We did it. YOU did it! Thank you!!!

ValJumpingExtremelyHappyMonday, November 17, was a spectacular day.

After our jubilant LA reading/backer’s audition of ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME (the show that inspired “Just Getting Good” in the first place), the day ended with an awe-inspiring sprint to the kickstarter finish. An amazing 74 NEW backers came on board on the final day…and GET THIS:

Not only did we reach our goal and get funded (in spades)… not only did we reach the incredible height of $68,992 on the official kickstarter page… not only will we be able to make this project truly beautiful and make you proud, with the resources to do it to the very best of our abilities and with the most magnificent team we can assemble… BUT: due to that final-day surge, + several people who preferred to pledge the old-fashioned way (e.g. sending us checks in the mail), WE ACTUALLY RAISED OVER $70K!!! (Grand total: $71,342.)

(Check-in-the-mail pledgers Peter Curtiss, Patricia Flannery, Lola & Roland Owens and Sarah Vigoda: You ROCK.)

I’m floored. Thank you doesn’t begin to match the depth of my feelings. But thank you.

And as promised, we will put together a live-looping version of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” It might take us some time…so meanwhile, please enjoy the Muppet interpretation:

(thanks to Robert Neblett for reminding us of this terrific version)

So thank you.

But that’s not enough. I’ve been trying to figure out how to convey to you what an enormous difference you’ve just made.

To be supported by 531 backers is amazing. But here’s what that really means to me – over 500 people love my music and will be hearing this album as soon as we finish it.

Here’s one big reason why that’s huge. Let me share how things used to go:

Back in our touring heyday, we played around 150 widely varied shows a year. We were doggedly trying to build an audience, but we tended to average about 5 CDs sold per gig. There were some very fun times, but it was a slog and ultimately we flailed a lot.

Here’s the math of how it used to be:

$15 gross income for each CD
x 5 CDs sold per show on average
x 150 shows per year
= $11,250 from CD sales over an entire year of frankly brutal touring.

So it would take YEARS to make the money back from creating an album, if we ever did.

Cut to today: in one month, we’ve been able to raise almost 650% more through your pledges, AND it hasn’t beaten me down to the point where I want to give up. Just the opposite. Though the kickstarter process has been stressful and exhausting at times, your encouragement has raised my spirits like nothing else in my professional life.

It makes me want to get up every morning and make the album and show amazing for YOU.

And to feel this personal, direct connection with you is phenomenal. It is so wonderful to feel this valued and supported for what I’m doing, I can’t even tell you. There is a new sense of peace, of “all is right with the world,” that feels like a sea change – a subsiding of the low-level panic/anxiety that has been there for so long I haven’t even always been aware of it.

So: with serenity, fearlessness and a beatific sense of calm, I report that we still have a ton of work to do in order to get “Just Getting Good” ready for its premiere on December 11! And I’m going to go set up all my gear and get started.

I am astonished, humbled, and freaking PUMPED to no end about what we are creating together.

More soon… with infinite tendrils of thanks, connectivity and love,

ValSig

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Love Letter to a steroid

prednisone-tabletsDear Prednisone,

First of all, Happy Veteran’s Day. I hope you are taking this time to celebrate our freedom, particularly the very freedom of speech (and song) that you so generously gave to me yesterday, when what felt like moments before, I had lost it to laryngitis.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

1 – for acting so quickly

2 – for being so remarkably effective

3 – for not having weird side effects (or if you do, they’re indistinguishable from my normal weirdness)

4 – most crucially, for allowing me to speak and sing and be heard on what was an extraordinarily big day for me with a lot riding on it: our NYC backers’ audition/reading of ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME, followed by a one-song performance at Birdland for the luminary-filled Lilly Awards Cabaret. One of my biggest fears in life is letting people down…and I’m more grateful and happy than I can possibly express that I didn’t let down my collaborators, our producer, the organizers of the Lilly Awards, everyone who has put in SO MUCH effort and countless hours to make these events happen and support us in our creative work.

5 – PS for not being specifically contra-indicated with alcohol – so I could have a celebratory drink after it was all over.

