02 November, 2015

'Joy' by Rabindranath Tagore

And Joy is Everywhere;
It is in the Earth's green covering of grass;
In the blue serenity of the Sky;
In the reckless exuberance of Spring;
In the severe abstinence of grey Winter;
In the Living flesh that animates our bodily frame;
In the perfect poise of the Human figure, noble and upright;
In Living;
In the exercise of all our powers;
In the acquisition of Knowledge;
in fighting evils...
Joy is there

25 October, 2015

Ask Al: Down Time

© www.iamshotaro.com
Dear Al,

What do you do…when you're not… doing “what you do?” 

How does a free-lancer deal with their "downtime" effectively without losing their sanity or getting off-track?



Dear Valerie

Oooooh, gurl: [*deep sigh*] ... good one.

Everyone knows the drill—"down time" comes along, and, as ever, we begin to do The Dance— yes, THAT dance of trying feebly to NOT LOSE OUR EVER LOVIN’ MINDS.

By this point, I know better than to think the first 48 hours after a job are going to be anything more than me glued to my sofa, my cat staring at me blankly, watching crime shows as I pad back and forth feebly from bed to sofa to fridge.
It's glamor.
It's *Showbizzz...*


A career in the arts more often than not comes with huge periods of hurry and flurry, often followed by (sometimes loooooooong) periods of said "Downtime." One day you are knocking ‘em dead, filming your commercial, doing your guest arc, breaking hearts in Pippin, running from audition to audition, slaying the crowds, kicking ass and taking names, and the next day?
Hello, Unemployment, how can I help you?
[*Violin music*]

     You can’t “get arrested”
     Auditions are slow.
     Auditions aren’t slow, but no one wants a [inset-exactly-what-you-are] type.
     You aren’t working for another 3 months.
     You are working, but you’re called for two hours a day.

…You get it.
It’s a serious bummer.

During this downtime you may start to get itchy.
Or, if you are anything like me, you find the first 48 hours GAH-MA-ZING, and euphorically jump around the streets of the city—('I am free! I am a vessel of infinite possibilities! I might go to Antarctica! I might learn Japanese! I might build houses in Nicaragua! I might be able to finally focus on a new skill or technique and be a STAH!')
This feeling is immediately followed (at exactly hour 49) by finding myself in the fetal position, totally FREAKING THE F**K OUT.

…Sound familiar?

If you ask me (and you are) “Downtime,” if utilized appropriately, can be a great opportunity! But it CAN lead to feelings of boredom or discouragement if you do not stay motivated. So DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN! You must learn to create happiness, and actively find ways to keep moving forward—we should never become complacent; doing even one lil’ thing every day can help you to stay motivated, keep your “knives sharp,” and will certainly help bring you closer to all of your goals.

I like to call downtime “Strategic Re-engagement.”
Now, okay, that may sound a little dry, but it is also active and positive. Dr. Brené Brown calls hers “Whitespace,” and I like that too, for sometimes re-engagement means going internal, taking that bubble bath and binge-watching ‘Downton Abbey;’ and sometimes it means putting on your big-girl pants and just gosh-darn-taking that real-estate course. And, yes, sometimes it means being a little busted and taking that temp job at Loserville Café. But ALL of these are valid, acceptable, and just a part of The Thing of being any kind of freelancer.


Here are a few practical tips for making the most of your downtime:
"TRY, Morales..."


Nothing… and I mean Priscilla-Lopez-Original-Cast-of-A-Chorus-Line-N-O-T-H-I-N-G is going to happen at all if you don’t start with #1.

Make a freakin’ Plan already.

You take your pick— quiet-time or hard-work time, both are critical.

Quiet time is essential because it gives you the space to reflect on your life, make plans and re-charge your batteries.

Hard work is vital to all true growth.

Having a freaking PLAN will just help you get the most out of your time, and thus the most of your life.


    A) Before downtime begins, ask yourself what you're hoping/expecting to get out of it.
For example:
    - Do you want to do something productive, just have fun, or need to genuinely recuperate?
    - Do you want to mix active and inactive options?
    - Is there something specific you’ve been meaning to do for a long time? (Visit Norway / join the World Sudoku championship /take a clown class?)
    - Are you on a time/ money budget?

