Past Travels: Vancouver, BC

One of the perks of being a singer is the travel. I don’t do a lot of out-of-town gigs, partly because I like being at home with T and partly because I can’t afford to travel to auditions all the time. However, one common thing among young singers (really, all singers) is to participate in summer programs, which are offered at varying levels, content, and cost all over the world.

Last summer I chose a program in Vancouver, BC, called Vancouver Summer Opera Studio. It was a three-week program, during the course of which I lived in Vancouver and participated in master classes, voice lessons, coachings, and movement classes, in addition to performing the role of Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. In this particular program, there were only 20 singers, so we each got tons of individual attention from the staff. Without this becoming a review, let me just say that I absolutely loved the program and would highly recommend it to other singers (and if you are a singer, feel free to contact me for details!).

Vancouver is, for lack of a better term, an extremely cool city. Located in about the south-westernmost part of Canada, it’s a port city, so it sits right on the English Bay and the Vancouver Harbor. This instantly made me feel like I was back at home in San Francisco, in the best way possible. Unfortunately for me, it also means that sushi is a huge thing. Like, huge. I hate sushi, and I think I begrudgingly set foot in more sushi restaurants in those three weeks than ever before in my life combined. Hey, I didn’t want to spend all those evenings eating dinner alone.

Watching the sun set over Kitsilano Beach.

Watching the sun set over Kitsilano Beach.

Aside from the sushi, though, there are a lot of awesome things about Vancouver’s location on the water. For one thing, it’s a major port of call for cruises, so I spent many a lunch hour sitting on a bench on the beach with some of the other singers, watching the ships travel in and out of the harbor on their way to or from Alaska. If you locate yourself in the right place, you can also watch all kinds of sailboat races, paddle boarders, and various other water events, which of course I love.

One of the many small harbors surrounding the city.

One of the many small harbors surrounding the city.

And then there’s Granville Island. Guys, if I lived in Vancouver, I would do all of my grocery (and other) shopping here… and let’s be honest, probably just hang out here all the time. Not only is there a huge indoor-outdoor market (think Pike’s Place in Seattle), you can also hit up tons of shops selling arts and crafts, food, wine, coffee and tea, musical instruments, and all kinds of other things. My favorite was a shop that sold these awesome handmade brooms. I seriously considered buying one (or more than one). There was even one that had a handle made out of a hockey stick. Oh, Canada!

I felt like I was shopping for a broomstick in Diagon Alley.

I felt like I was shopping for a broomstick in Diagon Alley.

To be perfectly honest, because of the schedule of the opera program, we didn’t have a ton of time to get out and explore the city. However, two of the other girls and I managed to catch a performance of Hamlet at Bard on the Beach, Vancouver’s answer to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival in Oregon. It was my first time ever seeing a Shakespeare play live (I know, right?), and it was amazing. My friends and I agreed that we learned a ton about acting by watching a straight (non-musical) show. All three of us also bought the same shirt at intermission, unbeknownst to each other. Unfortunately, we never managed to take a triplet picture.

A photo I snapped during the pre-show curtain speech, before I wasn't allowed to take photos.

A photo I snapped during the pre-show curtain speech, before I wasn’t allowed to take photos.

The program ended on a Sunday, but I wasn’t leaving until Monday afternoon, and I happened to be on the same flight home as my dad, who had come up to see the performance. We had some time to kill before heading to the airport, so we trekked through downtown Vancouver to Canada Place, the main harbor where the cruise ships dock. There are some fun things to do there, like get your picture taken with your face in a hockey player’s body.

No, this is not me and my dad, these are some friends of ours from home who were also nice enough to come see my show.

No, this is not me and my dad, these are some friends of ours from home who were also nice enough to come see my show.

If you walk all the way down to the far end of the harbor, you can go on a simulation called Fly Over Canada. If you’ve ever been on Soarin’ Over California at Disney’s California Adventure, you probably won’t be super impressed with the Canadian version, but it was fun all the same.

The entrance to Canada Place from the downtown side.

The entrance to Canada Place from the downtown side.

I loved everything about Vancouver: the vibe, the culture, the cleanliness, the ease of using public transit, of course the proximity to the ocean, even the slightly cooler summer weather. If I could live anywhere in the world, this city would be at the top of my list.

Have you ever been to Vancouver? What are your favorite things about the city?

A Day in the Life of an Opera Singer: Pre-Show Routines

I’ve been terrible at this blogging thing ever since starting the new job last week. Between working all the time and singing the rest of the time, I haven’t even opened my laptop more than two or three times since Friday night.

