscow before he ever met Hodel.

    University was not the dreamworld Perchik had imagined, and thus, he had unceremoniously found himself to be expelled. The crash of his fantasy destroyed him. He felt at times as if it were a death fight between his ideals and the truth of the world. The people of academia were no less disappointing, no less competitive, duplicitous, judgmental, or small-minded. It was only their vocabularies and the landscape that differed. The world belonged to his horrible uncle, and to every man like him.
    What was the point of modesty? To hell with brilliance, Perchik thought, clutching his head harder still. This so-called gift had kept Perchik from everything he had ever desired in his life.

    He had boarded a train, awoke along the outskirts of Moscow, and stumbled into a bar as fetid as his spirit where he was now committed to stupefying himself into oblivion.

    So bitter was the wind outside that all inhabitants of the bar felt its sting as it whipped the ragged glass panes in the walls of the basement locale. The skins of the prostitutes were pimpled with chill; their still, predatory gaze only faintly unsettled.
    In an abrupt swirl of wind, a man entered, shivering as he made his way to the bar—a cough from the depths of his lungs rang out as he moved toward the stool beside Perchik. The man sighed, eyes watering, and hands with ink-stained fingers began clearing the cough-induced tears away from beneath the wire rims of his round spectacles. As he gained composure he brushed snow sharply off his long black coat, which hung loosely over his suit.
    Perchik lifted his eyes. Light streamed down through the windows from the bustling street above, casting a kind of celestial glow behind the man as he settled. When the drinks arrived he raised his in inquiry. “What brings you here tonight, comrade?”
John Cullum
    “Comrade?” the stranger stated with recognition. “All the young people in the cities are using that word nowadays!” He laughed, nestling down farther into his long coat. “Ah, thank you for the drink, comrade.” He smiled. Perchik lifted his glass to the stranger and nodded before downing its contents in a single quaff.
    “Love,” the stranger answered.
    “What brings me here tonight? Love. For every reason that is good and bad, love always seems to bring me to the bar!” He threw his head back and laughed, then smoothed his beard and adjusted the frames on his face. “I love this city; I love a woman in this city. What about you, comrade? What do you love?”
    “The vodka, of course,” Perchik lied.  “Tell me about your love.”
    The man’s gaze shifted from his ink-stained hands to the dancing lamps along the peeling walls.
    “Well, I am no great lover, my friend. I have come to Moscow with a love letter of sorts, hoping I will see its potential realized.”
    “A girl!”
    “No—a real woman of such culture and refinement. She speaks several languages, plays piano. I have, thus far, loved her only through letters—which is how I know she is also a wonderful writer.” His eyes glimmered.
    “I see,” replied Perchik, though he did not.
    “I did not love her at first, you know; it took time.  The feeling was foreign to me, but now, two years later, I cannot help myself! Better late than never, eh, comrade?” He laughed. “Would you believe I used to be a confirmed bachelor?”
    “Ah, my friend.” Perchik chuckled wryly, eyeing the vultures in the corner. “I’m afraid I know all too well about that.”
    “Indeed—as any good young man should. Well, I’ve had many professions in my life. But one role I never expected to play was the romantic lead. I’ve searched all my life for meaningful work. But I have found that love—for a cause, for an art, for another living soul—is purpose enough. I’m so pleased to have discovered that at long last. The heart, you see, is a muscle; if you make no use of it, it atrophies. And I would know,” he finished, smiling broadly. “I’m a doctor.” 

31 May, 2017

‘The Journey’ by Mary Oliver

‘THE JOURNEY’ by Mary Oliver
from New and Selected Poems, Volume 2

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

©Emma Mead

29 May, 2017

The Death Bed

(7 weeks on)

A week or so after the incident with the cat Grey headed home for Thanksgiving, slated to return to his creative den as soon as possible to continue work on his model for NIDA[1] .

Left alone to our own devices, Kent suggested it might be time to start thinking about changing The Death Room— to look forward.

