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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It’s all about the science (oversharing #5): attention must be paid, and often stood at.

All right, people – this is so crucial that it warrants ending a sentence with a PREPOSITION (see above).

Part 1 – Attention must be paid

Gladwell in 2005.

The halo of Malcolm Gladwell’s hair.

As a former sociology major, I have always been keenly interested in why people do what they do. (I chose not to be a music major in college, even knowing that I wanted to be a musician – because I was so fascinated with what makes humans tick, and I felt the study of human behavior was actually really applicable to songwriting. If I were NOT a musician, I would want to be Malcolm Gladwell. Or at least have his hair.)

I’ve heard for years and years that keeping a food diary is a really valuable weight loss tool. And I always pooh-poohed it, thinking “yeah whatever – I’m totally aware of what I’m eating, and I don’t need to write it down.” It’s the many-times-proven “that thing that applies to all humans? That weakness every other person on the planet has? Not me!” truth about the perverse way we all think.

myfitnesspal_android_2

It’ s My Fitness Pal! I don’t actually eat much bread anymore – that’s a fallacy. Nor apple juice. Wait! You’re not MY fitness pal!

So I went in to see my trainer Ian on Friday, feeling generally good and even-keeled but still the unhappy owner of my excess 10-12 pounds: and he gently suggested that we spend part of the session downloading and setting up a food diary app called “MyFitnessPal.”

It was annoying! I didn’t want to do this! ANOTHER thing to be responsible for, keep up with, write stuff in? Gah! I balked mentally, but did as he said – and committed to documenting every single thing I ate/drank for a week.

And surprise, surprise – the act of keeping the diary has already CHANGED MY BEHAVIOR. I spend many days working at home, and so when I take a break I almost always end up in the kitchen. I’ll grab something to eat – something good in accordance with Ian’s low-carb plan (a handful of almonds, some plain yogurt) – and go back to work. The key here is that what is triggering my eating is NOT HUNGER – but instead simply habit. In these situations I’m generally not at all mindful of whether I actually NEED to open up the fridge; I just do it automatically. (Because I am human and my mind is EASILY controlled – see Brendan’s hilarious musical THE BEHAVIOR OF BROADUS for more on this.)

But now, with MyFitnessPal, I have to make a conscious DECISION about whether to eat something – is it worth the trouble of documenting it in the app? Do I actually need this food right now? And more often than not, over the past few days, the answer is no. And I am much more attuned to actual hunger cues. SO SIMPLE – and yet I resisted and resisted and resisted until now.

Part 2 – Attention must also be stood at

Another thing I’ve long known the benefits of but never actually applied to my own self: the STANDING DESK. For years it’s been proven that sitting for extended periods is horrible for our health. We hunch, we lose our core strength, we overeat, we are at increased risk for heart attacks and cancer…and the latest from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (in a new study specifically of women) is, too much sitting is linked to EARLY DEATH. Yes, you read that right. DEATH.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long – but I’ve always given myself the following two stupid excuses:

  1. “when we get a real office.” (Brendan and I both work primarily at home, and my office/practice space is in our bedroom) Why should I avoid an early death some other time in some rented space instead of avoiding it HERE AND NOW?
  2. “when we have more money to spend.” This is even dumber. My man-of-action husband took one of our road cases, and stuck it under my computer, FOR FREE in about 4 minutes. Voila, standing desk.
IMAG0735

Have road case, will make standing desk.

The additional benefit of this is, more space in between my desk and the bed. The whole room is more airy.

It is true that as soon as I have a gig (coming up in November for SHACKLETON backers’ auditions, and then my Just Getting Good solo concerts December 11-13), I’ll need to USE the road case and come up with something else – but now I’m in the standing habit and I must tell you, I LOVE IT. My feet get a bit tired by the end of the day, but I feel so much better aligned and energetic – and if I’m going to risk an early death, at least it won’t be from something as completely idiotic and avoidable as PROLONGED SITTING at my own desk.

Ten-hut.

(Latest workout with Ian – 4 sets of the following circuit:

  1. chest presses while lying on stability ball
  2. cable lat pulldowns
  3. front/side dumbbell shoulder raises
  4. bent-over dumbbell rows)
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Cake!

Yesterday was the autumnal equinox, and also my son’s 9th birthday. The sun shone directly over the equator, meaning that the ENTIRE GLOBE received 12 hours of sunshine.

In other words: my entrancing, wildly imaginative, relentlessly creative Mose has a birthday which lights up the planet. Or at least that’s what I tell him, and four out of five equinoctial scientists agree. (See birthday lighting-up-the-world photo below.)

Yesterday my son, who has many food allergies, got to have the first real (dairy-free, gluten-free) pizzeria pizza, and the first real professional (dairy-free, gluten-free) birthday cake, of his entire life. SO GOOD!!! I am hugely grateful to Cruzer Pizza in Los Feliz, and Babycakes NYC Bakery in Larchmont, for making truly delectable food our whole family can eat together. This is a really big deal for us.

Mose bday edited

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Just Getting Good – fun on set

We’re getting ready for my new solo album & concert film Just Getting Good, and had a blast shooting the video for the Kickstarter campaign as you can see in this picture.

fun on set


We launch the Kickstarter in two weeks. In the meantime, Brendan is finishing a few more arrangements of re-purposed GrooveLily songs for me using the live-looping program Ableton Live, and I’m practicing the new music for the concerts on Dec 11-13. This is some of the most challenging work I’ve ever done, and I’m loving it. (Check out some early versions of my live looping on my YouTube channel here.)