But it’s Monday afternoon, the boys I nanny for are homework-ing away, and I thought you all might enjoy a little bit of insight into what goes on backstage (or in the case of my current show, under the stage) before a performance. This is a sample timeline for an 8:00 PM curtain (start of show), based on the schedule for .

  • 6:30 PM: Arrive at the theatre and sign in on the sign-in sheet backstage. A very important step to avoid the wrath of the stage manager. Deliver comp tickets to the box office. Wander into dressing room and stand around aimlessly, wondering where to start.
  • 6:40: Take off regular jewelry and put on show earrings. Complain to one of the chorus girls about how terribly my March Madness bracket is doing. Turn on curling irons. Start makeup. For current show, simply touch up street makeup, since it’s a very small house and a very natural look. Add false eyelashes (about which I complain vigorously), blush, and slightly more defined highlights and shadows.
  • 6:55: Escape the dressing room psychosis by going outside and having something to eat.
  • 7:05: Begrudgingly begin curling hair. Try not to get too involved in conversations so as to rest voice, and generally fail at this. Roll eyes at chorus girl who has a crush on the male lead and can’t stop talking about it.
  • 7:30: Vocal warm-ups as a group in the room across the hall. Don’t over-sing.
  • 7:45: Director and stage manager give pep talk and make announcements, including “15 minutes to places,” to which we respond, “Thank you 15.”
  • 7:50: Finish curling hair if not done. Add hair ribbon. Find ways to occupy self that don’t involve too much talking. Munch a little bit more. Avoid getting into complicated costume.
  • 8:00: Wait until stage manager starts her curtain speech, or better yet, until the first song of the show starts, and make the trek outside, up some sketchy stairs, and around the back of the building to use the restroom, since the only one in the whole building is located off the lobby (oversight much?).
  • 8:05: Return to dressing room and take advantage of other girls still being there to help me get dressed. Tights, knee pads, giant petticoat fondly known as Angry Mildred, huge poofy dress that has to go on over my head due to Angry Mildred’s presence and be pinned together in the back. Double check jewelry. Put on lipstick.
  • 8:12: Chorus girls go upstairs for their first entrance. Enjoy several minutes of quiet in dressing room.
  • 8:17: Girls’ chorus song starts. Scoop dress and petticoat off the floor as much as possible, awkwardly grab character shoes and water bottle. Make the trek outside and up the sketchy stairs again, but this time to the work area outside the stage door.
  • 8:18: Put on character shoes just outside stage door. Pick up parasol and enter stage door quietly, not letting in any light from outside work area.
  • 8:19: Tiptoe through pass-through at the back of the stage. Take a few moments to self while girls frolic. Hide water bottle under set stairs for when I get to exit briefly.
  • 8:21: Tenor is singing a very pretty aria. Try not to get too distracted. When he gets to second verse, climb back of set stairs. Try not to make contact with cello or bass player, so as not to hit them or their instruments or get giant dress stuck on them. Quietly open parasol.
  • 8:22: Take deep breath, smile adorably, and make dazzling first entrance! And don’t get the giant dress stuck on the plywood mountain.

The life of a singer is truly a magical one… but only when you’re actually being a singer.. Is it Friday night yet?

Opening Nights and New Beginnings

Until this afternoon, I had not opened my laptop for 48 hours. That’s unheard of for me.

Since my last post on Friday, I have sung three performances of The Pirates of Penzance, taught five hours’ worth of voice lessons, gone to church for Sunday morning service/Sunday night youth group/band practice, and started a brand new job as the front desk assistant at my dentist’s office. As you can see, not a lot of time to do much computing. (I did, however, have time to take a nap and watch part of the UCLA-Arizona basketball game. Go Bruins!)

So here’s what you missed:

  • Opening weekend of Pirates was a great success. All three nights were almost sold out, if not completely sold out––it’s hard to tell when you’re focusing on so many other things onstage, not to mention staring into bright lights. No major mishaps, except for one broken doorknob and one missed entrance (thankfully not by me), and the good news is that it will only get better from here. The other good news is that now that we’ve opened, we don’t have any more weeknight rehearsals, so I get to return to all of my normal evening activities. Huzzah!

My very first entrance onstage, in which I sing about a thousand notes on one syllable. Photo courtesy of Lance Hundley.

