Monday, June 24, 2013

What's a cabaret enjeneu doing in Indy Fringe?

Never in my life did I think I could perform in the Indy Fringe Festival. But, then again, I never dreamt that a year ago, I would be one of 20 students at the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University.  After being downright terrified to be a solo performer, the best part about finally doing it is that I have nearly ZERO expectations about it and its outcomes.  Well, okay, yes, I want to successful, but I'm okay knowing that I'll probably not make it to Broadway. ("Never say never 'cause no one ever hears." -- Princess Bride ;o)  I'm grateful that I don't have to quit my day job and can enjoy whatever may come from it and learn along the way. 

Why did I doubt me + Indy Fringe?
(A) I'm not an actor.
(B) I don't consider myself particularly "edgy" (if you know what I mean).
(C) I didn't know the first thing about creating a show.
(I'll spare you reasons D-Z.)

All of that changed when I attended the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University last August. My fellow 19 classmates from around the globe and star-studded faculty gave me the education and confidence to think "what if?" "why not?" Several of them had performed cabarets in other fringe festivals. Why not me? Why not in Indy? (Read more about "Gail @ Yale")

I also spoke to Indy Fringe Executive Director, Pauline Moffat, who has been very supportive.  "The Fringe is for everyone," she said. "It's your opportunity to show us the Gail we've never seen before." Well, that may be, but I'm still not quite that "edgy."

We are truly fortunate to have such an outlet for performing artists like me as well as seasoned professionals who want to try something new, be exposed to new audiences, and simply for the love of performing.  Indy Fringe is not juried or curated or based on a lottery system.  Indy Fringe takes the first 64 performing groups to apply and pay the application fee.  All of the ticket sales go back directly to the artists.  The result is a beautiful cacophony of theatre, music, magic, comedy, acrobatics, and more over 10 days in six venues downtown Indianapolis.

I was incredibly intimidated by the idea of creating a show with a French theme.  It was originally created as a fundraiser for Dance Kaleidoscope in March during their performance featuring all music by Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf -- two ICONIC French composers/performers.  Several of Brel's most popular songs were translated into English for the 1968 Off-Broadway hit show "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris".  He is a masterful poet, story-teller and romantic contemporary composer who's truth cuts to the core of the human experience and emotion.  Juxtaposed by Edith Piaf, the original French cabaret poster-child who's life was most recently made famous in the movie "La Vie En Rose." She is the most famous, influential chanson in French history, with an unmistakably voice and sound. Powerfully and passionately, she bled her music as a reflection of her own tragic real life story.

I listened. I read about them. I researched the songs. Repeat. By December, I was more confused than ever and beginning to panic. 

Cabaret is not a concert of music.  Anyone can stand up and sing a song list. A Cabaret tells a story through the songs, woven together through short bits of patter (i.e. unsung, spoken words that tie the music together).  Sometimes patter is scripted, sometimes it's impromptu.  I was having trouble piecing together a story from the music of Piaf and Brel alone.  A show of either of them would be great, but combined, they are very different.  I met with DK's David Hochoy for some direction.

"Do whatever you want," he said. "It doesn't even have to be French! Just make it your own and sing what you love."  

While seemingly obvious and simple, his words unlocked my block. I went back through the scores of music I had now unearthed with any kind of French connection -- French composers, French movies, French musicals, music in French, music, movies, television and musicals about Paris or with any French tie. 

I picked my favorites and a good mixture of uptempo and slower ballads, including Brel and Piaf, of course, and began lining them up in what might be a show order.

But how to tie them together?  What's the story?  ... Check back next week!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why you should try yoga

Years ago, a friend suggested that I try yoga.  Knowing that I've always been an avid athlete - runner, cyclist, etc. - as well as a deeply spiritual person, he thought I might enjoy it.  Even though he didn't mention it in his list of reasons why I should try it, the added benefit of calming down this Type A personality might have also occurred to him.

I immediately liked it. It was physically difficult in ways that I had never been really challenged before.  It helped loosen and lengthen my poor leg muscles that were aching to be stretched from miles of running.  I've never been a flexible person.  The fact that I couldn't do the splits at age 10 sealed my fate and prevented me from ever becoming a cheerleader.  Yet, after doing yoga more regularly over the last two years, I have noticed that my body is more open, less tight.  Maybe the splits are in reach after all.

Yoga means "to unite" -- mind, body and breath.  I also sing, so breathing deeply was not new to me. Yet, breathing techniques, or pranayama, have given me tools that help calm my nerves and focus my mind - whether it's in traffic or when I'm preparing to sing on stage.  I'm less apt to react to distressing situations and able to better respond thoughtfully.  This, too, is a work in progress.