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NAMT Festival excitement

In exactly one month, we’ll be back in New York for the NAMT Festival of New Musicals with BEAUTIFUL POISON, which we’re writing with the brilliant Duane Poole. Sadly, this presentation isn’t open to the public, but we mention it because this is the festival that introduced our first musical STRIKING 12 to theaters around the country and essentially launched our theatrical careers. It’s the festival that showcased Brendan and David Javerbaum’s irreverent WATT?!? and clinched its premiere production last year, and it’s where SLEEPING BEAUTY WAKES captivated the crowd in 2012.

So this is a big deal, and we’re hoping the producers in attendance will get excited about our newest musical as well. Please cross your fingers for us in October.

namt logo

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Wifely pride

THE BEHAVIOR OF BROADUS, which Brendan co-composed and orchestrated, just got a rave review in the LA Times. Now that everybody knows about it, the shows are selling out. Go see this excruciatingly funny, wonderfully unsettling, wacky musical before it closes Oct. 18!

broadus

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It’s all about the science (oversharing #4): I haven’t wept in days.

IMAG0662I’m starting to feel a hell of a lot better. Haven’t yet returned to the doc for followup, but I can tell my optimism is back; it’s a lot easier to smile; I haven’t wept in days (except at a particularly beautiful musical arranging moment by Brendan on our song “If You Believe,” which I cannot wait to play for you as part of Just Getting Good); it doesn’t require superhuman effort or tractor-hauling to get me out of bed in the morning; I don’t feel itchy or apathetic or like I’m crawling out of my skin; and I am nearly back to being myself again —as well as clearly a bit leaner, though still about 10-12 pounds heavier than I would like.
In this intricate dance of hormone balance and health which I’ve been chronicling over the past several weeks, here’s what is now DIFFERENT and appears to be helping:

  1. dialing back on the estrogen/progesterone, which I didn’t realize was being freed up/increased by my strength training – who knew??
  2. changing my longtime thyroid medication from Synthroid to Armour, which addresses the T3 as well as the T4 aspect of the thyroid (I actually think this is making a huge difference in my energy level)
  3. having ONLY one cup of coffee in the morning (as we get older the caffeine can affect our adrenal glands, contributing to anxiety and fatigue), and
  4. truly staying away from most sugar and carbs (except for one weekly “refeed”/carb festival).

The next paragraph is going to get super-geeky in the fat science department. Brace yourself.

It’s so heartening to see my trainer Ian Lane’s guiding principles being corroborated in the national news! Ian (who as a biochem student and varsity gymnast contracted Lyme disease, gained 100 pounds, and then shed it all very intelligently and systematically, using his passion for science and physiology to make it happen as efficiently as possible) advocates a low-carb, high-fat, low-sugar approach to nutrition. He can frequently be found battling it out on Twitter with traditionalists and others who disagree, citing study after study in the growing body of research on the subject (I believe he took on the venerable Dr. Sears recently and they had a lively debate)…and it was wonderful to see the New York Times headline last week echoing exactly what Ian keeps saying:
Cutting carbs, eating lots of good proteins and fats, including saturated fats, WORKS and is not harmful; in fact it is tremendously beneficial in many many ways (in the NIH study, markers of inflammation, triglycerides, and heart-attack-risk factors plunged as the low-carb high-fat group lost weight, as opposed to the traditional low-fat group). I certainly am feeling better already: more upbeat/energetic/even-keeled…

It’s amazing to hear from so many people on email and Facebook in response to my posts. Thank you so much for this wonderful supportiveness, and let’s keep the conversation going; there is such strength in community and we really can help each other. Let me know your thoughts! What’s working for you?

PS now that I’m not so much of an anxiety-ridden, weirdly itchy, exhausted, miserable mess, I will resume posting workouts. Here’s the last one:

3 sets of:

  1. single arm cable rows
  2. bent-over dumbbell rows
  3. bent-over lateral shoulder raises
  4. upright row with weight plate
  5. isometric chinup, otherwise known as TEN SECONDS OF TORTURE closely related to but harder than that ancient elementary-school demon, the flexed arm hang. This one is done with arms at about 90 degrees instead of with your chin above the bar. In my case, I struggle valiantly but end up inexorably descending little by little until I have drooped all the way down. This is known as “working to muscle failure” and is the best way to get stronger fast. It’s also psychologically almost impossible to achieve alone – the presence of a trainer or another person exhorting you to keep trying is the only way to make this happen, unless you are a MUCH BETTER PERSON than I.
  6. isometric wall squat, 20 seconds at each of 4 progressively more difficult positions farther and farther down the wall. Again, virtually impossible to do ALL THE WAY TO FAILURE by yourself.

Have you had similar experiences? Let me know!
(Those isometrics are such killers, and make you feel SO GREAT afterwards…)

PPS before I get back to practicing: I have discovered a little age-related bonus. Twenty-somethings all over the place are dyeing their hair grey; it is very cutting-edge and fashionable right now, my friends. MY hair is now suddenly coming in almost entirely silvery-grey at the roots, so that my wonderful hairstylist Meli no longer has to bleach it before putting on the blue. I feel like an iridescent mermaid.

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