  • On Saturdays I teach at a local music school/studio that provides private music lessons, dance classes, and performance opportunities. Most of my students are between the ages of 6 and 12, and almost all of them are obsessed with the movie Frozen, which means I get to hear “Let it Go” about ten times a day. I’m working on redirecting some of them into songs that are, shall we say, more age-appropriate (i.e. no Katy Perry either).
  • It’s so great to be back at Sunday night youth group after a few weeks off for rehearsals, especially because it’s one of the things that T and I enjoy doing together. Last night we did a photo scavenger hunt, where we looked at a list of possible photo ops and tried to cram as many of them as possible into 15 photos, and then posted those photos on Instagram. You can view our team’s 15 photos (as well as my other Instagram material) here and see how awesome our students are.
  • Because nannying is a split-shift job, I’ve spent the whole year up until this point trying to fill my daytime hours. Most of the things I’ve found to occupy myself, while certainly worthwhile and productive, have not been fruitful in the financial department. Last week, though, I managed to get hired as an office assistant at my dentist’s office, and I started today. I have a little bit of prior office experience, plus I’m good with computers and technology (until they break), so I think I’ll learn pretty quickly. I’ll even be able to continue working there after the school year ends and I’m no longer nannying, so hopefully I’ll be able to pick up a few more hours then.
  • Special bonus news: Cal Poly, my alma mater, won the Big West championship on Saturday and are going to the NCAA March Madness tournament! This is a big deal because Cal Poly historically sucks at most of the sports that the rest of the country actually cares about. They’ll obviously go all the way, so adjust your brackets accordingly.

Photography Friday

Happy Friday! It’s opening night, so I’m spending the morning relaxing, going to work for a couple of hours this afternoon, and generally just trying to rest my voice.

I’ve got summer on my mind right now. Maybe it’s the absolutely gorgeous California days we’ve been having, or maybe it’s seeing all my friends and students posting about our upcoming youth group houseboat trip on Facebook as we try to take registrations in advance, but I’m dying to be out in the sun, on the lake or by the pool. So this week’s Photography Friday is brought to you by my favorite summer sunshine photos. Granted, these are just some of the most recent ones, because let’s be honest… when you live in California, almost every day looks like it could be summer, and you inevitably take a lot of pretty blue-sky photos.


A sunflower field on the side of Highway 5. T and I were on our way home from a camping trip when something under our car came loose. We pulled over right next to this beautiful field, and while he crawled under the car in 100-degree weather with a roll of duct tape, I snapped some pictures. Typical.


A pretty tree blooming on my way downtown. Allergies galore, but I loved the colors.


Byington Winery, up in the Santa Cruz mountains. I went for a friend’s bachelorette party last summer and the views are spectacular.


Sunset on Lake Shasta. I can’t wait for houseboats.


Panoramic shot of Trinity Lake, my favorite place in the entire world. I’ve come almost every summer since I was little… plus T and I had our first kiss here in 2005 and got engaged here five years after that.

A Heart-to-Heart With Myself

Let’s just put it right out there: being a singer is hard.

On the one hand, it sometimes feels like a charmed life. I mean, I get to devote so much of my time to practicing, taking voice lessons and coachings, working on new music, and going to rehearsals and performances where I often get to wear beautiful costumes and experience an alternate reality for a few hours, and be adored by an audience at the end of it. What’s not to love?

That’s only part of what I actually do, though. In order to even make it to those exciting and glamorous performances, I spend a lot of hours at auditions or preparing applications or materials for them. I keep a running list on my computer of all the auditions I go to, including recorded ones that I send in, and whether or not they yielded anything. In 2013 I did no less than 43 auditions––some within driving distance, some that required overnight trips, and some audio/video recordings. Of those 43, 17 were successful in that I was offered a callback audition or a role, moved to the next round of a competition, or was accepted into a program as a result of the audition. So far this year, I’ve already been to or submitted nine auditions, and four of them have been successful in some way. In fact, I recently got turned down for a role that I really wanted and for which I worked very hard on the callback material. And that’s just one instance of many.

This gets really discouraging really quickly. Lately, it’s been causing me to rethink a lot of my choices and behaviors as a singer. I believe I’m currently doing the amount of work necessary to maintain my personal status quo, but not actually working hard enough or well enough to make significant progress. So I’ve been doing some soul searching to figure out if, somewhere deep down, I don’t want to succeed or am afraid of success.

