Dr. Seuss's "Grinch"There are so many things I hate about Christmas, that I struggle to list them in order of hatedness.  Granted, I can name three or four things I hate about Christmas at a moment’s notice, any day of the year, but when I really sit down to focus my un-charitability toward the holiday?  Hoo boy.  Look out.  Consider:

I hate Late-October Christmas, in which jacks-o-lantern are chased away by (or in many cases share porches and storefronts with) Christmas decorations, as though we fear we won’t survive the 54 days between the bucket of Baby Ruths and Smarties we scored from our neighbors, and the sack of trinkets we expect to receive from family, friends, and an inexplicably jolly elf with unnerving home invasion skills.

I hate Aircraft-Diversion Christmas, the holiday mocked by Chevy Chase movies but misguidedly imitated by so many, in which the light pollution of competitive gaudiness and flair renders invisible the tranquil beauty of stars in the winter sky.

I hate Cookie Christmas, in which we prepare ridiculous quantities of labor-intensive, horrifyingly sweet, unjustifiably gaudy confections and distribute them to friends and family, all while patting our slightly-less-svelte-than-we-wish-they-were bellies and chuckling demurely, “oh, no, I really couldn’t.”

I hate Santa Christmas, by which children are indoctrinated to associate material wealth with good behavior—as though the Koch brothers were the kind of people we want our children to grow up to be—and by which kids learn early on that the people who teach us wrong from right clearly don’t have a clue how the world actually works.

I hate Suddenly Religious Christmas, which pretends that December 24 is a more important day for spiritual community than, say, September 10, and accepts rote recitation of mythology in place of authentic, disciplined relationship with transcendence.

I hate “It’s-The-Thought-That-Counts” Christmas, that condescendingly self-righteous holiday that serves not to liberate its participants from blatant consumerism, but rather to justify their perceived need to purchase self-worth by wasting money on unnecessary, unwanted gewgaws that, in a slightly less imperfect world, would hit the dustbin along with the wrapping paper, saving the recipient the awkward “It-Was-A-Gift” period during which they are socially bound to pretend they appreciated the gesture.

I even hate “Merry Christmas,” as a phrase.   For musicians and religious professionals and retailers and medical professionals and so many others in service positions, December is the busiest, most stressful time of the year.  Generally, if I can make it through a day in December without cursing anyone out I call it a success.  “Full of cheerfulness or gaiety? Joyous in disposition?” Take that and lump it, and just let me go home and lock the door and be alone with hubby and the cats until January, thankyouverymuch.

And I hate—heaven help me, I hate so excruciatingly, rage-inducingly much—Retail Christmas. The jingle bells that underscore every commercial for the last 25% of the year… the countless (but expensive) things “’tis the season” for… the way one can’t shop even for everyday necessities like groceries without suggestions that one really should be spending more money than one had planned to.  How I loathe Retail Christmas, to which the American economy is inextricably yoked, on whose under-the-wire profits solo business owners and megacorp execs alike depend, and at whose altar so many of the other things I hate about Christmas bow!

But most most most of all, I hate “Real-Meaning-Of” Christmas: the insidious ways our culture tries to convinces us that we’re wrong to question any of it—that if we speak out against mindless tradition, compulsory pleasantries, or consumerism, we’re committing a mortal sin against the Holy of Holies.

Kids, cover your ears.


I mean, pardon my French and all, but this is something about which I feel quite strongly.  And I feel strongly about it because (don’t tell anyone) I really, really need Christmas.  But I need a different kind of Christmas than the one that I drown in for far too many weeks every winter.

I need the kind of Christmas that finds divine, world-redeeming purpose in a child born out of wedlock to a political refugee and her fiancé.

I need the kind of God who would surrender omnipotence and omniscience to fully understand the hungers and fears and uncertainties of humanness.

I need the kind of good news that is delivered late at night to dirty, exhausted, hard-working tradespeople, because the folks whose power was handed down to them find it threatening, and collude to silence it.

So every year I climb on my high horse, put on my Grinch face, update my non-gift wishlist, take lots and lots and lots of deep breaths, and start counting down the days until January.  Not because I have a right to claim my own kind of Christmas—though I do—but because I have a feeling I’m not alone.