I adore you, stunning steroid…

and after our five days together, I will bid you adieu.

with love and admiration,

Val

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Speechless

I can’t talk. I try, but nothing comes out. And the timing couldn’t be worse.

laryngitis

I have to learn this lesson over and over again: too much stress + not enough sleep + not enough working out/yoga = getting sick. It is so natural for a type-A person like me to just want to push through, suck it up and do whatever it takes to get it all done on time…and as much as I believe in that kind of work ethic (and as much as I was taught this kind of commitment and perseverance in my Army training – which is where I believe I learned the phrase “suck it up” in the first place), I also realize that I am REALLY BAD at finding balance.

Soldiering through, regardless – I admire that kind of fortitude! I want to be like that! My hero, Ernest Shackleton, didn’t do hot yoga! Balance schmalance – what really matters is what you accomplish, the results you achieve, what you have to show for yourself at the end of the day.

Right?

And yet:

The last time I worked this hard (and stopped going to Bikram yoga), I came down with shingles; this I do not recommend to anyone.

Twice before in my life, I’ve been really stressed out and come down with horrible colds and lost my voice; also not fun, and totally counterproductive when one is touring in a band as a singer.

This week, after all the craziness of the NAMT Festival and my kickstarter campaign (during which I was doing no yoga and not eating or sleeping very well), I flew back to NYC to do a few days of rehearsal for our ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME reading, which is happening tomorrow (now today!) – Monday, November 10. The rehearsal schedule was very tight because Lisa (our director) wasn’t available until Friday, and Wade (who plays Shackleton) wasn’t available AFTER Friday due to his five-show weekend performing in WICKED on Broadway…so we only had one day to rehearse the new rewrites all together.

So of course, I spent Thursday feeling worse and worse, steadily losing my voice until by the middle of the night when I got up for water, I could barely make a sound.

Friday’s rehearsal turned into Rachael our company manager’s finding me an ENT doctor (which was quite a feat – apparently everyone in New York is losing their voice!), and my spending the afternoon going to the Upper East Side and having my vocal cords scoped by the genial, bow-tie-wearing Dr. Joshua Levinger of Weill Cornell.

The good news was that I DIDN’T have: cysts, polyps, nodes, hemorrhages or other vocal horrors. But I DID have “remarkable inflammation” and laryngitis. And what one does about that is:

  1. take prednisone for 5 days (steroids, glorious steroids!).
  2. do not sing, talk or whisper.
  3. hydrate like crazy.
  4. continue taking cough meds and inhale lots of steam.

What one does NOT do is soldier on through; and this has been the hardest thing for me to accept. I believe in being really prepared, and this is an important reading – and we haven’t run it through together with our director yet, even once. This gives me hives; and even so, this was the right course of action, the only possibility given the circumstances. (As Shackleton would say, “New goal!” My new goal is to be able to produce some sort of vocal sound tomorrow.)

And so, my friends, I have had a rather lonely but effective couple of days – possibly my most solitary experience ever in New York City – hiding away with my prednisone and my humidifier and my tea with honey and speaking to NO ONE.

No idea whether I can make it through a sound check, rehearsal and TWO performances tomorrow…but I will do my level best.

And I resolve, again again again, to take better care of myself.

As Veterans Day approaches, I am reminded that the incredibly valuable lessons I learned in the Army about discipline and perseverance still hold true – but so do their flip sides, the lessons I am still struggling to learn about balance, easing up and letting go.

I’ll report back after the reading.

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On my mind: multitasking.

With apologies to Allie Brosh, who came up with the original version of this concept. Visit her site here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

With apologies to Allie Brosh, who came up with the original version of this concept. Visit her site here: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/

In my utopia, I would have an assistant. Or maybe a dozen. And a gal Friday. And a guy Tuesday. And an amanuensis (such a wonderful word, which sounds luxurious and suggestive and always makes me think “Latin massage therapist,” but actually just means someone who writes down what you say).

Sadly, in real life it’s just me and my standing desk in the bedroom. So today I’m going to talk about multitasking; about juggling ALL THE THINGS.