    “A new bed, for sure” he said, “perhaps some paint, a little classic Cath-ay DIY?”
    “Great idea” Mom said, and three hours later, Kent and I returned from grocery shopping to find that mom has discovered beautiful solid hardwood floors beneath the early 90s carpet, ripped all of it up, rolled it up and taken it out to the curb. By the time we got back she was already hard at work on the hallway, breathless, sweating and determined. All of this served to reaffirm a notion I already knew about Mom: once you put an idea in her head— there’s no stopping her...[2]

The three of us spent the remainder of the night ripping up that hideous death-beige carpet and hauling it out to the curb with the bathwater. By 3am we had disposed of the detritus of our former life upon the lips of our lawn filled with an odd sense of higher purpose— we were not scavengers rummaging through the ruins of a fallen city. We were excavators! Like Heinrich Schliemann! Below the carpets lay new, undiscovered Troys and we would be the team to peel away the rubble, reveal the past and simultaneously, the future, just like the anthropologists of yore![3]

When we woke the following morning, the artifacts were gone— taken to the same unnameable place all life’s mysteries disappear to.

But we were not empty, we were lighter somehow.

The top floor of 1367 had been stripped bare to make room for new life, and we dressed that morning with a purpose— we were going to buy a new bed.


Art Van on Woodward at 14 Mile was the first and only thought that sprang to mind. It was constantly blaring its name on radio and local television commercials, and besides, it was on the same strip of Woodward as Dairy Deluxe, which gave it street-cred, not to mention 0% financing til 2004... Word.

Art Van as it would turn out, was above a Mercedes dealership, to be entered by sky-scraping escalator which crested onto a cavernous warehouse of fluorescently lit sofas, dinettes, media stations and bed frames (ostensibly, a well-furnished piranha tank).

Mom, Kent and I were each splayed—snow angel style—on a series of mattresses,
     gazing upward at the humming lights.
No, this was not a party at Elton John’s house— this was Art Van.

    “Too firm over here—” Kent called out.
    “S’okay. A bit squishy.”
    “I’m on one of those individual coil ones over here,” Mom said, “the one from that commercial with the glass of wine and the bowling ball.”
    “Oh yeah!”
    “How is it?”
    “It’s great. It’s just right," she pronounced, “It’s a Sealy...

Just then Mort, a start middle-aged gentleman whose comb over, jacket, smile, and every gesture indicated that he was an Art Van salesman, leaned over into my vision, blocking my view of the fluorescent lights like a malevolent dentist, and, hands clasped behind his back, chimed,
    “Anything I can do for you?”
He smiled a slow motion smile like a cartoon drawing from the 80s.
Nobody moved.

    “We were just waiting for our porridge to cool” I said.

Mort’s smile was as frozen upon his face as our extremities were to the mattresses, only our eyes shifted, locking on him.

    “We’ll take this one” Mom said.

Throw in three bowls of porridge and a blonde girl and we’d have had ourselves a fairy tale ending.

   “Excellent” said Mort, straightening upward, eying us still. “You’re certain of the Queen?”
    “No doubt about the Queen” Kent smiled at Mom. Plus downsizing from the King-sized Death Bed felt right.
    “And we’ll take this frame” said Mom, “I like it— it looks like a sleigh.”

It did—a chestnut, caramel-stained Queen-sized sleigh.

    “I’ll draw up the papers” said Mort, as he turned on his tiny feet, hands still behind his back.

As Mort trotted away, comb-over blinding us, we turned to Mom, who was deep in thought.
    “A new bed…” I said.
    “Yes” she said, running her hand along the hip of the frame.
    “Happy?” Kent asked in a low voice.

Mom thought a moment before answering. Of course she was not happy, her one and only love was gone— gone almost as callously as the upstairs carpets. Our family was evil and the government unhelpful. She was lost, abandoned once again, and living in Detroit with a gaggle of equally lost teenagers. It all crossed her mind, you could see it in her face, and in the thoughtful hand still caressing the chestnut bed frame.

At last the hand stopped, Mom paused and clutched the wood, felt its solid weight. She focused on the bed—her brand new Queen sized chestnut sleigh bed, with thick orthopedic mattress, box spring and 20% Thanksgiving discount, all fit for a Queen.

    “Happy...” she said.

This was a step.
A Baby Step, as Bob would say,
     toward the next stage of our new life,
and that made her happy. 
That fact.

[1] The National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia
[2] do not get between my mother and a power tool
[3] There was also an element of peeling off the used layer of a lint roller… But I’ll stick with Trojan excavation metaphor for now. However grand.

