retirement: chapter one…

I realize it’s customary for a person to actually have had a career before declaring their retirement.  Well.  Screw custom.

The past twelve months have not been my best.  In fact, they’ve been some of the worst, personally and professionally.  Which has led to a great deal of mopey, self-pitying blog posts.  My apologies (to the maybe two of you who read this).

But after much soul-searching, and many, many nights of going back and forth on the issue, I’ve finally decided to pack it in.  It’s not like I’m totally “quitting theatre” or anything.  I mean, I’ve got a couple of shows I’m committed to in the spring, which I have every intention of seeing through, and I’ve got a little work playing the piano right now.  But beyond that, I’ve decided not to take on any more major projects, at least for the indefinite future.

This hasn’t been an easy decision — in fact, it’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve made since leaving the piano performance program at IU seven years ago.  But there are a number of factors that have contributed to it.

Namely, the sheer — and surprising — lack of enjoyment I’ve taken in my work over the past couple of years.  I mean, I got into theatre because it excited and engaged me in a way that laboring all alone at the piano never did.  So it came as quite a shock when I found myself dreading every rehearsal, every performance, every minute spent preparing for or working on a show.

I’m not sure exactly when this first occurred, but it was definitely sometime last fall.

I had gone into rehearsal for ‘Perez Hilton Saves the Universe’ — my latest attempt at producing — and I could just tell I was doomed from the start.  Not the show as a whole, mind you.  The cast and creative team were a fantastic group, and they clearly had fun putting on the show, which is all I can ask for at the end of the day.  But my own role in the process was never very clear, which created problems, and I had an unusually large amount of family drama going on at the time, which proved to be very distracting.

In terms of the former, my intention for the show was to find a creative team and leave the show in their capable hands, thereby relieving me of the need to be in rehearsal.  This didn’t work out.  I failed to find a music-director who could commit to the project completely, so I ended up in rehearsal after all as a sort of part-time MD (splitting the work with the super-talented Evan Rees), which also meant taking part in artistic decisions — the very thing I wanted to avoid.  Now, I know it’s impossible to avoid making ANY artistic decisions when producing a show.  But we’re talking about the minute, directorial stuff that gets done in rehearsal and which, frankly, I wanted no part of.  I had hired a team that I trusted and I wanted them to be able to work without my constant presence.  And that didn’t happen.

As for the family drama, my grandmother had a series of strokes in early October, so I took off for home to be with her and the rest of the family.  This happened to be just days after moving my father-in-law into a nursing home, which, if you’ve ever been there, you know is an emotionally exhausting experience.  This ALSO happened to be a few days before rehearsals for ‘Perez Hilton’ were to begin.  Luckily, as I mentioned, I had a great team involved, and Chris and Kerry (director and choreographer, respectively) got some fantastic work done in my absence.  But from the very beginning, I felt distant from the show, not completely invested.  I mean, with everything going on in my life outside of rehearsal, I simply had nothing left to invest.  And it showed.  I was wholly unable to provide the sort of leadership required of a producer.  At the closing performance, I couldn’t even bring myself to spend time with the cast before the show — I let my own miserable feelings get in the way of keeping the production moving forward with the positive energy it needed.  Again — I can’t say it enough — the ‘Perez Hilton’ team was fantastic and more than made up for my lack of leadership.  But they shouldn’t have had to.  I failed at that most fundamental principle of theatre (any professional endeavor, for that matter!) — check your personal life at the door.

Coming off of that experience, I was looking forward to a relatively empty fall.  I had nothing scheduled after the close of ‘Perez Hilton’ (first weekend of November) until right before the Christmas holiday.  About a month and a half to regroup and recover, and to spend some time on more personal projects.  I had hoped to prepare a piano recital, actually.  To this day, I have not given a solo piano recital since I graduated high school, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to change that.

Well, then Randy called.  Now, I absolutely adore Randy.  I think he’s a fantastic guy, and I really, really love the work he’s doing in Bloomington with Cardinal Stage Company.  And for these reasons, I have a difficult time telling him “no”.  So he called a few days after ‘Perez’ had closed and asked a favor — would I step in as music-director for Cardinal’s production of ‘A Christmas Carol’?

I had a few reservations, of course — primarily, that the show would run through Christmas and I had no intention of staying in Bloomington through the holiday.  But I said yes.

Now, the impression I had was that I would come in early in the process, teach the cast to sing a few carols on pitch, then show up again for tech week to make sure it still sounded kosher.  I was mistaken.  As soon as we completed the table read, I realized this was going to be a much larger project, and much greater time commitment, than I initially supposed.  The play had no score to speak of — the playwright had merely inserted the text of the carols she found appropriate at the desired points in the script.  So I was thus responsible for either tracking down, or creating, usable vocal arrangements of each carol, taking into consideration the number of actors, and vocal parts, onstage at the given moment (which was always subject to change).  There was also the matter of instrumental accompaniment.  Let me state outright:  I am no composer, or even arranger.  There are people far more capable at that than I, and I am happy to let them do it.  But outside of paying someone to do the arranging (which was out of the question), I had no choice but to plow ahead myself.

And let me say this — I am normally unquestionably enthusiastic about taking on a challenge that will force me to grow as a musician.  You want me to conduct opera when I’ve never done it before?  Sure!  Your piece is a 20-minute set of atonal variations that concludes with a four-voice fugue?  Bring it.  But, you know, sometimes, you’re tired.  Sometimes, you’re worn out.  Sometimes, an extra challenge is the exact opposite of what you need in your life at that moment.  Sometimes, you don’t want to spend an extra thirty hours a week outside of rehearsal arranging Christmas carols for practically no money.

Anyway, suffice it say that Sibelius software and I became fast friends (one of the best purchases I’ve ever made in my professional life!).  And, ultimately, I arranged what I consider to be a damn good score for that play.  But the fact of the matter is, for the majority of that rehearsal process, I hated every minute I spent working on it.  The hours were terrible.  Randy and I weren’t communicating well, which led to increasing frustration.  Add to that an absolutely poisonous relationship with a choreographer I won’t even deign to name, and the experience of ‘Christmas Carol’ just begs to be filed away under “NEVER SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN!”

‘Christmas Carol’ opened on a Thursday.  I flew home the following Tuesday — the morning my grandmother died.