    B) Jot down a few downtime options, and how much TIME to dedicate to each activity. 1- 4 items is a good start. It can be anything from learning to juggle, visiting family, to pargeing your driveway.

    C) Make a schedule.
Busy people often “blah” away valuable downtime because they haven't scheduled a gosh darn meaningful thing into their falsely busy lives. But “resting-artists,” are often more guilty of “frittering” the downtime away than anyone. Where oh WHERE did October 17th get away to while I was not-online-shopping/ playing video games/ watching Judge Judy?
No idea.
Just… suddenly it was 10pm.

Have some ideas.
Commit to an exact time when your downtime ends.
Set an alarm if it will help you.

2. Take (an actual) freakin’ break.
But actually do it.
The last week of July I was on my first vacation in 8 years. (?!!) EIGHT. YEARS. I went to Lake Tahoe with my brother and his young (gah-dorable) family. I was discussing how excited I was to possibly return to Lake Tahoe next summer—this is how the conversation went:

AL: This place is so beautiful—I’ve never been here! I’m so excited to return next year!
 JORDAN: You’re coming back?
AL: yes, I am singing in the music festival next summer.
JORDAN: How are you going to get time off from work?
AL: Well, I actually get to take a few vacation days.
JORDAN: …Wait. So… you are going to take a vacation from your 8-shows-a-week schedule, to go… work more? Just... in another place?
AL: …Um. Okay, yes. … I take your point.

So. Be present in the moment, Sleep in once in a while (it will envelop you in warmth, coziness and rainbows—just don’t do it every day). Read, grab a pal and organize to do something actually FUN, switch off your devices, take a trip, or maybe even just be idle for an entire weekend!
That's right. Take a break. A real one.

And if you have any doubts about how to do this guilt-free? Watch your pet. The Kween herself Tatiana Angela Lansbury Romanov sure knows how to make the most of her life’s work of downtime; take a leaf out of Tati’s book and take four naps…

3. Improve a skill-set / Brush up
Many of us unknowingly put limits on ourselves too often. 
Don’t limit yourself.
You can be anything and anyone that you want to be and not just like in the Hall & Oates song.

If you’ve come to the big city with ‘nothing but a dance belt and a tube of chapstick’ to pursue your dream of working as an artist, then one can almost guarantee that you’re talented in some manner—some of which you may not have even considered yet.

I remember the first time I ever took an African Dance class at The Guthrie Theatre… “Whaaaaat the actual hell is going on…?” I thought, as I stomped wildly across the floor to admittedly fantastic but super-intense drumming. What the hell was actually going on was I WAS KICKING MAJOR ASS AT AFRICAN DANCE and totally nailing life! New passion, new respect, new self-possession about an innate mastery I never knew I possessed all because I said “F*** it” and dove in just because.  Taking the time to explore these other areas of our art is crucial to creating a diverse artist and human being – which everyone should aim to be.

4. Get a job.
 Yep. That job.
...I know.
No no— not that job—that one.

You are going to become obsessed with getting a new job. Not only because you need to feed your hungry belly, pay your landlord and not starve your pets, but also because you probably just can’t handle how much you feel like your talent, mind, energy and passionate self are being wasted.
I understand that, and you need to know how valid, human, and understandable those feelings are. But obsessing about the next “gig” (as in “everything will be okay when I finally book XYZ”) isn’t the answer to your distress.

A new artistic job is NOT the answer to your existential problems.
Some kind of job is gonna feed your cat and occupy your mind.

5. Live an Artistic Life
It is easy to get tied up in your "Career Identity—" you know the one. The one where your entire existence and feeling of life-purpose is tied specifically to being PAID for your art? Yeah, that one. It makes sense— there is a tremendous sense of professional artistic “legitimacy—” as in: “If I am paid to do it I must be the real thing.” While that is true, it is also true that creating art, and practicing artistic living for its own sake makes a human being no less an artist.

