I am just typing. In my mind, I am not telling a story anymore. I mean, I guess I am, but I am not aiming to tell any particular tale. Everyone asks if I am singing again. People ask for more blogs. I will write. We’ll take it day by day. I’ll open up the COMMENTS feature so I can hear from you too. I want to know who you are and what matters to you.
It is mid-July, no wait, it is July ummmmm….July 22.
2013. The month of June was spent in silence. The zen of that silence was interrupted once when my manager called and said I had an audition for a film and a meeting with Francis Ford Coppola. He said that Mr. Coppola understood I was on voice rest. Imagine that! So, yes, I showed up mute. Crazy, but wonderful. He was terrific company and accepted our interview with grace and humor. He is putting together an Italian-American cast for a new film. I had a long interview with him and never spoke a word, but we discussed Italian-American families, my immigrant grandparents and our lives. I showed him some family photos taken in the 1930s. When we were wrapping up, he said this was “…enchanting” and “… terrific, strange, and so RELAXING” – probably noting how much we all fill our conversations with noise and empty words. We had had a really lovely conversation and took our time to talk and write notes and get a sense of each other. As he continues a long process of developing the script, he said we may meet again. Needless to say, it was an adventure and an honor.
The silence did end. Everyone asks me: what were your first words after 106 days? I’d like to say I had something deep to say. I merely remember saying to my doctor “are you sure?” and then just experiencing the release. The relief.
I have been retraining my voice for nearly a month already. Today, I chose to sing from Kurt Weill’s ONE TOUCH OF VENUS. We started with “That’s Him.” It felt good. The upper notes sailing along. The lyrics very much still in my mind. My middle voice where I was always so flexible and could move through what some called a passaggio… is sort of out of shape, but feels more responsive every day as I get back into condition. I can see I am relaxing more and more each day– letting go the emotions of last spring.
In the beginning, I was only allowed to speak an hour and rest an hour. On and off.
I spent the next week speaking without rest breaks. I went to a speech therapist twice a week for 30 minute sessions. I said EEEE and WOOOP. I chanted the front page of the NY Times. She said chanting was good for me, so I would “read” by making every sentence sound like the OOOM at the start of a yoga class. I had to realize that I hadn’t inhaled and exhaled for SOUND in months. I hadn’t used my voice freely, never mind my air or my body. My heart felt like it had been frozen, and in turn I had probably not moved my body much. I don’t even remember. Did I ever lift my shoulders, or twist from the waist? I didn’t bend much I know, and I surely didn’t run or exercise as all that had been forbidden. I probably could have lunged or done some splits, but instead I just froze for those months. All my muscles were now just in one position. My mind and my soul a bit too. I was trying to thaw. I was trying to open my body. Despite meaning to free up, I was told I was holding my breath. It made the voice sound strained. I needed to let go. LET GO MELISSA.
At one point, the therapist even put on rubber gloves and asked me to lie back. She pulled open my jaw. She took gauze and pulled out my tongue. She massaged my tongue. Yes, bizarre. I was shut down and she was trying to ease me out of it. She wasn’t going to let me stay trapped.
During my two next lessons, we sang a little. A LITTLE. The first lesson, I felt I sounded hesitant and stiff and I was mortified. I imagined quitting. I didn’t love music anymore. I dared not love it. I wished I had never loved it all so much. I wished it was all a dream. I was also just so terribly terribly relieved to be speaking again. To not be cut off from people. Who cares about singing from Fiorello ever again? I can talk to my friends!!!!!!!! I can listen to young friends suffer aloud over the Les Miz audition that passed them over, the peers who are dealing with their own children (is my daughter unmotivated? my husband doesn’t want our three-year old son to wear princess dresses, is he being too macho?), my parents and their flowering interests in art and classical music, my brother and his exciting life as a professor at Yale and NYU and his new baby who just learned to stand. I was reconnecting. I was able to talk and be a friend, sister, child, wife.