26 May, 2017

#LoveList - Stuff I Love (& actually use) - LIFESTYLE

1.  THINX -  @shethinx

Now don’t freak out: but menstruation has long been a taboo subject in society, yet, it is one of the oldest and most natural things in the history of the world. Long has “the period” been the butt of terrible jokes, totally normal hormonal fluctuations blamed for totally unreasonable female insanity, and the very practical, natural, and totally universal ins and outs of the PERIOD approached with disgust, embarrassment and taboo.

No longer. Not according to Thinx.

I won’t go on, but I will say: it is high time we all get over it and recognize that everybody poops, and half the world gets their period.

Thinx is a Brooklyn based company that is run by silly and ferociously intelligent ladies whom I have never met, but hope to because I own very single one of their products and ain’t shuttin' up about how much I love their mission statement, green vision, and taboo-bursting, general badassery.

Here is what their (super cute) website says:
We're guessin' you heard about THINX through the grapevine (Grapefruit vine? had to).
The humans behind THINX are smart and funny and a little bit silly (okay, a lot silly).
But we've been hard at work breaking the period taboo since January 2014. But our story starts like, way way back. (Three friends) + (some gnarly period accidents) + (100 million girls missing school just b/c of their periods) + (3.5 years of R&D) + (like, 30 badass team members) = the THINX you know and love and bleed into today.
We're givin' back across the globe with THINX Foundation (who run the world?! GIRLS). Join the revolution at thinx.org!

2.  URBAN EARS - @Urbanears

These headphones are not only comfortable, loaded with personality, and brightly colored (I own three pairs— seriously), but there is something about the brand: Urban ears possesses a profound understanding of how headphones are used, worn and WHY.

Urbanears is a collective based out of Scandinavia, motivated by a common interest in global relationships, a deeper connection to color, form and people, all while providing the freedom to transcend individuality and unify the sound *experience.*

In their words:
Our vision is to add a number of elements to the concept of performance. Beyond the obvious sound rendition we have a vision of making headphones that feel more like clothes than chromed plastics. We design headphones with respect to what they are expected to be, but with great attention to the details. An Urbanears headphone is always describable as a classic headphone, rather than a bold design statement redefining the product category. We spend much time making our headphones affordable. Still we want each product to always come with a little extra functionality you wouldn’t expect. And deliver great audio as well as ergonomics. Equally important, we work hard at making Urbanears available in a store near you. The evolution of music formats has allowed you to carry your full collection in the pocket. Music has migrated from designated players into cell phones. It just seems stupid not to add a microphone and a remote, allowing you to pick up calls and communicate. We try to make your Urbanears function with the most possible devices out there.

Quality. Color. Affordability. I’m sold time and time again. From Lemon to Red to Cobalt.

3.  MOLESKINE - @moleskine

THE LEGENDARY NOTEBOOK! I have been using Moleskin journals (and weekly planners, for that matter!) literally my entire adult life. Every time I branch out to another brand of notebook, I feel like I am cheating on my spouse, and I long to return to the ever-so-perfect weight, paper density, perfect proportions, line-width (or, on occasion, grid-size), and colors (my favorite being red).

“It all started many years ago, with a pocket-sized black object, the product of a great tradition. The Moleskine notebook is, in fact, the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin.

A simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page-holder, and an internal expandable pocket: a nameless object with a spare perfection all its own, produced for over a century by a small French bookbinder that supplied the stationery shops of Paris, where the artistic and literary avant-gardes of the world browsed and bought them. A trusted and handy travel companion, the notebook held invaluable sketches, notes, stories, and ideas that would one day become famous paintings or the pages of beloved books.

In 1997, a small Milanese publisher brought the legendary notebook back to life, and selected this name with a literary pedigree to revive an extraordinary tradition. Following in Chatwin's footsteps, Moleskine notebooks have resumed their travels, providing an indispensable counterpart to the new and portable technology of today. Capturing reality in movement, glimpsing and recording details, inscribing the unique nature of experience on paper: the Moleskine notebook becomes a battery that stores ideas and feelings, releasing its energy over time.”
My moleskin has accompanied me from San Francisco to Glasgow to The Isle of Olkohn in Siberia (literally), and has ever let me down as my constant companion and vessel for my every thought, idea, whim, doodle and ventilation.


Investing (and not really even that much actual money, might I add) in air filters has been the single best addition to my healthcare regime in the last year, and after truly exhaustive research (also on the part of internet wizard MamaSilbs thankyouverymuch), this model rose to tippy top and has never let me down. I own three in my (very) large one bedroom apartment in Astoria— living room, bedroom and kitchen— covering the gamut of my entire living space.

