I just had one of those amazing growth spurt learning moments that I'd like to share with all of you.
With April being the end of the awards season (March is Cabaret Month) and with all the announcements of winners and then the “for your consideration” shows now being over (with the exception of all the congratulations and thank you postings on Facebook), I think my “A-HA moments” below can help and, perhaps, save you 30 years in the business of self-doubt, pain and chipping at your souls. At the very least, I hope reading this helps you all to feel like you’re not alone.
Did any of you read Lady Gaga’s Oscar quote? It was amazing. She is amazing! She said:
"It's not about winning. What it's about is not giving up. If you have a dream, fight for it.” – Lady Gaga
Her honesty inspired me (hence this posting) and her savvy on the business side of things, along with her charm and overall sense of self was a lesson unto itself. Reading about her I read that her “mantra”, if you will, is that we are all Super Stars in the making and only WE squelch our own potential when we allow ourselves or others to interfere with this process.
WOW! Re-read that paragraph people and ask yourself what it is that YOU do (or don't do) that does not allow you to be the Super Star that you want to be. Got the answer(s)...read on.
Years ago, I sang in a "dive" bar by Port Authority with a friend. She arranged this gig in what was meant to become a permanent, long-term gig if we '"hit" and if the owners liked what we did. Their clientele changed on any given night, so this was going to be a challenge AND, add to this, these owners really wanted to up their game and bring in a new clientele (non-head bangers). No pressure!
I get there and there is a line out the doors of 20 somethings and I'm immediately thinking, "This is not the crowd for what I do." I'm a middle-aged woman who is going to sing jazz and blues with my friend doing pop, soft rock and some dance music and these kids probably listen to all the people I don’t even know the names of on the Grammy's. I pre-set an attitude and I pre-judged even before I got in the door. I was already thinking that they'll hate me. Since I was feeling a little insecure, I ask my friend to do the 1st set, basically because I wanted to see how they reacted to her. She is fearless so she got up and got their attention. They were surprisingly a "sit and chat" crowd so the 1st set was warm up tunes and back ground music, but they hung out and looked up and clapped here and there. Very polite.
Then I was up after the break and, realizing that these folks were polite to my friend, I felt like it was OK to just do what I do. I have to mention that we had a terrific band and that we really did not rehearse so it was a lot of call a tune, set the tempo and meet them at the end so we were not a "polished" act like we would be in a Cabaret setting. It didn't matter. It was a BLAST! I now felt fearless!
More folks drifted in. More stayed. Lovely comments by everyone after the set and when my friend went back up for the 3rd set...the house was ready to boogie and she took it home with what she does. We were both authentic to our own styles and voices and, I believe, it was the diversity of what we offered that kept everyone interested. Even the owners were like, “We may want you every Friday night as this crowd never stays the whole night!”
LESSON: Never set an intention to diminish your own light. When you do this, you will be guaranteed to fail. I hugged my friend and thanked her for making me go outside of my comfort zone because it taught me a huge lesson on just giving them what I have to offer with confidence. With love of my art and talent, they will (and did) accept it.
The very next night I was invited to guest star in a show up in CT with three of my favorite big voiced, theater singers. Again, I was feeling a little "less than". I set the intention that my numbers were not going to "hit" as well as the other singers’ numbers so, at the rehearsal, this self-prophecy led to me mucking up my solo line on the group number. Understand that this is not an issue of competing with anyone. I don't do that. I ONLY compete with who I was the last time I was on stage. This was more of an issue of me chipping away at my own soul and talent as if to say I was not as worthy to be on that stage with this cast. It was all on me. The issue of never feeling like you’re enough is so damaging to your soul.
I went back stage, took some deep breathes and reminded myself of the lessons I had learned just 12 hours earlier at the Friday night “dive” bar gig...be who you are...own it, love it and then give it to the audience. I did my set, I get all of my lyrics on the duet and I even aced the finale harmonies. All three of the other singers told me how great I did and for once, after a lifetime of poo-poohing compliments (again, diminishing my light and talent), I allowed myself to really hear them. Guess who got booked for her own show at this venue that night?! Just sayin’….
LESSON: We are WAY too hard on ourselves and, like Lady Gaga warns, what keeps us from soaring to the highest peak we can achieve…is ourselves. I have decided that being the "sorbet" course (the palette cleanser) is a GOOD thing. Different is good. I’m usually different in a group show cast so I just need to own that fact and play to my skills. What do I have and what can I do that makes me stand out? If everyone is a belter, I get small (quiet) or jazzy or funny. If everyone is funny, I may choose to be poignant. How can I shine?