I challenge you (and all artists, professional or non) to view your entire LIFE as an artistic opportunity.
To live your LIFE artistically.

Elizabeth Gilbert (beautiful writer and author of Eat Pray Love) has written and entire book (that you should buy right now) on the subject of living creatively.
If you’re alive, you’re a creative person […] A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.

She is, of course, deeply correct. One of the glories of the arts themselves is that you can participate in them at any level and have it edify and glorify your life!

That means you can:
- Work in an office and paint on Sundays.
- Sing in a choir
- Join a community theatre
- Start a blog to chart and share your writing (how do you think London Still started?)
- Take “old-lady” tap class
- Practice cello BECAUSE IT MAKES YOU HAPPY, and it is fulfilling to develop mastery for any reason.

But that’s not all.
Living creatively and artistically is not just for the artsy-types or the creative elite. There is not “Creativity Membership Club” in which one is either already a member, or never will be. Don’t allow your childhood “creativity demons” (like that meany-pants art teacher that told you you couldn’t draw because your sky was green and unicorn had three horns) torpedo you. Creative living is for ANY-and-EVERY-one.

That’s right.

That ALSO means you can:
- Journal
- Start a blog about whatever
- Create THE most beautiful birthday cakes for your children
- Write hand-written letters
- Throw beautiful parties
- Scrapbook
- Revel in your personal sense of style

Searching constantly for creative outlets and sources of expression and you will feel far less frustrated about your “real life,” and it will also make you healthier in general. But literally. Science says so.

Vulnerability and Shame researcher Brené Brown (one of my total heroes) says:
the notion of ‘I’m not very creative’ just doesn’t work: ‘There’s no such thing as creative people and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.’”
 She also points out that
Unused creativity doesn’t just disappear. It lives within us until it’s expressed, neglected to death, or suffocated by resentment and fear.
Think of art, and of creativity as a WAY OF LIFE, and watch out world! You are on the super-highway to happiness, self-fulfillment, and super-strength vitality! Now, if that isn’t a superpower I don’t know what is.


6. Lighten the heck up.
When presented with the choice between being cranky or being grateful, my dearest friends, please CHOOSE JOY.

Now I am not talking about denying your very real feelings of disappointment or rejection (you’d be a big ol’ weirdo if you never did—as well as a big ol’ pants-on-fire), I am talking about choosing how to RESPOND to those feelings AFTER you have felt them. Do you LIVE in the muck like a muck-monster, or do you rise up, wipe the dust from your face and continue on with dignity and gusto?

Respond to situations, rather than give in to knee-jerk Reactions.

Remember you have the gift of being alive.
You have a consciousness, you are capable of ideas, tasting delicious food, listening to music, holding hands, playing in the snow, loving and being loved.

We are on this planet ONCE, and that is IT.
Lighten the heck up.

You got this.

...but seriously.

16 October, 2015

An Open Letter to Angela Lansbury on her 90th Birthday

Dear Dame Angela,

It seems inappropriate to be writing this open letter to you on anything other than a now-vintage Royal typewriter, but alas. 

Happy 90th Birthday. 
You sure do know how to live a life. 

I often 'joke' on all forms of social media (and, well, truthfully to anyone who will listen including total strangers on public transportation), that my admiration for you borders on obsession. The truth is there is nothing borderline about it...


Your portrait is absolutely not my iPhone wallpaper...
The greatest day of my teaching life was NOT when my student Kendyl gave a report on you entitled “BOW DOWN...”
Nor did I name my cat after you...  
My cat: Tatiana Angela Lansbury Romanov

I have many personal and artistic role models (Danny Kaye, Cate Blanchett, Marcel Marceau, Irene Pappas and your real-life BFF Bea Arthur to name a few), but you remain, without exception, my only true idol. 

The truth is: not only your career, but your life itself is of profoundest meaning, inspiration, and influence. 

I’m sure you’d be really proud of my parents to know that I first came across you as Princess Gwendolyn in the 1955 classic The Court Jester (my father was Danny Kaye’s biggest fan). This resulted in many a dinner party in which 7-year-old-me regaled guests with citations of you saying “I don’t give a FIG for your wishes!” (and of course, the “Pellet with the Poison” sketch), and once in a while sneaking up behind other children on the playground and whispering “…if he dies, YOU die…” just like Princess Gwendolyn. ...Well, at least I thought I was pretty cool... 