Last year my doctor quite wisely pointed out that we fight inflammatory triggers not on a daily, but on a minute-by-minute basis, and turning on an air filter removes a huge part of that! If your body doesn’t have to fight air pollution in your home (where most people spend the majority of their lives, particularly the multiple hours they spend sleeping), then your body can use its resources to fight the more vital triggers such as disease! Why make your body work any harder than it has to when all you have to do is plug something in? No brainer.

Why GERMGAURDIAN (which sounds like a Transformer, amiright?)

Well because it has the following sexy attributes: a Pet Pure True HEPA Filter, a UV-C Sanitizer, an Allergen and Odor Reduction system (which works, my downstairs neighbors smokes like a chimney and I don’t breathe a whiff of it!), 5 speeds (including an ultra-quiet sleep mode), and a 28-Inch Digital Air Purifier.

Their words:
"The 3-in-1 Air Cleaning System is perfect for allergy sufferers. True HEPA captures 99.97% of allergens including pet dander, dust mites and pollen. The Pet Pure is an antimicrobial agent added to the filter to inhibit the growth of mold, mildew and odor-causing bacteria on the surface of the filter. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, doctors recommend HEPA air filtration to reduce exposure to indoor asthma triggers. More than just a filter, the UV-C light kills germs, while the charcoal filter captures odors. CADR Rated 125+ and standing 28 inches tall, it is lightweight and ideal to use in both medium to large rooms. The easy to use digital display panel includes UV-C control, a filter change indicator and an up to 8 hour timer. 5 speeds provide high speed allergen control down to ultra-quiet sleep mode."

Best money you will ever spend.

5.  LE PEN
The (currently MOST unfortunately named —because of the racist xenophobic French political Marine LePen naturellement) LePen pens have a smooth-writing, micro-fine plastic point and a sleek barrel design. The ink is acid free and non-toxic. Available in a bazillion fun colors (including some new Neon ones!).  Also really love that the ink colors actually match barrel colors.

They are travel-able, long-lasting, acid free, non-toxic, and smudge-proof. They are perfect for journaling (my favorite), letter-writing, business forms, notebooks, diaries, memo pads, yearbooks, and scrapbooks. I use them in my Moleskin... To write about my feelings, ideas and Tati and Angela Lansbury of course. Because I am nothing if not both obsessive, loyal, and consistent. 

24 May, 2017

Seeing the final book for the very first time...

The final hardback copy of AFTER ANATEVKA arrived today from Pegasus Books.

Dear Hard-working dreamers everywhere,

Dreams come true.

Keep dreaming.

Don't wait for permission.

Work Hard.

Above all?

...Keep going. 


22 May, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 2: MAINTENANCE

Dear Al,

Yay! Healthy vocal cords!
Once you get the hang of protecting your vocal health, and actively preventing disease, how do you go about maintaining that quality of health day to day? 

Thank you!



Dear Max,

Such a terrific question!

Norman Hogikyan and his colleagues at the University of Michigan Health System state quite rightly that "Your voice is your ambassador to the outside world. It portrays your personality and emotions. People make assessments about you based on your voice, so it is very important when you're speaking or singing to think about what people are really hearing. Problems with your voice also can have a tremendous impact on your life."

Protection / prevention and maintenance are healthy cousins, different but related, but both lead to the same goal. So let's keep learning!

Also, I want to be clear: I mention a few specific brands in this post. Know that I am not sponsored by any of them! The products I mention and link are genuinely what I use and believe in!
Good health to you, and happy singing,




•    Rest, moisture, and muscle tone are the three key ingredients to good vocal health.
•    Remember always: your singing voice is an extension of your speaking voice.
•    If you abuse your voice speaking, your singing will naturally, be negatively affected. Never yell or scream in conversation, especially in dry climates.
•    In the same spirit of prevention, maintenance requires you to get a lot of sleep, drink plenty of water, and participate in exercise.
•    Going in and out of changing climates (cold/dry/warm) irritates vocal cords—always be prepared.
•    Smoke is the biggest enemy. Aside from all the obvious health issues associated with smoking, it immediately dries and irritates the throat. Talking while smoking is exceptionally damaging.
•    Alcohol dries the throat. It is a major enemy to the singing voice.
•    Caffeine is a drying agent. Avoid it or limit your intake.
•    It is in your best interest to have an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Doctor that you trust and believe in. They will be able to guide you through your personal journey of vocal health, scope you when necessary to judge levels of inflammation, possible damage and make informed suggestions to help you plan ahead and stay on top of your health. Just like any medical situation, it is always preferable to have a doctor you trust before you are in crisis, not when you are. Ask around, meet a few, and never stay with a professional that doesn't make you feel 100% at ease.

