Sing For Yourself and No One Else

Sing For Yourself and No one Else

Had a fantastic performance workshop with the Broadway composer Adam Guettel in June of this year. He was inspiring and VERY experienced, and reconfirmed something that I have felt for a long time, and feel evermore passionate about now. “Sing for yourself and for no one else”. What does this mean exactly?

Well, singing for me, was and still is a very personal experience. I used to sing as a kid without even knowing I was singing – I’d hum along to things, making up my own tunes, soothing myself, singing when I went out on a walk, singing whilst skipping etc. I didn’t know that this was a “thing” or that anyone would judge me for it or that it had any particular value. I just sang because I sang – similar to speaking really. Somehow along the way, this came into focus and I found myself starting to place value on how and what I sang. I remember going to a local dance school and students there were getting solos and performing songs in front of audiences. This felt like a strange concept to me – I never thought that I could sing, so much as I just did it spontaneously, I suddenly started to question the value of what I was doing, why I didn’t sound like the other girls and if I was doing something wrong. Quantifying a thing that is so personal, felt strange and unnatural. 

In this current climate of singing competitions, qualifications, grading, there is so much sectioning off, measuring, quantifying, valuing, exploiting, shaping, moulding, quaffing, messing, it’s hard to remember why you got into performing in the first place. Everyone has their reasons but there must have been some joy in it initially….

If you choose to sing in front of people or not, that joy and self expression has to have a place there. The connection firstly needs acknowledging, nurturing and forming with yourself, like a bond, like your closest friend, like delving deep into yourself. Even if you have sung the same song a million times, this can still be there. If you make this connection with yourself, I have a feeling that this connection will then be seen and felt by your audience – whoever they may be. If they like and respond to what you are doing then great, what a bonus. If they don’t, then hey, you have lost nothing. You STILL have your connection and your centre. Perhaps you could be that one constant and reliable source in a room of strangers? Perhaps, even in a pressurised audition situation, you could somehow connect with that very personal part of yourself and dare to show it? Dare to go there? It takes guts though, believe me, but what’s the worst that could happen? It would be great if we all really didn’t give a shit about what other’s felt or thought about us. I love that idea.

Nurturing Energy and the Enoughness of You!

The attraction of working in the entertainment industry and being self employed is that you never know what’s around the corner. It really isn’t like a 9 to 5 job and there is no steady wage or “clocking out” to go home at the end of the day and relax. There is an element of being constantly switched on, ready and waiting for something exciting to happen. Sometimes exciting things do happen, and it can often be when you feel at the end of your tether, and almost about to give up. At least, this is how I used to feel when I graduated drama school. Not so much now (thankfully!).

There is lots of time spent “in between” jobs in the musical theatre business. It’s these times that can either be rich, busy and full, or scary, mundane and empty, waiting for the phone to ring, your agent to call or that next big break to happen. In my experience, the next big break never really manifests like this, and even when your wildest dreams are about to come true, they never feel the same as you have imagined them to be. This is fine and nothing to feel down about. Reality is MUCH more interesting than the dream and the dream is exactly what I’ve said it is – a dream. 

Changing your view of reality and the day to day is super important. Something that feels mundane or “in the way” of you getting to where you want to go, could be an important learning curve. I found out recently that two people close to me are very ill, this has shifted my focus into the present dramatically and for anyone who has lost a friend or loved one, you will know what I mean. It’s easy to focus on straight ahead, success, the top of the mountain, but as Miley says “It’s all about the climb”. She is right I think. I know this isn’t new, but hey, the most growth happens on your way up to the top (if the top even exists) not whilst you are there staring at the view. You appreciate the view much more when you’ve had to climb to it!