If I had to give anyone reasons why he/she should try yoga, here's my top five:

1. Put your health - mental and physical - first
Making time for yourself can be the greatest challenge of all. Regardless of how "in-shape" you are, yoga meets you where you are.  You can be a better friend, spouse, mother, father, son or daughter when you take care of yourself.  You also set the example for other loved-ones when you make your health a priority. 

2. Strengthen your body inside and out.
Regardless of how strenuous the practice, yoga has numerous benefits working for you, which only multiply over time. Stress reduction, lower blood pressure, increased oxygen to your blood to create new cells, removes toxins from organs and blood stream, lubricates joints, strengthens muscles that support joints and spine... should I go on? 

3. Train your brain. Turn off the noise.
Even when I was running or biking, my "monkey-mind" was still "on." Grocery and to-do lists, relationship drama, life's worries... all of it still running on its own treadmill in my mind.  By focusing on your breathing, yoga teaches you how to train your brain to turn off the noise inside your head for the moment. It will be there when you finish. For now, focus, create space and find clarity.  This is a critical skill that we need more of in today's 24/7 digital society.

4. Connect with your inner-self. 
How often do you take time to search deep inside your heart and simply listen?  It's easy for day-to-day busy schedules to prevent us from pushing the pause button.  Yoga creates the place and space for you to reconnect with your deepest desires or issues that need your attention.

5. Give yourself permission to be still, at peace.
Every yoga class ends with one final pose: corpse pose or Savasana.  Our society does not typically "reward" you for seemingly doing nothing, so spending five or ten minutes or more simply lying on the floor may seem either luxurious or like a waste of time.  However, to become more at peace with ourselves and those around us, we must take time to rest and find a balance with body, breath and mind. Think of it as a wonderful palate cleanser between your yoga practice and re-entering your world.

When in doubt:  Have fun. Try something new. Don't put it off.

Click here for my schedule of upcoming classes.  


Friday, July 27, 2012

Gail @ Yale

I'm sitting in Philadelphia airport waiting for my final flight to New Haven and the beginning of what I hope will be a wonderful adventure. In February, I auditioned for the International Cabaret Conference at Yale University and was accepted on the spot. Let me explain how radically unbelievable that was for me.

I chose not to study music in college because I'm from a very traditional, practical Midwestern family and community where music is a fun hobby (not a real, reliable profession). It's just assumed that the only thing one could do with a music degree is teach. So, even though I had lived to sing whenever, where-ever possible for as long as I could remember, I studied public relations and communications at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, with a renowned program in pr, but a horrible music program (at the time, anyway).

Long story short, I didn't sing for four years and felt ...different. I moved to Indianapolis in 1994 and quickly joined Second Presbyterian Church because of its tremendous music program. I was in heaven. Fellow members encouraged me to audition for the Indianapolis Opera Chorus and I went on to be one of the church's founding members of its paid small ensemble, the Beecher Singers.

By 2007, I was tired of singing in choirs. Solos were precious commodities judiciously distributed among a throng of other great singers. My lyric soprano tone and style was a dime a dozen and I couldn't figure out if it was best suited for classical or pop or what. One day, I literally had a panic attack when I realized: "I'm almost 40 and I have lost my voice! I have NO IDEA what MY true voice sounds like!"

After spending all my life trying to blend in with a group, I decided that it was time to find help and find my voice. This has not been an easy journey. I will spare you the drama, setbacks and disappointments along the way, for there is a happy ending. In fact, I wouldn't appreciate where I am nearly as much if it had come more easily.

The morals of this story are:
  • never, ever give up on your dreams, no matter how old or whatever excuse your ego might come up with 
  • be true to yourself and be relentless about it, no matter what others may think or believe 
  • stop caring what other people think. Period. Not that you can't or shouldn't take constructive criticism; we are not perfect, but quit letting it prevent you from (fill in the blank) 
  • give yourself permission to make room for yourself and your goals and ask friends and family for support. You will be amazed at the tidal wave of love that is waiting for you. 
This is what I have learned in my journey so far. I hope it's far from over. One of the most surprising and best rewards from it have been when several people have said to me: "You have inspired me to think about my dreams and to go for it!"

Marianne Williamson says that when you let your light shine, you automatically gives others the permission to do the same. I arrived at Yale without a hitch and had a fantastic first day. I look forward to sharing more insights and stories with you as I take this next step in my journey. Already, I'm so impressed by all the interesting diverse people with such unique talents bringing so many interesting stories to song. (21 people from 8 states and 4 countries!) Everyone is concerned about being critiqued, but I think we all know that this is the perfect, testing ground to learn. If we thought we were perfect, we wouldn't be here. The great thing about cabaret is that you just have to be yourself; you don't have to play a character, just let your light shine.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Michael Feinstein Foundation's 2nd annual competition hits high note

I've had the very good fortune of managing the Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy and Competition from its inception in 2009 and its consecutive year in 2010. High school students from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin were eligible to apply. Ten were invited to Indianapolis June 2-6 to compete for $500 scholarships and the chance of a lifetime: to perform in Michael's famous cabaret club, Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City.