•      Circulation is a very important health consideration for singing, especially in the morning. Doing some light aerobic exercises (and supplementing it by drinking plenty of water) will hugely help if you have to sing early in the day.
•      The human body is all about flow, and singing and speaking are no different. Blood and fluids must FLOW to the throat. 
•      Too much coffee and tea can not only dry you out but can also make you a little anxious. 
•      Be sure to check THOROUGHLY the side effects of any and all medications that you take (including over the counter medications and herbal supplements).

•    Moisture is the key to maintaining healthy vocal cords.
•    Drink adequate water intermittently all day. 
•    Use a vaporizer when living in dry climates, every day.
•    Place a vaporizer about two feet away from your head when you sleep.
•    And, don’t put and fragrances or additives in the vaporizer- never eucalyptus – which dry out the voice.
•    Cool mist vaporizer is better than hot mist because it does not promote bacteria growth.
•    I could not recommend using a Neti Pot more. I use mine twice a day to lubricate, cleanse, naturally clear my sinus passages (which are prone to infection). Follow all the instructions carefully and know that it can take a few trys to get your system down, but it is worth it! It has been a game-changer for my overall health, not just my singing. To quote the Himalayan Institute's website:
a Neti pot
"The Neti Pot naturally cleanses, refreshes, and protects the nasal passages, one of our body’s first lines of defense against illness. Recommended today by doctors and pharmacists worldwide, the Neti Pot™ has been used for thousands of years in ayurvedic medicine to alleviate sinus and allergy problems."

•    Drink plain water to keep your vocal cords moist (the cords need to be hydrated from absorption through your system, and there is nothing that replaces consuming a lot of water!)
•    Sip water on breaks when singing.
•    Water dilutes and flushes mucous in the throat, so it will prevent immediate “garbage” build-up on the vocal cords.

•    For a dry throat, use glycerin based lozenges such as Grether’s Black Currant Pastilles, Pine Brothers Honey, or my favorite of all products: the Olbas pastille. 

•    When we drink water it doesn’t ACTUALLY pass over our vocal folds (if it did we would choke) and when we drink it, the moisture benefits do not actually get to your vocal cords for quite a while because our body needs time to absorb it.
•    Therefore, steaming is the best, most-direct, and most efficient way to get direct hydration to your vocal cords ASAP. As you breathe in the steam the moisture will reach your vocal cords and help to re-hydrate, soothe them, help reduce pain and swelling in over-used chords, and generally help to improve the condition of your voice.
•    The most efficient way to steam is with a steam inhaler (every singer owns a steamer—or two!), you can get them either very inexpensively or more expensively, depending on the model, available online or at a pharmacy. For an investment purchase I love MyPureMist and the very simple Vicks steamer is my dressing room go-to. 
•    When you steam you don’t want to use boiling water, you want it just off the boil.
•    Make sure to create a good seal with the steam inhaler with your mouth to ensure you inhale as much steam as possible.
•    Be sure not to add any oils or menthol/eucalyptus to the water as this can aggravate the voice.
•    Some say not to whisper for at least 20 minutes after, I recommend light humming after steaming to encourage the voice’s elasticity.
•    Steam showers and steam rooms help, and,
•    you can easily boil a pot of water, remain at a safe distance and sometimes utilize a towel over your head to contain the vapors. Breathe the vapors by coming over it slowly and carefully to make sure you are not close enough to burn. (Old school methods work just fine!)
•    Always remember you are working with very hot water! Just. Guys: don't be that person in the emergency room...