Would I be OK if I don’t shimmy and play Roxie in a symphony concert again? Will I be OK if I don’t get to return to Nancy in OLIVER!, or experience my dream role of Anna in the KING AND I, and…sing… all the Kurt Weill songs I am full of and haven’t had a chance to sing? Never mind SONDHEIM. I am ready for him mentally. I am growing as complex as his songs call for. I am ready. Will I restore my spirit enough to go do it? Can I mend my guts? Today, I’m not sure. Ask me in August. Ask me in September. I am just so busy being grateful that I can be a wife, mother, sister and SPEAKING friend, I just cannot WANT ANY MORE.
I am so grateful to be back to the world.
Now, I see the past with some perspective. Clara was bliss and I am so grateful for that creative experience. It was a fantasy come true. It was heaven to me. I have said this before. I am certainly not Clara anymore. I am not singing, I am not acting. As of today (July), I have no role. No show. I am not living there. I have left and gone home. I see theater as a wondrous place: delicate, expansive, joyous, dangerous and potent. I sure know I would see things differently if I had a role again. Every step of life brings you new information. I knew motherhood would alter how I approached my work, and I was right. Now, I have- again- new information. As we all do, as life unfolds. New chapters.
I have also really cherished recognizing in myself that I have so many identities, not just as an actress. So many identities rushed in during these last months– my charity, my family, my social life, my love of literature, my fascination with philosophy and spirituality, my interests in nature, in decorating, in cooking, in child development. The list goes on and on, and the list ultimately saved me.
The second vocal lesson (with Joan Lader) in which we SANG, we did scales and got me up to a high C easily. She said “I’ve heard what I need to hear.” In the hour we had, I sang about ten minutes. We talked for much of the first half, then we sang at some point, and then I spent the final ten minutes sitting on her sofa in a ball crying with relief. I, too, had heard the scales. I had seen that I wasn’t hoarse. I had been given back my voice — or was well on my way– and it was too much to bear. I had only made ten minutes of sound, and the tears were deep.
Then, my teacher had a week off for her vacation. I spent that week expecting to do vocal exercises on my own and maybe starting to work out a little. Everything gradual. Instead, the universe handed me 5 auditions!! I was exhausted by the middle of the week. To read scripts, learn lines and do my hair and makeup was a monumental effort. I was delirious with the time management it took and the planning and the courage it took to step out again into the world. AUDITIONS- this is something we can all blog about. It’s really a life experience like no other.
I took photos of some of the characters. I was out of shape at diving into things and being open-minded. I think what made me get through the week was: I just took it role by role and one audition at a time. THE APPROACH
3. Show up at the right time.
Here are the five characters put in my path:
1. TV SHOW- a woman who had a one-night stand a year ago and asks a detective to help her find him. She in embarrassed that she doesn’t know his last name or his phone number. In retrospect, she is convinced he is “The One.”
2. A PLAY- I had to portray a complex and righteous person who breaks a lot of furniture.
3. TV SHOW- a lawyer whose ex-boyfriend posted graphic nude photos of her on the internet. She had to leave her job and her fiance called off the wedding. She is now seeking revenge.
4. A mini-series for which I had to sing and portray an alcoholic piano bar singer. I was in strong voice and the character wasn’t exactly trained. I don’t sound rough. (thank goodness!?)
5. a TV sitcom- to play a (certain star)’s cranky (but friendly!!) mercenary ex-wife. I wore a blouse with roses on it and lots of jewelry. The reader of that audition didn’t know his role (he was off camera and not auditioning of course) and I felt I lost a lot of momentum at the audition because he wanted to run everything a few times so HE could get ready. I ended up doing better work when the camera wasn’t rolling yet. Live and learn! I should have asked them to record HIS rehearsal, to roll the camera while he and I played with the material and were spontaneous on Take One. Every audition has a surprise, you never know what it will be. At some of the above auditions, I waited 2 hours, saw people I knew, had to get to the appointment in the rain with no umbrella, had to sit in an un-airconditioned room before being taped in 95 degree heat. It’s always an adventure. I took it one moment at a time.