PHOTO: The enormously talented 10 finalists of the 2010 Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy & Competition with Michael at the piano.

The Feinstein Foundation's goal:
Create a competition for high school students that will teach them about the music of the Great American Songbook and encourage them to continue appreciating it.

The Goods' approach:
-- Assembled a team of local and national experts to advise on the competition.

-- Developed a plan and budget for a 4-5 day Academy and Competition in Indianapolis and negotiated contract to secure partnership with University of Indianapolis.

-- Developed and executed a fundraising plan to attract as much funding as possible to cover expenses. This included sponsorship packages and fulfillment, mailings, strategic donor solicitations, and special events including a cocktail reception and fundraising dinner.

-- Developed and executed a communications plan to encourage student applications. This included a combination of media relations, mailings, online communications, and advertising targeting mainly teachers in seven states.

-- Created and managed the adjudication process including processing all applications, recruiting adjudicators, creating a system for scoring fairly and applicant notification.

-- Created, managed and produced the 4-5 day Academy and Final Competition including coordinating all meals, overnight accommodations, conference rooms, audio/visuals, and hired accompanists and other necessary staff or volunteers.

-- Promoted the events surrounding the Academy and Final Competition and managed RSVPs and tickets for all events, which included mailings, advertising, media relations, and online communications.

In its second year, the Academy and Competition really blossomed:
-- applications increased 400% and received from all seven eligible states

-- some of the best performers, teachers and music professionals participated as judges and coaches: including Michael Feinstein (of course), Sylvia McNair, Catherine Russell, Susan Powell, Richard Walters and many others from our own Indianapolis backyard: Dr. Kathleen Hacker, Steven Stolen, Shannon Forsell, Mark Gilgallon, Gary Walters and David Duncan.

-- the University of Indianapolis and its spectacular Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center provided the perfect venue for daily classroom rehearsals, master classes and the final performance. (And its staff were consummate hosts.)

-- Even though two states were added in this second year, the budget only grew 37% from the first year; cash sponsorships were five time higher and in-kind sponsors increase by four times over the first year.

The bottom line:
It's not quantifiable, but it's the magic that transforms these already incredibly talented young performers into stars who form a stronger bond of camaraderie than competition in just a few days. The time they spend learning everything about vocal performance and, most importantly, the uniqueness of this music, its stories of our nation's history and how it should be personally interpreted -- is completely priceless.

Don't just take my word for it. Read Indianapolis Business Journal arts commentator Lou Harry's summary of this year's Competition: "On a high note; Feinstein and company more than fine at the Great American Songbook Competition last week."

Watch a video of the 2009 finalists and winner produced by The Goods, Kyle Travers and WFYI Productions.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"Chew On This" creates city-wide community and meaningful conversation

On Tuesday, May 4, The Goods planned the first "Chew On This" city-wide dinner conversations for the Indiana Humanities Council (IHC). Nearly 150 people at 9 locations around the city were talking and Tweeting about food and how Indiana can best leverage its strengths around food.

PHOTO: One of several Chew On This tables at Recess.

The Indiana Humanities Council's theme for 2010-2011 is "Food for Thought" and its goal is to get people reading, thinking and talking about food topics as "a celebration of food and its role in our lives."

With restaurant or potluck options in various locations around Marion County and prices ranging from free/bring-your-own pitch-ins to $50 prix fixe menus, the public was invited to participate in this experiment in bringing friends as well as strangers face to face to share a meal and discuss: "How can we use Indiana's strengths in agriculture and artisanal food to position Indiana globally?" This was also tied to the book "Caught in the Middle" by Richard Longworth and a recent topic of the Indy Talks Series.

IHC goal:
Make this accessible and affordable for anyone to participate. Locations should be as evenly distributed around Marion County and offer a variety of cost options. Keep groups to 20 or less to foster the best small group dialogue.

The Goods' approach:
We researched potential venues, presented recommendations and negotiated venue agreements that clearly articulated what IHC needed from the venue (e.g. prix fixe menu, space for group of 10-20, payment arrangements) as well as what IHC would provide (e.g. promotion in Chew on This marketing city-wide, coordination of RSVPs, assigned volunteers to greet guests and manage on site issues on behalf of IHC). We ended up with six restaurants and three pitch-in locations. Some of the locations further from the downtown area attracted too few participants and were merged into other locations.