Now, talking about Award Season and how that sometimes makes us chip at our souls even more – some will get a nomination. Some will win. Some will not win. Some will be seen by reviewers for the Bistro Awards, many will not. If you are not seen, how can you be judged against the winners if the pool of people being reviewed is a small sample of the entire community? None of this diminishes your talent. None of this should diminish the honor of a nomination even if you do not win. It’s a numbers game. It’s luck.
It’s hard work to get reviewers to see your work so that you can be considered or get that quote that draws people to see your work “for consideration”. Very little actually has to do with your actual talent level…although, let’s face it, the cream does tend to rise to the top. Doing good work sometimes does get noticed. Word of mouth, performing to your full potential every time you step on a stage, even in an Open Mic situation, being part of the community are all ways to get your light to shine bright enough to be seen and recognized.
Most awards are “people’s choice” type awards (MACs & Broadway World) so while all the award instructions say to vote for the best shows that you’ve seen…we all know that people vote for their friends and people also sometimes vote for a singer they may have only heard sing at an Open Mic. Whatever…it is what it is. What we all don’t like is that we have to beg people to come to see our work and in the case of some “awards”, actually ask people to vote for us! How can this process be a real determinant of our talent? There is so much to see! It is impossible for all the voters and reviewers to see all the shows nominated so again, it is what it is…my point being that it is not solely about talent so why do we all feel badly when we don’t get a nomination or an award? I’ll tell you why…
Many say that these types of awards are “popularity contests”. This, to me, again, diminishes the honor of the award and implies that those who did not win were not as popular. This is what I think hurts us the most…being told it’s a popularity contest and feeling like we’re the last one chosen for the team in gym class. It chips away at our souls and makes us feel “less than”. So, what do these awards really mean?
In New York, we all know that it’s a lovely recognition of our work but we also all know it’s a numbers and people’s choice game. I love and feel honored to have the awards that I have but I do not feel the need to have to be recognized any more. Part of this for me is that I’ve been around a long time, so the reviewers no longer come to see me. But, the other part is that I only feel I need to “complete” with myself the last time that I was on stage…to raise my personal performance bar a little higher each time I step on stage. If I know I’m doing this and I’m entertaining the wonderful people who still come to see me…that’s my sanction and award!
I really feel this way but some of you may think that it’s easy for me to say this because I already have some recognition. This is true. I cannot deny that. Being a “multi-award” winner singer helps on PR. It really helps in booking gigs outside of New York (those accolades do make an impression outside of the city) so I say to you all to continue to strive to get a nomination, just don’t let your not getting the nomination or not winning make you feel less than. Do it for your PR and do it to keep your name out there but do it knowing what it is.
For me, it’s about being seen and making an impression…not just your talent. To those of you who voted for a singer because they blew you away at an Open Mic, you are basing your vote on just the voice and that one moment, not the show or the overall performance. So, to all you singers, SHINE every time you take the stage because, if this is one of the ways to get a vote, you’re missing that opportunity to make that impression. Do good work always. Look like a star! Work the room. There is always a reviewer or two in any given Open Mic in the city. Again, if you present well there, that could mean they take note of you and come to see your show. All of this could mean that you get that coveted nomination or award down the road.
I will admit to the human feeling of what I call the "Green Eyed Monster" but this is never about begrudging anyone who did win an award their time in the spotlight, it’s more about the feeling of, "Why NOT me?" This is wasted energy. I do things behind the scenes that no one knows about to get others these high-profile spots and I say to myself, "Why don't they EVER pick ME?" The answer is, "DUH, because you didn't ask for YOURSELF! You asked for someone else!”
If I spent more energy and time doing for myself and for my own career what I do behind the scenes for others, who knows what could happen! Make yourself your priority. You are a business. Make time for what you need to get done to run that business because it’s about learning what to do and what not to do AND…not giving up!
FINAL LESSON: I now believe that you have to set very specific goals, set the intention, ask for what you want, make a TO DO list of how to get there, actually DO the TO DO list and claim your right to be extraordinary...to be the Super Star you were meant to be. “If you have a dream, fight for it!” Thank you Lady Gaga!