My teacher came back from her vacation. I saw her today. I spent the first 20 minutes avoiding working and I delved into a problem she was having with her filing system. I took out files, moved things out of drawers, and shifted files so she had more room for her music and I saw her visibly relax to have my organizational skills. I moved assertively and it was physical work (she had jammed things extremely tightly). I could get a job working for California Closets. Eventually, we warmed me up. Then, we sang from ONE TOUCH OF VENUS. I started with “That’s Him” and then moved to “Speak Low.” I was satisfied with the sound and glad to meet old friends again. These songs are like old friends. I have lived them for decades now and I return to them with knowledge of the (silly and lovely) goddess who spoke them. Kurt Weill writing for Marlene Dietrich but then they were ultimately sung by Mary Martin.
I love being Venus. She reminds me of my mother– who loves to flirt, double entendre, spin in chiffon… wink
I recorded the title role of ONE TOUCH OF VENUS for an upcoming CD release by Jay Records at Abbey Road Studio in London. The recording is coming out this October and I am scheduled to appear at Symphony Space on October 7th with some fantastic singers. The CD will be the first complete recording of the score in history! (In fact, I am scheduled for August 23rd to sing a few finishing touches on the recording. They had wanted me to do those touches in April but they waited for me to get well.)
At the end of my singing lesson today, I asked if we could sing a few songs from PASSION. I sang “Sunrise Letter” and the section beginning with “How could I forget you?” It felt great. I had a strong pang of loss, and I missed the whole experience. I wished it all hadn’t happened. My teacher reminded me that I was so fortunate it was all OVER. It was a controllable circumstance and I am fine. So many people have no end in sight of their misfortunes or illness. I know it. I still wish it all hadn’t happened. I wish I had stayed in PASSION and lived it through. More than anything, I wish I had been able to say goodbye. With all these mixed feelings, I sang it today. I suppose every day like this is a letting go, and I will continue to look at what life puts in my path. Like I said, I am not writing a story today. I am just marking the moment and checking in.
This week I saw the movie THE LIFE OF PI. I realized a lot about my pain which I hadn’t been able to put into words all this time. If only I had seen the film in April when I was suffering so much! I never had a chance to say GOODBYE. I felt like the boy lying on the sand wanting the tiger to look back.
From (film) “The Life Of Pi”– Adult Pi Patel: I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.
The last time I sat here at the computer, I was so confused and I was so remote. I had no voice and no way to process a great fear, a strong attachment and a great passion. I was able to create a series of chapters to preserve and try to control or catch the passing storm which was blowing me hard. I had to hold onto a tree. I had to find my way to say goodbye.
I’m not holding onto a tree anymore. I am sitting at the kitchen table in Manhattan after having taken the twins out to dinner and put them to bed easily. I read them silly bedtime stories (“George and Martha”) and caressed them with my hands and my voice. They are able to hear me and they can rest. My eldest is happy and at a tennis match with her father, watching. I have an expansive plastic car set at my feet– looks like a rainbow-colored train track- with bridges and detours I built earlier today while sitting on the wood floor racing battery-operated race cars with the kids. The house is now quiet and I remembered the day and thought I’d write it down. The heat wave in New York City eased today. A lot seems to be easing.
Have a nice evening to you all. I’ll write again in August. I’m renting a country house for the month- to reconnect with the children, to be near a turtle pond and lots of frogs, to start working out and to read a book I just bought called The Happiness Project. (Sounds like good reading, doesn’t it!?)
I am due to prepare a speech for the Broadway Blessing on September 9th. (click here for LINK) What aspects of my story do you think would be useful in my reflection? Use my COMMENTS feature which I will set up.
I hear that past speakers like Lynne Redgrave and Marian Seldes began their speeches with their childhood feelings about theater. The woman behind Broadway Blessing named Retta tells me she “… started Broadway Blessing because at the time I was writing a lot for Back Stage, which is so actor-oriented. I was thinking of their young readers and how hard it is for them starting out. I wanted to offer them hope, to create an upbeat, free evening that wasn’t about marketing or fundraising. I just wanted to give them hope.”
I like the idea of hope- for young (and older!!)– for all of us. I think we can get to something satisfying — definitely– by being ourselves. That’s my starting point. For that event, and for this blog.