The day to day can seem repetitive and unexciting at times – breakfast needs to be made, clothes need to be washed, work needs to be done, money needs to be earned. You can say, well I never trained for this! I want to play a lead in a show! Where is my success? How come she has this and he has that? These thoughts can lead to feeling frustrated, jealous and angry which can fester and amount to a big energy drain. I know, trust me! On social media it’s hard not to compare yourself with everyone else’s announcements and victories. There is ALWAYS a story behind the pictures and it is much more mundane and day to day than it seems. Being aware of your own progress and development is essential. As most of my Facebook friends know, I own my own horse. This was a dream of mine, and I felt really stupid having it initially as I could barely stay in the saddle. However, staying focused on myself, my goals, not anyone else’s and trying not to compare my apparently meagre improvements with someone jumping a 6ft fence, was not always easy. Comparing myself did nothing for my self esteem but rather made me feel inferior, rubbish and full of self doubt. Staying on target and keeping focused on what I wanted to achieve, however seemingly small, really did the trick and I am totally getting there now. 

It is great to have goals though. Goals that are healthy, achievable and realistic and goals that are going to help you to get up in the morning and get out of the house (or flat if you live in London!). Goals that will nurture your soul in some way, and give you an indication of your own progression and growth. I have found that having a hobby outside of performing and writing really helps to reset things, and gives me much needed energy to feed back into my work. I can’t be creative when I am strung out, depressed or anxious or when all my energy has been taken. I CAN be creative however, when I have nourished me and taken responsibility for giving myself energy and creating energy. I can then use that energy to put into the things that I really want to do. On a quick note, energy is not infinite, and there is a limit to what you can give. Being aware of when you are running low and in need of a top up is super important – like knowing when your car needs more petrol. With a car you have a warning light or a bleeping sound, with your body and mind you don’t get any obvious signs until you keel over onto the sofa or (in my case) have an emotional melt down! I want to ensure that I never now, get too low on energy so that I cannot function or that I end up beating myself up for not being good or strong enough. This has to stop!

Waiting for the phone to ring or for an email to arrive, is a horrible thing – be it to hear the outcome of a job, or (in my case) waiting to hear if your funding application has been successful. Waiting in general, is super draining and energy zapping. So, rather than waiting, how about using your precious and valuable time to focus on you and what you need? If you want to perform, how about getting a few songs together and performing at an open mic night or cabaret? Or how about hooking up with your friend who is fierce on the guitar and putting together a set? How about learning how to play the ukulele? This may sound irrelevant, but things like this keep you active, build your skills, keep you busy and any gigs that you are doing, read great on your CV. Open mics are also a good and beneath the radar way to road test new songs pre audition, and to get a sense of playing to an audience and singing in different acoustics and environments. You can just slip in and slip out without too much of a faff. It also shows the world that you are working, which is very attractive believe me. 

I have a musical in development that has been “in development” now for 2 years. It feels at this moment, a very long way from ever being completed and I have been turned down or just not replied to on numerous occasions so far. I have had people request material only then to be told that they don’t have the time to watch or listen to my clips. I have had emails responded to one year after sending them, still with the same response – “sorry, this position has been filled” or “we’re not looking anymore”. To be honest, getting a response whatever it is, is a bonus! It’s easy to feel invisible, so yours (and my) jobs are to ensure that we feel very visible and alive and energised. Whether that be by digging out a great book, watching an inspirational film, meditating, going make up free for a while (yes!), meeting with friends who love you, being with family, going for a swim, taking a break, having a Starbucks (I am not endorsing them but blimey their soya cappuccinos are goooood), or just taking 5 minutes out of a hectic day to say, “hey, you’re doing OK”. All of these things make a difference.

I have decided not to wait for anything, but to crack on and get things moving myself. At the end of the day, it’s all about me and what I want to create / how I want to be, not how other people see me or what value I am to them. I feel at my weakest when I compare myself to others. I feel at my strongest (and this is a fluid and changeable thing) when I am centred on myself, and my needs. This can at times make me feel like I am being selfish, but being selfish isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can then use my self nurtured energy to give to others. Sometimes, when you’re down on your luck and low on energy, having that one friend, family member, colleague who gives you a boost or tells you something nice, can really make the difference between you bottoming out or feeling a little glow of pride. To give to others, you have to give to yourself and energy and good vibes can be passed around. In this business, they are REALLY needed and important. We would all be a juddering heap of nervous and exhausted wrecks otherwise. 