I’m not talking about the kind of multitasking I do while playing violin and singing and looping—that is wonderful and exhilarating—I’m talking about the more macro version, shifting focus between projects and obligations. This larger kind of multitasking isn’t really something I yearn to be good at. (It’s not healthy, experts say; studies show that it keeps you anxious and superficially flitting from one item to the next on a never-ending to-do list, never delving deeply enough into any one thing to achieve the elusive, wonderful feeling of “flow” that all creative humans crave.) What I really yearn for is the ability to do ONE thing at a time, to devote myself and all my work energies with great intensity and focus to a single project for a period of weeks or months…and then to be DONE with it. To live life as interval training—as espoused by the wise studier of athletes Tony Schwartz in his illuminating book “The Power of Full Engagement”—with periods of strenuous effort alternating with periods of REST and RELAXATION! Meet a writing deadline, go to Hawaii. Make an album, take a ski vacation at Whistler. Open a show, rent a house in the woods with a bunch of friends and family.

IN MY DREAMS.

The reality of this crazy life is, it’s just not that simple. I haven’t had a vacation in years, and rarely have a full day off. The double-edged sword of the current technological explosion is that while we can now accomplish much more and much faster and more connectedly than ever before (YES, indie and DIY everything!!)…we’re now EXPECTED to keep up with it all at a dizzying pace. 

And as I get older, I find that many things now take way LONGER than before. Waking up, for example. I used to have two speeds: on and off. I would go out like a light, be soundly asleep for however long I happened to be horizontal, and then when the alarm went off, I would be instantly ON. Awake, alert, cogent, ready to go.

Now I need half an hour to open my eyes and take a sip of coffee…so that when Mose wakes up at dawn and his first words are, “Ready to tell a story?” I can actually respond with language.

Parenting doesn’t take vacations! And neither do bills.

And you don’t have to be an independent musician/songwriter, married to your partner in your insanely uncertain career, to have way too much to do every day. We all juggle more than we should have to, and most of us yearn for a slower/simpler life.

Since we’re not going to get one anytime soon, what do we do? Well, here are a few things I do. (Or at least TRY to. I definitely don’t succeed at this all the time—but when I do, I am noticeably happier, more chill and less anxiety-ridden.)

  1. Every two weeks, have a big calendar session. It takes about two hours, and Brendan doesn’t like doing it, and we have to because the alternative is to miss deadlines, run out of money, and shrivel into dried-up husks of our former selves. Make big project headlines with each area of responsibility (our latest included: JUST GETTING GOOD, KICKSTARTER, SHACKLETON, BEAUTIFUL POISON, MOSE, HOME) – and then the important things that need to get done in the upcoming weeks for each one. Assign next steps to each person and estimate how many hours each thing will take. Then, since I am routinely horrible at guessing how long things take, I DOUBLE that number of hours and put those into the calendar. (For us, this usually adds up to more hours than we will actually be awake! So then we just put in as many as will fit, and hope for the best.)

    This would make Brendan start to hyperventilate.

    This would make Brendan start to hyperventilate.

  2. Put in yoga and other workouts for each of us. IN THE CALENDAR. This helps a lot; even if we have to cancel sometimes, the default setting is exercise. (This is known as the “default effect” in psychology: we are ALL inherently lazy and will take the default option whenever possible, so the idea is to make the default option the one you actually WANT. Set up routine systems for as much as you can, leaving your feeble, finite willpower/decision-making muscle available for important creative things that actually require decisiveness.)26-bikram-postures
  3. Each evening, put together a short (SHORT!!!) list of the things to be done the following day. This will include the smaller things that didn’t make it into the calendar (grocery shopping, phone calls, specifics of what music to practice, etc.). We like the online task manager Asana (asana.com) – because if you use it right, it will keep you OUT of your email as you work on other stuff. This is good and bad; as I write this, I am woefully behind on my email…but the kickstarter is going great guns, and we had an excellent SHACKLETON showcase Monday night. (I keep thinking of something my friend Georgia once joked about having as her epitaph: “Here lies Georgia—she answered a lot of emails”…and I choose to be okay with my priorities.)

    Not really what you want.

    Not really what you want.

