The inaugural Seattle/Mainstreet Festival of New Musicals concluded a week ago, and I had a fantastic time meeting and working with so many local actors, artists, and composers, not to mention playing one of  my favorite Austen characters– the tenacious, music-minded Mary Bennet.  Yet, dear readers, there is unfinished business, and it has been preying on my mind ever since our concert readings of Pride and Prejudice at S/MS.

I think we’ve all been missing the real tragedy of Pride and Prejudice: that Mary’s musical career has not taken off yet. Never mind the tumultuous courtships and poor life choices of the other Bennet daughters. Let’s get down to brass tacks and figure out why Mary isn’t the musical toast of St. James’ Court:

Mary has an uncertain relationship with pitch.

Poor Mary. Her music master obviously never did ear training, because she is forever tuning her pitches with less than 100% accuracy. How to fix that? Get thee to a choir, Mary! Choral singing is an excellent way to learn how to listen and tune vocally. Yet it’s possible that Mary’s choral opportunities in Meryton are limited. My other suggestion for Mary would be to learn a stringed or other instrument that requires frequent tuning and careful listening. Alas, Mary’s circumstances limit her to a pianoforte; wealthier families like the Bingleys or Darcys may have a harp. Time to befriend Georgiana Darcy, Mary.

Mary is unable to maintain a consistent tone.

Oh, Mary, Mary. Her vocal placement is all over the map, causing her resonance to oscillate wildly between a shrill high soprano, a breathy, over-aspirated middle and a strident mix voice (the latter of which would have been an objectionable sound to the ears of Mary’s Regency listeners). Mary could use the help of a vocally savvy music master, who might be able to explain placement and resonance in terms that allow her to achieve a warmer, more expressive, and gently vibrating tone throughout.

'The Music Lesson' by George Goodwin Kilburne, date unknown
‘The Music Lesson’ by George Goodwin Kilburne, date unknown

Mary is not very comfortable with her passaggio.

Mary has found a few places in her voice where she easily has vocal power (if not skill) available to her, and when she gets to sing those, boy, do we know it. But they’re on the opposite ends of her range, and in the middle? Well, that’s where it gets dicey, and why some of her pitch jumps have a yodel-y quality, because she’s riding roughshod over her passaggio (vocal break), and it shows. If Mary and her music master spent more time introducing proper breath support to the rest of her vocal range, she’d be able to navigate a greater range of pitches with more ease and smoothness.

Mary lacks musical style.

This is a hard one, because it’s subjective, and therefore much harder to determine and teach. I am guessing that Mary’s melodramatic song stylings spring from her desperation and determination to make an impression on her audience. In Mary’s mind, more drama = a better performance. This self-conscious choice prevents Mary from paying attention to the clues that the composer gives her– in the melodic line, markings, and the piano accompaniment – to discover the styling inherent in the piece itself. What Mary really needs is a friend or sister with more developed taste, who can encourage Mary to explore those subtleties of musicianship, and convince her that focusing on the music as written, rather than her own showboating, would benefit her performance.

Of course, all of these ideas presume that Mary is open to receiving suggestion about her musical development…would Mary listen to advice? I leave it to you.

I recently realized I let these posts languish for nigh on half a year, which in Internet time is a criminal length. So, let’s catch up. Highlights for the second half of 2013 included:

~ Appearing in two staged readings of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars as Princess Leia, thereby fulfilling a major fantasy of my eighth-grade self, and scratching my verse itch in a great way. Thanks to ReAct’s Artistic Director David Hsieh for the opportunity, author Ian Doescher for penning this Shakes-cum-geeky delight and joining us at reading #2, and the local Star Wars fans who came and partook with unrestrained gusto. I feel as though I might have gotten a taste of what Shakespeare’s actors might have experienced in the Globe Theatre with rowdy groundling audience members, and it’s awfully fun. I recommend it.

~ Music directing A Child’s Christmas in Wales at Stone Soup Theatre for the holiday season. I’ve long been both a singer and devotee of choral/ensemble music, and it was such a treat to work on multi-part harmony with a game and tuneful cast. One of my favorite intersections of performing arts is where music– sung and played– meets robust acting technique, and I find that I love working on this in performing, directing, and coaching capacities.

~ Launching my full-time freelance career a scant two weeks ago. It’s really too new to report back definitively, but so far it’s energizing, exciting, and engaging.

What’s coming up in 2014? All in good time, I say. More on that soon!

Cupcake-FeaturedNews! I’ll be doing a few roles in a reading of Joanna Horowitz’s new play Miss End of the World, Etc., directed by Ashley Flannegan, for LiveGirls! Theater’s 2013 Cupcake Reading Series. The series is already going on, so if you are looking for something fun to fill the rainy nights, hop on over to Annex, see readings of new plays and air your opinions with your fellow audience members afterwards.

I’m pretty excited to be a part of it, for a few reasons.

Reason #1: While making New Year’s goals (not resolutions, because resolute has such a grit-your-teeth quality, whereas goals? Goals are exciting!)– one of my personal and professional goals was to see more new work, because I realized how much I enjoyed and was piqued by the unfamiliar. It’s an extra boon that I now get to participate in new work.

Reason #2: I haven’t met Joanna yet, but LG! did a playwright spotlight on her here in which she talks about corporate-speak, something that made me howl with recognition. There are several instances in my personal employment history in which I have had difficulty suppressing mirth over the very special phrases that the corporate sector employs with all-too-serious gusto.

Reason #3: I get to work with several new and somewhat less-new friends on this project, and while I love meeting new people in the theatre, I also love working with those with whom I already have a language.  There are both varieties in this team, as well as some complete strangers to me, so it’s the best of both worlds.

Go see some fresh-from-the-oven plays!

SalesmanI’m delighted to announce that I’ll be joining ReAct’s cast of Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller for a fully-staged reading presentation this Sunday at the Elliot Bay Book Company. If you’d like to make a seat reservation ahead of time, please visit Brown Paper Tickets.

This cast includes some incredible Seattle talent, and I’m enormously pleased to be learning from and enjoying their skills. See the sidebar to the right for details!