19 May, 2017

"The Stillness of the Office" from After Anatevka in Concert

Jessica Fontana and Ellie Fishman
"The Stillness of the Office" from AFTER ANATEVKA IN CONCERT at Symphony Space, 2017 based on and read by AFTER ANATEVKA by ALEXANDRA SILBER from Pegasus Books

Music by Juilanne Wick Davis, lyrics by Maggie-Kate Coleman

Performed by Jessica Fontana (Hodel) and Ellie Fishman (Irina)


Chapter 37: Gone

     Hodel used to find The Gentleman’s office quite peaceful in its near silence—the imposing regulation clock with its harsh utilitarian angles, audibly ticking as if it echoed the sonorous heartbeats of the hutch’s inhabitants. But tonight, as she and Irina worked side by side, the quiet unnerved her. Everything was stillness but for the etching of the fountain pens, the gentle thud of books as they were stacked. A flutter of papers, a drawer closed, a breath. Tonight, the din felt constant. The air was taut with it. Only the drained color in Irina’s face indicated the fretting of her mind; every other gesture maintained her customary efficiency.

THE GENTLEMAN: Irina, the Irkutsk export files, please.  
IRINA: Yes, sir

     Hodel watched the scene as if she were watching it from very far away. She observed The Gentleman in all his flawless machinations: the compulsive starch of his shirts, the shining shirt buttons, the blinding polish of his boots.

[The Gentleman’s voice brings them back to the work at hand:]

THE GENTLEMAN: Hodel—my inkwell is low. Fetch replacement and do be quick about it.
HODEL: Of course, sir.

     [Irina held a bundle of letters, hiding them from view. As the Gentleman left the main office, she thrusts them at Hodel.]

HODEL: I do not work for or with my husband. I know nothing about—
IRINA: They are not for him. They are for you. Letters from your family, Hodel. I thought it time you had them.
IRINA: Officers often intercept personal post—I found them a while back, in the storeroom in the post office. I saw they were addressed to you, so I set them aside. I could have given them to you earlier, but...one never knows how one feels about their family. Especially when one is interred.
HODEL: Thank you. 

16 May, 2017

Adult-ing: Part 5

21. Limit your exposure to toxic, unhelpful and un-supportive people.
    In Robert Greene’s The 48 Law of Power,  Law #10 states “Avoid the unhappy and unlucky:”
There is are, of course, caveats, but first read Greene’s word:
    “You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.”
    Human behavior is very infectious, and on the opposite end of negative, miserly and miserable-by-choice people, are those people who attract happiness through their outlook, good cheer, natural buoyancy. They are not only a source of pleasure, but associating with them is to share in the prosperity they draw upon themselves. All positive qualities can infect us, but taking advantage of the emotional side of this osmosis is an active choice.
     Now, this is not a permission slip to be a jerk! There are people out there who genuinely need our help, support, and guidance; a shoulder to cry on, or sometimes very serious professional help. Some of these people are the people we love and cherish the most, and often cannot be avoided.
    But I believe the principal here is to limit how much we allow, permit, and sometimes even enable their negativity and toxicity to be “dumped” upon on, and when to self-protect, delegate, and offer suggestions for better helping options.  Taking on other people’s toxic garbage is not only the opposite of genuine empathy, it can make the “dumpee” anxious, stressed, negative, and sometimes (and this has happened to me!) physically sick. We are no good to anyone on this planet if we are constantly fighting to energetically get back on top.
Which brings me to…

22.  Just like on the airplane with the oxygen mask— take care of yourself before assisting others.
    Self-Care is not only not self-ISH, it is vital and necessary to living a full and rewarding life. You’ve been there: you are on the airplane, and the flight attendant goes through the motions of the safety procedures, instructing you to always put your oxygen mask on first, before assisting others.  Why is this an important rule for ensuring survival?  Because if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else. You no good to anybody IF YOU ARE PASSED OUT DEAD GURL.
    This is an important metaphor for those of you who run around taking care of everything and everyone else except yourself. It is not altruistic or noble, it is a false sense of “busy” substituting for “important meaning.” At a certain point, self-sacrifice can become self-indulgent.
    People have deep problems with self-care—believe me, 2 years ago I was one of them— now I have the zeal of the converted! And I have been infinitely better able to offer the world my gifts because of it!
    If you don’t take care of yourself, you can experience burnout, stress, fatigue, reduced mental effectiveness, health problems, anxiety, frustration, and total inability to sleep.

23. Don’t Shoot the “Second Arrow”
The Buddhists say that any time we suffer misfortune, two arrows fly our way.
The first arrow, the pain, is the actual bad event.
The second arrow, the suffering, is our reaction to the bad event, the way we chose to respond emotionally.