So. Stop waiting for the phone to ring. Take some time and remind yourself what a beautiful human being you are and of all the unique things that only you can offer. You are valuable, you are special and you deserve to feel loved. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

Sending love and warmth,

Michaela Xxx

Being You and Finding Your Way

Being You and Finding Your Way

I am fortunate to make a living working in the creative arts industry. I am also a creative person myself. I am drawn to the rollercoaster and the unpredictability of not knowing what is around the corner, and also the feeling that anything is possible. It can be incredibly rewarding, but also isolating, frustrating and lonely. Sometimes you can feel on top of the world and at other times, that everyone else’s lives make sense except your own.

Having taught at a musical theatre college for the best part of a decade, I saw lots of talented and hungry students moving through the college, who had left their families, armed with their hopes and dreams, and their sights set on a career on the West End stage. There would be a real mix of performers who would “make it” (whatever that means) and there would be my favourite success stories that would happen to the quiet students at the back of the class, who perhaps got overlooked, but who were grafting hard by themselves. There were also those who would live the dream, being offered a lead in a West End show before even graduating, then going from high profile job to high profile job, leading role to leading role, and having the best time doing it (although nothing is ever as it seems). I would also see students with incredible pressure placed on them by themselves or by family, who felt that it was make or break and sometimes they would indeed break. One thing for sure is that you can never truly tell from the surface what is going on underneath. It may appear that someone is doing better than you, but it’s just that their life is playing out differently, it doesn’t mean that they are worth more. We are all in this together.

When I first graduated from drama school, I had terrible experiences with auditions and countless jobs and contracts that fell through. In auditions, I would prepare a song that I thought sounded great and showed off my voice (a light, pretty soprano) but whilst waiting in the wings, I would hear a big, powerful, voice whacking out a Celine Dion number and my confidence would crash. I would then shuffle nervously onto the stage, doubting everything about myself, my voice, my outfit, and my song choice. I felt crushed and that I had let myself down. For anyone who regularly auditions, I salute you. It is a hell of a thing. What I have drawn from my experiences, is that all you can be is yourself. I know it sounds cheesy but there is not another you – you are unique and a one-off. To bring it onto the subject of singing, be prepared yes, but polish and shine the spark that is inside you, ensure that your voice is in the best condition it can be, do lots of work on your inner self / self-esteem, emotional health and wellbeing, eat well and nourish your soul.

Keep your friends and family close, and let them see you when things are not going that well or when you feel vulnerable and low in energy. Don’t feel that you have to put on a brave or perfectly made up face when you just don’t feel like it. This is exhausting and you end up going through things alone. Share your stories and experiences the good and the bad – this doesn’t have to be with everyone, but with those that you can trust and who support the true you. Make sure that your close relationships are nurtured and attended to. The most important relationship of all is with yourself, but having a supportive and understanding network around you is crucial.

In your performing life, dare to let your audience see who you are, don’t be afraid to feel vulnerable and out there, sometimes the best performances can be born out of an insecurity, taking risks, life events or something not going to plan. Theatre is unpredictable but this is why we all love it. Letting the world see you, does come with a risk, but it is worth it.

You may not get the job you are going for. This may happen time and time again, until you are on the verge of quitting. You might get the job but get a rubbish review. You may get an injury and have to sit out the rest of your contract. The contract might fall through. You may get told that you are too short, too tall, too fat, too thin, not experienced enough, too experienced, just not right for the part, etc, etc. This may hurt at the time and feel like rejection, but really it is finely tuning where you will go next, and bringing you one step closer to your true path. It’s hard to trust the process, I know, but doing everything with the best intentions and a commitment to being yourself, will guide you through.

This may sound hippyish (if that is a word) but I do believe it.