I then devoured “Til The Clouds Roll By—” (like I said: I had great parents). As I grew of course I reveled in the magic of Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Beauty and the Beast, not to mention exclusively watching Murder, She Wrote if ever I stayed home from school for any reason. 

"The theater is magical and addictive."

As a teenager I became enamored with the theatre, and that was truly where, what can only be described as the tsunamic-thrall of respect for your legacy deepened. 
I did reports on you.
Devoured your early cinema work.
I delighted in watching you host the Tonys.
Wrote your quotes about life and acting in my journals
     and, perhaps most importantly, 
created THE ANGELA LANSBURY POWER PLAYLIST (starting with “We Need a Little Christmas,” taking the scenic route past “Anyone Can Whistle,” “Worst Pies in London,” Pirates of Penzance and “Bosom Buddies” then ending with your “Rose’s Turn”). 
By the end of college, the deal was sealed. 

When I moved to America from London at the very end of 2009, I was in a state of intense personal turmoil. The only adult life I’d known had crumbled in London, and I was starting over in The Big Apple with nothing to lose—because, frankly, I’d already lost it all. 

But I was lucky enough to be able to catch you live on stage several times. I even happened to sing an aria from Master Class at The Acting Company’s benefit honoring Terrence McNally that you hosted in 2011 (but was honestly so overwhelmed by singing on my first Broadway stage in yours and other luminaries’ presences, I couldn’t even face the CONCEPT of meeting my only idol that evening…) You were a true lady—you gave me a hearty, smiling “Brava” from the seat beside Terrence, and you spoke with eloquence, honesty and warmth. I also had the privilege to meet you personally at Terrence’s opening of It’s Only a Play, in which you were just a gracious and dignified. 

In short: you were everything I hoped you to be. 

But while I always admired your work, something happened to me personally in 2012 that changed me, and your influence was right at the center of it. 

I “awoke”  in the middle of the bitterly cold winter of 2012, to a wave of intense emotions I believe I had been tabling since my move from London, and more than likely a hefty load of feelings from the passing of my father in 2001. I was processing grief, heartbreak, and a total shift in professional identity; and, though it sounds almost laughable at the age of 27, I was feeling that I had started over “Too Late.” 
That it was “too late” for me to make it in the American theatre
Too Late” to find another life partner
Too Late” to recreate myself 
Too Late” to ever feel young and vibrant again.
Above all, that the chance to begin again was “behind me.” 

I took to my sofa—and, in the fashion of all respectable nervous breakdowns, I adorned myself in the customary uniform (aka ‘The Bathrobe of Shame’), stopped eating anything that couldn’t be lazily pawed into my mouth, and promptly contracted walking pneumonia. I was winning at life. 

And then? Then, just like I had when I was a child home sick from school, I began re-watching all twelve seasons of Murder, She Wrote. It was light. Charming, It solved problems in 45 minutes. It was radically comforting. It was also a parade of gigantic theatre actors, screen stars, and stars-to-be. 
I love that as executive producer, you paid your actors well, I love that you gave “first-TV-chances” to young people you believed in, and above all, I love that in Season 6, when your real-life family was having trouble, you left Hollywood and prioritized their wellness, then returned to work like the professional you are. I love and admire your lifelong marriage (it reminds me of the love of my parents), I love how ardently you loved your husband, and your sons; I love that you were a wife and mother who was also an accomplished artist. 

"I was a wife and a mother, and I was completely fulfilled. But my husband recognized the signals in me which said 'I've been doing enough gardening, I've cooked enough good dinners, I've sat around the house and mooned about what more interior decoration I can get my fingers into.' It's a curious thing with actors and actresses, but suddenly the alarm goes off. My husband is a very sensitive person to my moods and he recognized the fact that I had to get on with something. Mame came along out of the blue just at this time. Now isn't that a miracle?"