IHC goal:
Engage volunteers to lead the conversations and take notes or Tweet about the conversations.

The Goods' approach:
We recruited several of our friends and colleagues who are both passionate and knowledgeable about food issues to serve as facilitators and note-takers. The Goods created a facilitators guide with general information about the topic and the book and led orientation meetings to provide further guidance and gather feedback on the evening's agenda. Facilitators and note-takers were given a basic outline agenda to follow with suggested questions should the conversations need fueling. Note-takers were asked to summarize the discussion into a few categories and collect surveys from participants. Most locations had multiple people Tweet about the conversations, which were then shared among all groups, creating a real-time virtual conversation across the city.

The results:
Nearly 150 people at 9 locations around the city were talking and Tweeting about food and how Indiana can best leverage its strengths around food. Many participants asked for more... more information, more dinners, more ways to get involved. Given such a diverse group of participants, I was impressed with the level and intensity of the conversations. Regardless this diversity of people and venues, much of the conversations came back to similar issues such as quality vs. quantity of food, access and social justice issues, or education and outreach.

The bottom line:
We all live in silos and rarely have an opportunity to engage with friends and family in meaningful conversations that go beyond the surface. I loved how this multi-venue experience provided ways for anyone to engage face-to-face, sharing a meal and a meaningful topic together. Rather than having the experience via Twitter or Facebook, it was a tool to enhance the experience. (Although it's a nice bonus that others could follow online who could not be there in person.) Maybe you met someone knew. Maybe you found out something new about an old friend. Maybe you learned something that will inform your daily life. That's inspiring and worthwhile and an authentic living experience.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Must See Movie: Who Killed the Electric Car?

If you haven't seen this movie, you need to.

I saw it for the first time in 2008 and was blown away by how close General Motors came to creating a truly viable electric car. The EV1 was produced and leased via Saturn dealers in California from 1996 to 1999. Drivers LOVED it. "Fanatical" might be a good way to describe their enthusiasm for this car and its solution to our air quality woes -- particularly in California. By 2002, every car was confiscated and destroyed. The movie is an amazing documentary about this story, leaving the audience to determine whether consumer confidence or conspiracy was to blame. I've since learned about Indiana manufacturers' role in creating the EV1, which made me all the more interested in sharing this story with others - YOU - who might want to learn more about how Indiana is involved today and in the future of the auto evolution.

I'm really not trying to be biased, here. The movie is a great wake up call for all of us to learn about public policy and how we should be learning about and engaged in what Indiana can do to help lead the next electric car generation.

Thankfully, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is showing the movie THIS THURSDAY followed by a talk with the filmmaker, Chris Paine.

$7 Public » $4 IMA members » Free Students with ID
Ticket price includes both film and talk.
In the four years since filmmaker Chris Paine released the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, electric vehicles have been revived. See Who Killed the Electric Car?, followed by Paine’s talk on the latest progress on electric vehicles, the relationship between good design and sustainability, and new ways of thinking about mobility. After the program, see an electric car up close and learn about companies making electric vehicles in Indiana. Presented as part of IUPUI’s Common Theme Project with promotional support from the Hoosier Environmental Council and The Goods.

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts after seeing the movie!

For more information:

Friday, January 1, 2010

Applications Due Feb. 28 for 2nd Annual Great American Songbook Academy & Competition

I'm so proud to once again manage the 2nd annual Michael Feinstein Foundation's Great American Songbook High School Academy & Competition. This year, the Academy and Competition will be held at the University of Indianapolis in its exquisite Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

High school students from Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa are invited to apply BY FEBRUARY 28, 2010.

Ten finalists will be invited to Indianapolis for a five-day music academy on the history, music and performance techniques of music from the Broadway, Hollywood musical theatre and Tin Pan Alley era of the early to mid-20th century, known as the “Great American Songbook.”

Five judges, including Michael Feinstein and others to be announced soon, University of Indianapolis faculty and other music professionals will conduct classes and help prepare finalists for the final competition performance on Saturday, June 5, at University of Indianapolis’ Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center.

After finalists each sing two songs, judges will announce first, second and third place winners immediately following the June 5th performance. Second and third place winners receive $500 each towards continuing music education. The first place winner will be invited to sing with Michael Feinstein in New York City.

As a singer myself and someone who has grown up loving this music, it's an opportunity of a lifetime that I cannot begin to imagine if I were in their shoes! Yet, it's been a dream come true for me to help create such an experience that instills a love for this music in a new generation of talented musicians.

For more information or to download the application, visit

Photo: Michael Feinstein announces the 2009 winner, Julia Bonnett from Carmel, Indiana.