For one thing, I’ve been struggling with taking myself seriously as an artist when I don’t believe anyone else does (which isn’t truly the case, but it feels like it). I’ve also become aware that I self-sabotage, consciously or unconsciously, because it gives me an excuse if I fail and/or a reason to be proud of succeeding “in spite of” some sort of obstacle that I set up for myself. I feel like I need those things as a singer because I want to feel better about not getting chosen for a role or competition or gig, even though the decision would still be out of my control if I performed my absolute best. Part of me thinks, “Why try so hard when it’s out of my hands and my chances are already so small?”

Secondly, like any healthy person should, I have several other things in my life that are just as important to me as singing: faith, marriage, family, and friends, to name a few. Every time I successfully get cast or hired from an audition, that automatically means taking time away from those things that I care about just as much, which comes with an entirely different set of consequences and challenges. That can be and has been really difficult at times, and I often end up feeling guilty for being willing to put those things aside for my art.

I think the next step for me is to figure out how to deal with each of those things. The first item is easier, because if I can recognize self-sabotage, then there are things I can do to prevent myself from doing it. I can carve out practice time every day and focus on making that time as efficient as possible. I can take more frequent lessons and coachings. I can take an acting class or work with an acting coach. In short, I can give myself the tools and the opportunities to succeed and do all the work necessary for success, instead of half-assing because I’m afraid of pouring myself into an audition and then being disappointed. As they say, knowledge is power.

But it’s the second item, the other important things in my life, that’s much harder to figure out and to manage. It involves not only my personal mental health, but the feelings of other people who I really care about, and that can be a very delicate situation to deal with. I think in some ways, I self-sabotage not only because of the fear of failure and heartbreak, but because of the guilt that comes with spending night after night at rehearsal instead of at home or out and about with T and our friends and family. That’s something I’m not yet entirely sure how to handle or assuage.

I know I’m not the only singer to deal with these issues. It’s just that no one ever talks about them, because we all want everyone else in the opera world to think that we have everything figured out and are supremely confident 100% of the time. After all, it’s all about acting, right?

This week there have been a few articles floating around the opera singer community on Facebook, regarding whether “you” will or will not be successful as an opera singer, and what that even means. Personally, I think “success” is whatever you want it to be for yourself. For me right now, at this moment in my life and career path, success is knowing where my next gig is coming from, whether it be paid or volunteer. If I’m currently working on an upcoming show or gig, and I can look ahead to at least one more after that, I feel I’m successful. If I’m having regular opportunities to sing and perform at the high level that I know I’m capable of, then I’m successful. That definition will absolutely change over time, but I need to remember that I’m the one in control of my success––and I need to take charge now.

What’s In My Bag?

I don’t know about you, but I like to be prepared for every possible situation. Here’s what’s in my purse right now:

  • Daily planner/calendar
  • Nook (I’m a few pages away from finishing a book!)
  • Wallet
  • Keys
  • iPhone
  • Mail for my dad that came to my mom’s house (ah, to be a child of divorce)
  • Coach wristlet that contains hair ties, chapstick, my favorite Dior Lip Glow, mints, Advil, Tums, fashion tape, and a Square reader
  • Rainbow Loom bracelet made for me by one of the kids I babysit
  • Pencil case
  • Hand lotion
  • Purell
  • Tape measure
  • Caramel apple pop (one of my favorite sandwich places, Ike’s, gives them out with each sandwich order)
  • San Francisco Symphony Chorus ID badge
  • Business cards advertising my current show
  • Apple earbuds
  • 30-pin charger with Lightning adapter, so I can charge both my old-gen iPod and my iPhone 5
  • Compact mirror

And that’s just what’s in my purse. Here’s what’s in my rehearsal/tech week survival bag:

  • Character shoes
  • White camisole to wear under my very see-through Act 2 costume
  • 2 different-size curling irons
  • A metric ton of bobby pins and a couple more hair ties
  • Hairbrush
  • Deodorant (SO important)
  • Silky robe that I like to wear while doing my hair and makeup, before I get into costume
  • Small bottle of hairspray
  • Pirates score, because you never know when you’ll forget the words/notes/choreography…
  • Travel mug for tea
  • Snacks – granola bars, veggies, hummus
  • Dinner, which gets added right before I leave the house

What’s in your bag?

Kelly’s Guide to Surviving Tech Week

Ah, tech week. The dreaded storm before the calm (yes, you read that right).