It looks like this inside our heads:
    Arrow #1:  “I am crying"

The first arrow often is unavoidable.
The second arrow often is self-inflicted.
The "second arrow" isn't actually helpful-- it is full of our judgements about our thoughts and feelings and prevents us from
    1. truly feeling them or
    2. learning anything from those feelings.

One does not avoid the second arrow by denial, but by being fully present, acknowledging and truly (and I mean actually not faking it) experiencing the difficult emotion, maybe even befriending it? Then allowing it to crest and ebb like a wave. Avoiding blaming yourself for having emotions/the second arrow requires some toughies: self-love, acceptance, emotional vigilance and a healthy dose of self-awareness. The best antidote to the second arrow is self-awareness, self-permission to BE A PERSON, stop punishing, judging, and wallowing,
Then? Simply make the gentle correction.

And example of giving yourself permission:
    “Wow. My boss was genuinely disrespectful to me in that meeting and I feel humiliated and ashamed. His behavior might not have been about me, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. I am reacting appropriately to this situation. I will experience my humiliating feelings, maybe cry, primal scream or hit a pillow, and then I will move on an address the behavior from a place of peace. But there is noting wrong with my very human, emotional response.

Or, the drama school version:

    “That feeling drained and thoughtful after an emotional acting class is a totally appropriate response to unpacking big, personal and emotional subjects through my art. That we should allow these feelings to just exist instead of beating ourselves up about it. If we cry in later in ballet class or at dinner—then so be it. No biggie! We’ve never done this before, we’re in theatre school this is how it goes!

When the pain comes to mind, acknowledge it in its fullness, embrace it. But then bid it adieu and move on with your day.  What you truly accept, without over-thinking, will eventually dissipate of its own accord.  It’s like really allowing a massage therapist to get into your muscle tension without fighting them. Deep breaths, working with them, through the pain, not against it.  Time does heal many wounds if only we allow, and do not continually re-open the wound with anger or resentment or guilt or other dysfunctional “coping” mechanisms brought on by a sea of Second Arrows.

Pain is certain, suffering is optional.” – Buddha

There is a huge distinction between
    PAIN - an affliction
    our SUFFERING from pain— how we experience of pain.
Pain is often inevitable, but the suffering is a choice. Our choices and energy around our pain can discomfit, frustrate or agonize us.

Don’t do that.
Make a different choice.
Don’t shoot the second arrow.
Why get hurt twice?

24. “Act 3.”
Years ago, my very first leading lady, West End star and dear friend Ruthie Henshall taught me all about “Act 3.” What she believes is that the stage door experience is a vital and important part of being gracious with the fans courageous enough to meet you face to face, and express their appreciation and gratitude for your work. You’ve done Acts 1 and 2, this is Act 3. When it is complete, you can fully relax and head home.

Her use of the term “Act 3” provides an interesting and important boundary however— the concept being that it is PART of the work. You are not being fake, dishonest or disingenuous, but what is being provided in those personal but work based situations is not the full 100% of you that you would offer your intimate friends and family. There is a difference between being friend-LY and being friends. For me, I call this person Alexandra Silber” — she is me! In a slightly fancier outfit! Just a very narrow percentage of the Me Pie Chart—she is who you meet at stage door and on a red carpet. “AL” — there vulnerable Al, is reserved for my intimate people, those who truly have seen and held my inner world. And the people on that list is actually very small. All people can experience us as authentic and genuine, but not everyone needs our full shame story, or has earned our intimacy.

It is important to maintain a healthy boundary in all of life’s “Act 3” moments, and I encourage you to identify and stand up for them.

25.  Moisturize
— and don’t forget your neck.
You’re later-in-life mug will really thank me. Trust.

Adult-ing - Part 1
Adult-ing - Part 2
Adult-ing - Part 3
Adult-ing - Part 4

12 May, 2017

Ask Al: Vocal Health Part 1: PROTECTION

Dear Al,

I am a young singer studying vocal performance. I am constantly having vocal issues navigating everything from allergies to phlegm, to hoarseness and dryness, and of course, the subsequent tension and unhealthy compositions that come with it!

How do you keep your voice safe?




Dear Natalia,

A fantastic question! And a wonderful opportunity for me to record my top tips!