  4. Even if you can’t have the BIG intervals (write a musical, go to Hawaii), make sure you have as many SMALL intervals as possible. Sprint instead of marathon: work in short intense bursts of 25 minutes, with a timer, and then take 5-minute breaks. DO NOT FLIT. The unhealthy part of multitasking is the continual veering around from thing to thing (and it is SO TEMPTING to check Facebook or email every five minutes! GAH!); so I do my best to chase the elusive “flow” state even when time is limited…and the only way to get there is to focus single-mindedly until the timer goes off. I try to make work time sacred, not chatting with our housemate or answering the phone or otherwise letting myself be pulled away during those short bursts.
  5. When you’re done working for the day, be DONE. (I am not good at this. I am very very Type A. But I try.)Done

So I guess my philosophy on multitasking comes down to this: if you PRE-PLAN it to allow yourself to dig into each project over several intensely focused short bursts of time, and set up your default options to be in sync with your larger goals, then you’ll be able to switch gears effectively instead of mentally meandering, having to figure out from moment to moment what is important enough to merit your overtaxed attention.

I am far from the poster child for serenity, or cheerful fearless creativity. I am frequently riddled with doubt, panic or decision fatigue (or all three); but I know I’m not alone. Constant multitasking (and my concomitant desire to be a singletasker) is one of the few certainties in this mostly/completely/utterly uncertain, ridiculous, wonderful life. 

 

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Los Angeles, CA – 11/03/14

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MUSI-CAL tonight with Brendan @ Rockwell in LA! (20 min of SHACKLETON)

If you happen to be in/near LA, come see us LIVE this evening, Monday, Nov. 3: Brendan & I, with MD Ryan O’Connell, will do 20 minutes of music from ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME at Musi-Cal, Rockwell Table & Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027. In addition to our presentation, the evening will also feature excerpts from new musicals written by some other excellent folks. Here’s the link for tickets.

unnamed

This show is a knockout. Don’t miss it!
LA composers preview their new musicals
Monday, November 3rd, 8 pm @ Rockwell Table & Stage

1714 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027

The LA Musical Theatre Community gathers at Rockwell Table & Stage tonight, where LA musical theatre lovers will get their first look & listen to four new musical works in progress. The evening is one of a series of five upcoming Musi-Cal events being produced at Rockwell by The Festival of New American Musicals, showcasing local songwriters and their newest works.

November 3rd Program & Cast:
Continue reading

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BEAUTIFUL POISON at the NAMT Festival + Manhattans in Manhattan

It is indeed a wonderful life.

It is indeed a wonderful life.

Oh this wonderful, odd, rock-star-mom-musical-theatre-writer life. I am a lucky woman.

I just got back from showcasing our new musical BEAUTIFUL POISON at the Festival of New Musicals put on by NAMT (the National Alliance for Musical Theatre). The main festival isn’t open to the public, just NAMT members including the top staff from over 200 regional theatres interested in commissioning and presenting new musicals. Every year they choose only 8 musicals to present, out of hundreds of applicants—with a strict limit of only 45 minutes per presentation—and everything happens within a single building at New World Stages in Manhattan. The lovely (and very effective) result is that nearly every festival attendee sees all the presentations—which means that our show is seen by the maximum possible number of people who might be interested in programming our work into their season.

Ian Eisendrath is a badass.

Ian Eisendrath is a badass.

It was a whirlwind, and an amazing experience, all compressed into a very short amount of rehearsal and performance where everyone has to turn their personal amps up to 11 and just go for it. It was the largest cast we’ve ever worked with at NAMT (11 actors, plus a 3-person band), and the most music-heavy, fully-vocally-arranged score we’ve ever presented. So the music rehearsal process was fast and furious, led by the amazing and truly brilliant Ian Eisendrath. (I’ve never seen anyone teach music as efficiently as Ian before—instead of STOPPING to correct a mistake, he somehow keeps the beat going and speaks in rhythm to tell the actors what they need to know, saving several seconds with each correction. Like: “NOPE, 2, 3, it’s on the ONE, like this, breathe, AH!, 2, 3, back to BAR FIFTEEN, and!” It’s an astounding thing to watch.) Continue reading

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The Art of Asking, part 2, and a rhetorical question about carbohydrates

I am overwhelmed, and thrilled, and delighted, and relieved, and just now maybe learning how to stand up on this crazy surfboard as it rides the waves. The tide of generosity that started pouring forth on Tuesday and Wednesday as we launched my Kickstarter campaign is simply magnificent, and I couldn’t be more amazed. 100% of our initial goal in one day! I am humbled, and proud, and still pinching myself.