For those of you who don’t perform in the theatre on a regular basis, “tech week” refers to the week leading up to opening night of a show, so named because it’s typically the first time you work with all of the “technology” of a show, like sets, costumes, real props, lighting, the actual stage itself, and the orchestra. Tech week is the longest and most difficult week of the rehearsal process, with rehearsals often lasting five or six hours and sometimes running late into the night or the wee hours of the morning. There’s a reason that many performers refer to it, somewhat less than fondly, as “hell week.”

As you can imagine, tech week is a very different beast when it comes to a) operas, where you have to keep yourself healthy and in good voice, and b) community theatre groups, where every participant has a day job. The show I’m currently preparing, The Pirates of Penzance, is both of those things, as several shows I’ve done in the past have been as well.

Here is my self-taught guide to surviving tech week.

  1. Before the week starts, stock up on meals that are very easy to prepare. When I say easy, I mean ten minutes or less. If you’re like me, you never know if you’ll be able to leave your day job with enough time to get home and cook a whole meal before hopping in the car and heading to rehearsal. My favorite thing to do is go to Trader Joe’s and raid their freezer section. Everything at TJ’s is delicious and not all that bad for you, and it’s fast. I also try to pick things that will pack up easily, so I can eat while driving (super safe, I know) or heat up food at the theatre, since most have at least a microwave, if not a full kitchen.
  2. Take naps whenever you can. If you’re putting in late nights at the theatre and early mornings for your day job, chances are you’re not getting a lot of sleep at night. Thankfully, my day job is a split shift, which allows me to do whatever I want/need to do in the mornings and early afternoons, so that can include napping. If you don’t have that flexibility, I suggest napping on your lunch break, taking a power nap if you have a few extra minutes before you have to head to the theatre, or even napping in your dressing room or a different quiet area when you’re not needed onstage (but don’t miss a cue!). This is all particularly important when you’re doing an opera or even a musical, since the amount of sleep you get directly correlates with your vocal health.
  3. Drink a lot… of water, tea, and maybe even coffee. That last one depends on how coffee affects you and how much it hypes you up, dries you out, etc. Water and tea are always a good choice though. They will keep your body going and keep your voice working properly.
  4. Recognize that your spouse, friends, etc. will feel neglected. T tends to forget from show to show what actually happens during tech week and how much I’ll be gone. He’s often shocked the first day or two of tech week when we are barely even awake at the same times, and that invariably leads to an argument. In response, I try to validate his feelings as much as possible––they are valid, after all. Just because I’m doing something I love doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rather be spending time with T or with our friends or our youth group students or sleeping or any number of things. To make sure he knows I’m not just ditching him for funsies, I make sure to take care of as much as I can around the house. Today during my off-work time I emptied and reloaded the dishwasher, wiped down the stove and the kitchen sink, did a load of laundry, and made my tech-week trip to Trader Joe’s. (I also took care of myself by disposing of a horrific spider and yes, taking a short nap.) Even though I’ll be gone every night this week, I want T to know that I’m still thinking of him, taking care of him, and looking forward to doing all of our normal weeknight activities again starting next week.
  5. Stretch a lot, and do your normal exercise and/or yoga routines. Between lack of sleep, lots of singing and dancing every night, brand-new stage hazards to deal with, and quite simply the amount of energy expended, tech week can take its toll on you physically. Last night at the very end of rehearsal, my stage partner and I had to hold our final pose, a dramatic dip, for a solid three or four minutes while the lighting designer set that particular light cue. By the end of the six-hour rehearsal my feet were already sick of wearing character shoes, and it didn’t take long for my supporting leg to start shaking. My counterpart had no problem holding me in that position, but the words “I guess I need to do yoga this week” definitely came out of my mouth. I know I need to keep moving and work my muscles and joints if I’m going to make it through four more rehearsals and three performances by this time next week.
  6. Wash your makeup off every night. Just do it. It might be tempting to keep it on in preparation for the next day, especially if you’re mostly wearing regular street makeup anyway, but seriously, wash your face. You will be so much happier, and so will your skin. Same goes for your hair… take it down, brush it out, and wash it, especially if you’ve used copious amounts of hairspray.
  7. Be excited! Tech week is the most exciting part of the whole rehearsal process, because it’s when you finally get to put everything together. Even though most rehearsals are just about running through the show and not doing detailed character work, I believe that some of the best acting progress happens during tech week, because everyone finally sees what the show is going to look like and how it all fits together. It’s when the magic starts to happen. Let yourself get excited about it!

Performers out there, what do you do to survive tech week?