What kind of Christmas do you need?

(My good friend, the amazingly and multi-facetedly impressive Sarah Jebian, recently asked some of her colleagues if they’d be willing to write blog posts that Sarah could share with her voice and acting students in her monthly newsletter.  Here’s mine:)

I saw it coming.  I knew a solid 8 bars before the high G# that it wasn’t going to come out.  We had learned the notes and marked the breaths and identified the vowels and done all of those other Things You’re Supposed to Do Before You Sing a Song.  He’d even taken a good, low breath before starting the piece.  But as the key changed into the last refrain and the momentum started to build, I saw the self-consciousness chiseling itself into his forehead: was his soft palate high enough? his tongue low enough? his ribcage maintaining noble posture? his base of support sturdy enough?

The irony, of course, is that all of these things are important to consider as you’re building the muscle memory to get your body through the “money note” moment of the song. But focusing on them in that moment is lethal to the art.  And telling yourself not to think about them is as effective as telling yourself not to think about pink elephants.  So what do you put into your mind when you don’t want to think about how hard it is to be an excellent singer?

Great songs are great songs because they tell great stories.  They’re great because they say something to us, or help us to say something we didn’t know how to say ourselves.  Because great music has power—because the world is a different place after a great song has been sung well.  And that power, I believe, comes from a singer’s immersion in the story—in the world of the song.

I stopped my student during the last phrase before the high G#.  “Wait a minute,” I said.

Then I asked him the six questions I ask just about all of my students at some point about every song, every monologue, and every scene:

1. Who are you?

What is your character’s origin story? What archetypes do they echo? What assumptions, values, “baggage” do they carry? What is their super-objective in the play?

2. Whom are you talking to?

What is their power dynamic with your character? What power do they hold over others that you don’t?

3. What do you want from your partner?

There will usually be a text-specific answer and a more essential, archetypical answer. (At the Alsedek Theatre School we call this latter category your “Essential Action,” an idea our founder gleaned from conversations with William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, and other students of the Atlantic Theatre Company.)

4. How important is your goal?

What are the stakes if you fail? What is the reward if you succeed?

5. What’s in the way?

What (or who) is making it difficult to achieve your goal? What tactics might you employ to overcome those obstacles?

6. How will you know when you’ve succeeded?

What behavior from your scene partner will let you know you’ve accomplished your goal?

We talked through the answers to these questions for several minutes, and as we talked I saw the furrows in his forehead loosen, his shoulders drop, and his breathing slow.  The desperate attention to technique relaxed away, and in its place I saw a heartfelt need to tell this character’s story.

“Now,” I said.  “Sing.”

When I was 16, I came within a mile of killing myself.

A mile, or roughly two minutes.  At the spot where the impulse struck me, on Route 175 in Columbia, MD, the roadside was all gently sloping grass—no trees or telephone poles or even concrete safety barriers to ram a car against.  A mile further down the road, and I could have found any of those sturdy car-smashing targets—but before I got that far, I’d thought better of it.  But in that instant, in the car alone, after the boy I was in love with told me he wasn’t in love with me, that he thought of me as a good friend but nothing more than that… if the chance had been there, my teen-angst-ful self would have taken it.

Next month, in case you’ve missed any of my earlier from-the-rooftop announcements, I’ll be playing Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home, the musical based upon Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical “tragicomic.”  Bruce was Alison’s father; he was passionate about literature and photography and art and design, and he made sure the home Alison grew up in was pristine and fashionable and full of beauty.  He was also gay.  And four months after Alison came out to him as lesbian, he killed himself.

I’ve been talking a lot with my therapist about this show.  Playing Bruce, I told her, is like riding my bike riiiiiight along the edge of a cliff—trying to match its curves and twists without falling in and crashing.

Some days it’s terrifying.

But unlike 16-year-old me, I’ve learned to think, as I’m teetering on the edge of that cliff, about the people around me—my husband, of course, who is the best friend I’ve ever had; but also my sister and our parents, and a select group of other close friends—who aren’t afraid to see me hurting, or angry, or scared.  These are people who have seen me cry, and have let me cry, and have sat with me without fixing or masking or ignoring what’s wrong.  They’ve been with me in moments when the fact that they were with me was the only good thing I could see, and they stayed there until I could see more good things than that.