RLY!

RLY!

The sudden explosion of affirmation, as measured by Kickstarter’s wonderful little jolts of positivity via email, really does feel incredible. Every artist, I don’t care who they are, lives with a constant underlying fear of not being good enough, of being irrelevant or ignored or disliked…and so the slightly Sally Field-ish “you really like me!” feeling? I won’t lie; it is FANTASTIC. It is sweet and euphoric and blissful.

And it leads to an addictive checking. (“Do they STILL like me?”)

And there’s so much to do, to keep and extend that wonderful feeling: hundreds of thank-you notes! Stretch goals! Backer updates! It’s tempting to stay up all night, fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, and feel a certain glamour in the obsessiveness, alone in a dark apartment but connected with the world. I imagine this is how certain start-up creators might feel…or gamers…or hackers.

I haven’t actually stayed up all night, and I’ve mostly written my thankyou notes in a lovely candlelit Village bar with wifi and other friendly humans nearby…but I must admit I feel the pull. Especially because I’m here solo this week, no husband or kid to keep me grounded.

Maybe there’s something about being in New York City at this moment that is heightening and exacerbating all of this. If you’ve been reading my blog you know I’ve been trying really hard lately to be healthy, get stronger and lose the extra weight that has crept on due to recent hormonal changes…

Ain't nothing quite so tempting as a NYC slice.

Ain’t nothing quite so tempting as a NYC slice.

…and man, the moment I hit New York, I just couldn’t help myself. I know there are healthy food options available everywhere too, but it feels like a barrage of sugar and carbs. Delicious pizza by the slice on every corner! Tasty muffins in the coffee trucks on every block! Giant cookies from City Bakery in our rehearsal room! Haagen-Dazs bars in the freezer of my friends’ apartment!

And (not that I’m not culpable here, and yet) why aren’t there easily PORTABLE low-carb low-sugar foods? When you’re race-walking from one rehearsal room in midtown to another in Union Square, dodging pedestrians the whole way, you can’t carry a salad with you and eat it while you walk—but a giant slice of pizza, or a soft bread-enveloped Cuban sandwich? No problem. And every lettuce wrap I’ve encountered is even more messy. There must be a solution.

(Probably the smartest solution is to not race-walk and eat lunch simultaneously, right? Ha.)

Ian Lane (my wonderful trainer in LA, who is probably horrified with me), if you’re reading this, don’t worry—it’s been five days and I’m mostly back on track. Mostly.

Beautiful-Poison-NAMT-logoThe super-charged excitement of the Kickstarter launch has been happening at the exact same time as a different form of super-charged excitement, which is rehearsing our newest musical BEAUTIFUL POISON for the NAMT Festival. Just like with Kickstarter, there are many wonderful little jolts of positivity: the cast rehearses in a very fragmentary manner due to everyone’s complicated/busy schedules (many of them are currently in shows on Broadway), and so short sections of the 45-minute presentation get rehearsed and polished (and they sound AMAZING – what a killer cast and truly gorgeous voices, and incredible band members!! I’m talking about you, Brandon O’Neill, Michelle Duffy, Terence Archie, Jesse Nager, Corey Mach, Chelsea Packard, Sarah Rose Davis, Natalie Belcon, Allen Fitzpatrick, Laura Griffith, Michael Lanning, Shannon Ford, Dillon Kondor).

Every time part of a song comes together, with the power of these beautiful vocals and the leadership of our brilliant music director Ian Eisendrath, our bookwriter Duane and I get a little frisson of happiness. Each one is short-lived, however, since we haven’t gotten to run through the whole thing yet—so we’re still a little jittery.