Below is as comprehensive a list of remedies, exercises and solutions I have come up with, but first a few thoughts on general vocal health. 

I will focus this post (Part of one of the Vocal Health 'Ask Al' series) on the concept of Protecting one's Vocal Health (Part 2 will be Maintenance, Part 3, Healing) .

The difference between protection/prevention and maintenance isn’t always crystal clear, but the main point is to marry healthy prevention-focused behavior like avoiding not talking or yelling too much, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated, with maintenance-based thinking like avoiding inflammatory foods and good vocal practice habits. There is a Venn-diagram of behaviors that are common sense, but I try to break them down and be almost overly specific here.

I hope it helps!



* * *


People who use their voices professionally as singers, musicians, teachers, public speaker and actors are susceptible to numerous vocal disorders. Vocal health is important for everyone, and thinking long-term is absolutely essential to lifelong health and success. So many vocal disorders and conditions are preventable and/or treatable, and learning how our day-to-day decisions impact our vocal health, both now and in the future can be the difference between a lifelong joy and a lifelong struggle.

When we are young, we often don’t “need” to stretch before we exercise, but we feel the lack of good habits as we age. Start those healthy habits early in your life, and they will become second nature. Prevention is better than any cure.

•      Remember that rehearsing and performing speech and music is incredibly physically demanding. Never over-exert.
•      Sufficient warm-up time is important. Know what works for you.
•      Begin warming up mid-range, and then slowly work outward to your vocal pitch extremes.
•      When working on said extremes, know that correct coordination is always preferable to perfect “result.” If you have good coordination and technique, the results will likely fall into place eventually. There is no need to strain or deliver when warming up. This is after all, the warm up, not the work out.
•      Good posture, adequate breath support, and correct physical technique are essential.
•      Regular breaks during practice and rehearsal are vital in order to prevent undue physical or vocal stress and strain.
•      Constantly hydrate.
•      It is important to set a reasonable limit on the amount of time that you will practice in a day.
•      Avoid sudden increases in practice times.
•      Know your voice and its limits, and avoid overdoing it or misusing it.

•      Maintain all practical healthy habits. Safeguard your physical and mental health.
•      Drink plenty of water in order to keep your vocal folds adequately lubricated. Limit your use of alcohol, and (obviously) avoid smoking.
•     Avoid shouting, screaming, or other strenuous vocal use.
•      The right team is important from coach (repertoire expert), teacher (technique expert), and medical professionals (ENT). If you are concerned about your vocal health in relationship to any of the above, discreetly consult the appropriate contact person and address the issue quickly and responsibly. There is no need to remain with someone who does not serve your ultimate best interests. Use your judgement and follow your intuition.
•      If you are concerned about your personal vocal health, talk with a medical professional.

•      Healthy proteins that are hopefully organic can include lean poultry, fish, meat (not necessary), legumes, beans, with brown rice or quinoa combined with greens and favorable vegetables.  All of these will provide stamina and sustained energy for performance and maintain stable blood sugar levels. 
•      Low blood sugar and the resulting drowsy fatigue is caused most often by white foods, especially refined sugars, flours, breads, white rice, potatoes, corn, or any high-glycemic indexed foods, including sugary cereal, oatmeal, honey, bananas, etc.
•      Every human body has different needs, I myself am a Paleo eater, but it is vital to marshal your own needs and be self-aware about what works best for YOUR body and no one else’s. Once you figure out the best “fuel for your machine,” be vigilant about maintaining it. 
•      For some people, avoiding dairy products helps significantly.  Others are bothered by various foods before singing which can cause reflux and throat congestion. The trick is to calmly observe and know what affects you and to become aware of the relationship you have with diet, sleep, exercise, and even things such as fresh paint, chemicals, fabric dyes,  preservatives, additives, hormones, food coloring, air-conditioners or heaters, dust, eating late at night, pollen, air pollution, etc.

•      We all get run down, and singers are the first to get colds in the chest, ear, nose and throat. I have benefitted hugely from the use of Zinc, as well as Airborne and also Wellness Formula available at most pharmacies and online. These should be used as soon as you experience symptoms of a cold or a sore throat, or prophylactically if there is a risk of being exposed to a myriad of new germs (such as on an airplane, subway, or with children). 

Happy Vocal Health!

Read More (coming soon!):
     Part 2: Maintenance
     Part 3: Healing


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