These are the people who’ve saved my life over and over again.

And one moment, on Route 150 in Beech Creek, PA, Bruce couldn’t think of anyone like that.

I hope you’ll come see FUN HOME because it is—and I give you my word that this is not an exaggeration—the best-written musical I have ever read.  I hope you’ll come see it because the story is funny and poignant and sweet, and the music is fun and glorious and haunting.  I hope you’ll come see us because the cast includes some of the most insightful, vulnerable, dedicated actors and singers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.  I hope you’ll come see us because I feel as though playing Bruce at this moment in my life—I’m just 2 years older now than Bruce was when he died—is something that had to happen.

But most of all, I hope you’ll come see us because someday, someone else will need you to be there for them.  And they’ll need you to be able to see their pain and their grief and their shame and their terror, and not be afraid of any of it.  The edge of the cliff can be a horrible place to find yourself, and if you’re not careful, at the wrong moment, you can fall in.  But if you’ve learned the terrain—if you’ve been there before, with someone who knows the way, and who can grab your hand if you start to slip—it’s not quite as scary.

Will you join us?

To buy tickets for the October 7 performance, benefiting the LGBT Center of Central PA, please use this form.  (These sales must be completed by October 1.)

Tickets to all twelve performances are now available on the Open Stage of Harrisburg website and at the door.

If you’d like to learn more about FUN HOME, and maybe be a little less scared of the cliff before you visit, here are a few resources to get you started:

And even if none of those resources seems quite right to you, you’re not alone.  I’m here for you.

FUN HOME posterIt’s time it’s time it’s time it’s time!

Y’all.  I am so. Excited.

I don’t have much time today—gotta run to rehearsal—but I wanted to be sure everyone knew that individual ticket sales for FUN HOME (and all other Season 32 shows at Open Stage) are open now!

If you’re not able to join us on October 7 for the UUCV/LGBT Center benefit performance, you can now purchase tickets for any of the other 11 performances at the Open Stage website.

If you have questions, need (even more) encouragement to come see us, or have any trouble ordering your tickets, don’t hesitate to let me know.  I want everyone I know to see this amazing production!

photo of David by Kris Rogers, August, 2017If you’ve been paying close attention to my website over the last several days—because clearly there’s nothing else going on in the world that deserves your attention*—you’ll already have noticed that a few of the page banners have been updated with new photos.

A couple of months ago one of my students glanced at my website landing page, then up at me, and back again, and commented, “You know, that doesn’t even look like you any more.”

I took it as a compliment—one year ago this month, in August, 2016, I started working with an amazing trainer from Performance Fitness Training, and added New York Fitness Clubs to my morning routine twice a week. Zach is the best kind of coach: patient, gentle, and supportive, without a hint of judgment or condescension.  My goal at the time was to get back to a place where I felt healthy—I was tired of feeling out-of-breath and sweaty when I got to the top of a few flights of stairs.  And with Zach’s help, I’m there: feeling not only good about myself, but good about the habits I’ve built up, and able to focus on the long-term good feelings even on those “I’d rather stay in bed an extra hour” mornings.

So last week I headed up to New York again to visit Kris Rogers, bass player and photographer extraordinaire.  His photos have been the highlight of my website and promotional materials since 2015, so it seemed only fitting to ask him to document the next step in the journey.  He and I spent a rainy but laughter-filled morning together (with Gabe, on an off day from his theatre internship, making snide comments in the background), and produced a paltry 981 photos, a few of which you can see in my Electronic Press Kit.  My husband has already gushed over them, but he’s a little biased…. I hope you’ll take a look through if you’re so inclined, and let me know what you think!

*The inhumanity demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, and our elected leaders’ cowardly response to it, are embarrassing and infuriating. I have found this guide helpful in considering how I will be a stronger force in Anti-Racism, Anti-Oppression, Multi-Cultural work today, tomorrow, and beyond.  We can do better, y’all.