Interestingly, the moment I’ve been able to be the most calm through this week was when I went with my friend Makaela to see the fantastic play, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” It’s a funny, poignant, beautifully theatrical story from the point of view of an autistic boy—and just another reminder that it’s a very good thing to get out of one’s own head (in this case, into this boy’s extraordinary one, which was spectacularly realized on stage with deft lighting, projections and sound design). I found it transporting and inspirational.

Ultimately, both “Just Getting Good” and BEAUTIFUL POISON are long-haul projects—this is just the very beginning. And in both cases, as I write in my Kickstarter thankyous, it is all about collaboration, every bit of it. Creating something and making it happen together.

I am not a lone, over-caffeinated night owl hunched over a computer; I am at my best when truly connected, supported and being supportive and thus able to give the best of myself. It’s why I love what I do, and I’m going to take a moment to CELEBRATE the fact that in this first heady week of Kickstarter, and the first heady week of NAMT Festival prep, that connection and support has never, ever been so crystal clear.

So I’m going to spend a few hours offline—practice my singing and violin playing, go work out with my friend Annie, walk in the crisp fall Manhattan sunshine…eat some protein and vegetables, drink a lot of water, and allow myself to be calmly, serenely HAPPY. Thank you for this amazing life, and for being a part of it.

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Kickstarter prep: The Art Of Asking part 1

It is hard to ask for help.

Wiley-Coyote-Help

It is hard to hold one’s head up high, and say, without shame, “I am making this thing that is worthy and valuable. Please be a part of it.”

It is hard to get over oneself and one’s pride, one’s puritanically built-in sense that money equals merit (and conversely, that the need for it equals failure), and just ASK.

I’ve spent the better part of two weeks making myself do just that – the exact thing that makes me feel so shameful and uncomfortable – and I’m amazed at what’s happening.
People are responding in ways I never imagined, with great enthusiasm and eagerness – including those I know for a fact don’t have a lot of extra money lying around.

I’m starting to reconnect with old friends, and to connect further with new ones…and I’m finding that in what seems like a ridiculously crowded arena (Kickstarter and crowd-funding in general – everyone appears to be doing it), people still do actually CARE.
And they need good music in their lives. They want it to exist, because it is the best/truest way for people to connect with each other and their shared experiences…

And in our society, right now, this is the way it happens: musicians and artists and creative types put together pitch videos and Kickstarter campaigns and round up everyone in their lives (with the hopes that their compelling artistic ideas will appeal to strangers as well).
I could bemoan this fact – but I actually find it, as onerous as it is, to be a fantastic experience. (Of course, our campaign hasn’t even officially launched yet – talk to me in a month! HA!)

avoidance_ostrichI’m not allowing myself to be shy, or to avoid what’s difficult. (two of my favorite pastimes)
And forcibly strengthening that muscle of stepping forward (I guess you could also call it leaning in, right?) is completely tied in to making ACTUAL ART. It happens to be thematically related to the project I’m working on (“Just Getting Good,” which is all about facing fears and finding courage in imperfection and boldness), and so instead of the feeling many artists complain about that their lives are bifurcated – too much time spent on emailing and promotion, not enough on being creative – it actually seems to me, at the moment, to be all in alignment.

As always, the whole thing could crash and burn at any moment; humiliation and failure could be imminent; but I persist. And the openhearted largesse I’m encountering? It’s spectacular.

Amanda.

Amanda.

As Amanda Palmer put it so well, in an economy of generosity (which Kickstarter is), you don’t MAKE people pay – you LET them. And people WANT and ALLOW themselves to help each other, and to band together to make something worthwhile.

So next week I am beginning what will be a month-long process of asking for help.
And regardless of how it goes, I’m phenomenally proud and happy to be doing it.

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Postponing Kickstarter by 8 days.

We’re postponing the launch a bit because we got some great feedback from some wise friends this weekend, and decided that taking a little more time to polish the campaign to make it as compelling as possible would really pay off.
So the revised “soft launch” date is next Tuesday, October 14, with the “wide launch” on Wednesday, October 15.
Thanks to all who have responded, from the bottom of my heart! We’ll be in touch in a week and a day.

love
Val

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