But something else in that period hit me in the core of my being: 
You have proved that it is never too late for anything.
You not only prove it.
You live it. 
You are fearless. 
You are willing to try and attempt any kind of role, to transform yourself in any way. 
You became an Oscar-nominee at 18
     theatre star at 41
          a household name at 60
               and won your first Olivier at 89.
You work hard (you still do 8-shows a week on tour!)
You have re-invented yourself over and over again as an artist and a woman, from screen starlet to stage diva, to the most famous and beloved woman in television, and repeat.  
You stand like a pillar of fire, for those of us, just like me, that sometimes falter in our belief. That worry that the best of life is behind us...
It is not.  

Thank you for living it. 

"Here I am, I still go on, you know, like the tides..."

I have been putting off completing this open letter to you for years, for a large part of me knows that I could never truly say it all—and in truth, of course I cannot. I could never articulate the full intensity of what your life’s example truly means to me; how much it heartens, galvanizes, and ignites within me a personal, professional and spiritual goalpost. One of hard work, devotion, above all, hope. 

"I'm in a very enviable position, being able to work like this 45 years later. It's always beginning! I never have a sense of finishing up, just new things beginning. When I die, they're going to carry me off a stage."

I’m crying now, to be truthful. But only in joy. 

Thank you for your legacy. 
Your influence.
For the art you have given the world. 
For being the woman you are. 
Happy 90th Birthday Angela. 
The honor has been all ours.  

With infinite love and gratitude,

Alexandra Silber

15 October, 2015

Fiddler on Broadway Press Preview: "Matchmaker, Matchmaker"

Want a little sneak peak of the new Broadway production's take on "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" -- just two weeks into our rehearsal process?

We are loving this bold re-interpretation, and absolutely adoring one another.


"Matchmaker" from Fiddler on the Roof featuring Samantha Massell (Hodel), Melanie Moore (Chava), and Alexandra Silber (Tzeitel)

14 October, 2015

In Rehearsal: a preview of Broadway's Fiddler on the Roof with Broadway.com

Paul Wontorek of Broadway.com interviews director Bartlett Sher, choreographer Hofesh Shecter and stars Danny Burstein (Tevye), Jessica Hecht (Golde), Alexandra Silber (Tzeitel), Adam Kantor (Motel), Samantha Massell (Hodel), Melanie Moore (Chava), Alix Korey (Yevte), Ben Rappaport (Perchik), and Adam Dannheisser (Lazar Wolf).

Get your Tickets to FIDDLER ON THE ROOF!

27 September, 2015

A Fiddler field trip!

"Tevye's Daughters" took our first trip to the Broadway to see all the marquees!

Here I am with my beautiful new 'little sisters' Samantha Massell (Hodel) and Melanie Moore (Chava)--we are so excited! Are you?

16 September, 2015

Things I've Learned to Love: A List

•  Driving

•  The great outdoors

•  Throwing parties

•  Cooking for people

•  Swimming in deep water

•  “Early to bed, early to rise”

•  Running!

•  Others who see it all far differently than I do.

•  Coffee

•  Being “unplugged”

•  Walking on a beach in a swimsuit

•  Teaching at a large university (like Pace)

•  New York

•  Sex

•  My body (WOW.)

•  (to RE-love) Singing

•  Tati! And the general having of pets. 

•  Makeup

•  Getting older

•  Imperfections 
•  The experience of being single

•  Gluten-free-ness

•  Certain foods such as: Pickles, fish, Sushi, beets…

•  Baseball

•  Detroit and Michigan

•  Museums

•  London

•  Alone-time

•  Not-so-alone-time

•  Maintaining my health

•  Non-fiction 

•  Design

•  Winter

•  The art of Diplomacy (and the victory of a conflict well-handled!)

•  Short hair!

•  Ambiguity

04 September, 2015

Announcement: San Francisco Symphony 15/16 Opening Gala!

So. Yeah.
Wowee zowee. 
To you.

You know what? When I found out about the Grammy-nomination, I was paying for a cup of coffee at a 7-11. I remember counting out the coins incorrectly and holding up a huge line because I was so discombobulated.
When I found out about this, I was...also... at a 7-11.
A different 7-11 mind you, but still.
And once again, paying for coffee.
This time, however, I dropped my phone. It actually fell out of my hands and bounced around in the air while I grappled for it like I was the victim of a bad sketch comedy.

This tells me a few things:
1. I clearly... like ...7-11
2. ...and their coffee....
3. There must be a space-time-continuum thing about The San Francisco Symphony and 7-11.
4. Not only was this such an unexpected, generous and delightful invitation, it was a stunning reminder of how incredible life can be if we are open to being reminded (often, in 7-11) that we do indeed live in an abundant universe. (Hence, 7-11 pratfall.)

Basically? NBD: I'm singing showtunes with giants.
"You’re invited to the Symphony’s biggest party of the year! Toast the start of a fantastic new season with sparkling wine, a red carpet, and enjoy an exciting Symphony concert led by Michael Tilson Thomas, featuring Grammy Award-winning stage and screen star Patrick Stewart, soprano Alexandra Silber, and renowned baritone Nathan Gunn. Then, head to the glamorous after-party with delicious treats, live music, and dancing.

Formal dinner packages that include premium seating for the concert are available by contacting the Volunteer Council at (415) 503-5500."
You should come. Here's how: tickets.

Michael Tilson Thomas, Patrick Stewart, Alexandra Silber, Nathan Gunn

03 September, 2015

50 Things I've Missed About London

1. Skies white as a clean sheet of paper.
2. The sight, sounds and smells of the Borough Market.
3. The diversity (37% of the population were born outside of the UK, and over 300 languages are spoken in London).
4. The accent melting-pot.
5. Nights with pals at Shoreditch House.
6. Incredibly long summer days.
7. Christmas in Covent Garden
8. Book exchanges = free books. ‘Nuff said.
9. The walk along the South Bank from Canary Wharf to Waterloo
10. The freakin' Rosetta Stone.

11. The Tate Modern (my favorite modern building in the city).
12. You can just hop on a train to Paris whenever you please because, Paris.
13. The October 16:30 light in St. James Park..
14. The view from the stage at Royal Albert Hall.
15. The Piccadilly Line (go “Team Blue”)
16. Utterly, and I mean utterly bizarre television advertisements.
17. In depth conversations with taxi drivers.
18. Leon (particularly their coleslaw, brown rice and dark chocolate brownie).
19. Really effing brilliant theatre
20. My secret back-alley walk from Angel to Islington.

21. Bea’s of Bloomsbury.
22. Profoundly, bizarre happenings.
23. Stores dedicated to single items such as umbrellas, whiskey and bicycles.
24. Oyster cards are one smooth operating system.
25. Poirot’s house.
26. The friendly blue plaques.
27. London has more green space than any other major city on earth.
28. Notting Hill Carnivale
29. And Portobello Road.
30. Someone asking for directions and actually knowing the answer.

31. Pretending to be in a video game on the DLR (don’t tell me you haven’t done it… Liar.)
32. Seven Dials (home).
33. The oh-so-familiar aisles of Foyle's Books.
34. Southbank skaters (and the kick ass graffiti on the walls).
35. Spitalfields Market.
36. You can watch a play at the Globe or a concert at the Proms for £5.
37. My beautiful London chums...
38. ...Particularly the “Anatevka contingent” Bev, Tomm, and Julie.
39. “Adventure-days” with Edward Petherbridge.

40. The world’s best bagels and curry all along Brick Lane.
41. Your commute will take you past some of the most famous landmarks in the world.
42. Trains. Everywhere trains. And I love trains.
43. Sitting in the front seat on top of the beautiful double-decker red buses.
44. Ancient, older-than-anything-I-can-comprehend buildings nuzzled up against über-modern visions.
45. The hidden gem that is Blade Rubber Stamp's in Holborn.
46. Everything that is Alexandra Palace (aka “Ali Pali”).
47. An after-show drink at the champagne bar at Kettner’s.
48. The hedonistic delights of Soho.
49. The museums are free. Most of them... FREE.
50. Walking walking walking…


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