Thursday, July 31, 2014

More adventures in Italy!

My visit to Italy is almost over… and it's finally feeling like a vacation!  For the last few days, my mom, grandfather and I have been staying at the Amalfi Coast, which is near Napoli.  The Amalfi Coast, and the general region, was known as "Felix Campania", which means "happy land" and was some sot of vacation paradise for them.  It definitely lives up to it's name nowadays.  When we left Narni, we drove for over four hours… the mountainous Umbrian terrain soon gave way to low valleys and extemely blue skies, and then to brilliant turquoise water and steep cliffs splotched with citrus trees and clinging herbs and wildflowers.  The water mirrored the shadows cast by the cottony clouds, turning it into a leopard patterned blue mirror.  On by winding highway, fruit stands appeared as ubiquituously as those in Manhattan.  

When we first arrived, we sat at a cafe and ordered some drinks to get the internet password.  I had a glass of orange juice, half a glass of limoncello, and some amazing olives.  I didn't think I would ever like olives, but these were amazing- meaty, buttery, salty, with a mellow olive oil tang.  I liked the limoncello much better than that I had in Firenze.  

During the last dinner there, we had paid SEVENTY DOLLARS apiece several weeks back to reserve dinner at a very fancy Italian restaurant.  I wore my black velvet cropped top, pink neovictorian skirt, and gothic makeup.  The food really was amazing, and I think I'm starting to pick out different styles of the different regions.  Campania's is very SUNNY- light herbs, zingy with lemon, with delicate olive oil.  Umbria's seems "forestier", and the olive oil is heavier and richer.  Toscana's has a lot of meat, but that was no problem for me because the pasta is out of this world as well.  It was excellent seeing my grandpa there again, and hearing his sassy remarks about the bel canto institute, and how he would have run the dinner.  It was a freaking six-course dinner, and it's no wonder I can barely fit into my shorts!  When I get back home, I must exercise!  Anyway, at the end, Jane gave all the adults a glass of limoncello.  In case you don't know what that is, it's a hard liquor made with sugar and lemons, and it's usually from the aforementioned region, Campania.  My grandpa took one taste, made a face,and handed me the glass.  I sipped it.  "Not bad" I thought, but then the fiery liquor hit me!  It burned as it went down, but… I liked it!  It tastes like lemondrops made of dragons and fireworks.  I downed the rest and then noticed that my firends sitting at a neighboring table were laughing at the face I made.  I don't think I was tipsy, but I was rather giggly that night.  Maybe.

I had a really great last day in Firenze- me and my friend Emily made plans to go to the Uffizi gallery.  If you guys (if anyone reads this blog!) EVER go to Flirenze, you MUST go!  People say that you need to get reservations months in advance, otherwise you have to wait three hours in line, but I found that untrue.  Emily and I got into line at 8 AM, before it opened, and were one of the first people in there!  Also, since I was under eighteen, I got in free.  So, that's my little travel tip to you.  
The museum itself was AMAZING- it was all renaissance art and ancient greek/roman statues that the Medici family collected centuries ago.  There were some TRULY amazing pieces, including the famous painting with Venus coming out of the ocean on a shell.  They put the renassance Italian section at the Met to shame!  Then the ceilings were half the splendor.  They were meticulously painted with figures of greek myths, floral scenes, pastoral scenes, portaits and animals, and inticately bordered with gold leaf.  I was really very glad I went.  

I was quite sad when I said goodbye to my voice teacher, my new friends, my roomies, and of course, my host mama, Maria.  Even though it was extremely difficult to be in the Bel Canto institute, I would miss the friends I made, and really, the voice lessons made my voice amazing!  It's so much easier to sing broadway style, too!  
It was soooo good seeing Valentina and Matteo again.  I had watched all of my mom's students perform, and I was amazed at how much they all grew as pianists!  Valentina was very reluctant to play classical music, or do scales, but it made her play much more fluidly and fluently.  Then we went to dinner at everyone's favorite karaoke bar, where I belted out "I will survive" and "all that jazz".  It was SUCH a relief to sing musical theatre again!  I missed it so much.  I also got to perform several showtunes at the concert where my mom was hired to play the piano in Amalfi, which is why we went.  She played a bunch of "salon pieces", plus my favorite piano piece of all time, "Rhapsody in Blue", by George Gershwin.  I'm always reminded by that adorable animation done by "Fantasia 2000" when I hear that song.  My mom killed that song!  (I mean it in the good sense f the word!) Then I sang "Summertime", also by George Gershwin, and then two songs from "Annie Get Your Gun".  The latter two I had to explain to everyone… in Italian.  I feel that my Italian's gotten a lot better this month; while I'm not fluent, I'm very comfortable speaking it, and I can understand almost everything people say if I concentrate.  I was a little bit nervous when I left Toscana, because I had heard that there are, like, 20 different dialects in Italian, but the only thing that changed was the accent, although we did meet this one guy that spoke in the Neopolitan dialect, with a very thick accent; I couldn't understand him at all.
It really is like paradise here.  I got to swim in the ocean two days in a row!  The water was very salty, making it very easy to float, and making my skin shimmer when I dried off.  The day after the concert, we had a real, proper vacation day… no schedules, no rushing, no work… just lemon sorbetto and napping on the beach.  

Yesterday we went on a tour of Amalfi, led by a tour guide who spoke English, and led us through narrow tunnels and alleys that we had never noticed before to see the REAL history of Amalfi.  It was one of the first independant maritime nations from the Roman Catholic church, and they were extremely successful because they had a trading triangle (not sure how you would call it) with the Arabs, and the Byzantine, and when the church was like, oh you guys are more Arab than Christian, the Amalfitani were all, yeah, we dress like Arabs, eat like Arabs, and talk like Arabs; it's true!  If any guide book says that the Arabs conquered Amalfi, they're lying.  As he put it, they married the Arab culture.  Our guide pointed out the Middle Eastern influence of the church.  Also, it was one of the few places in the world at the time (medieval) when women had equal rights!  One of my favorite facts was that they got attacked really badly by pirates, so they had a system planned out.  Amalfi was very poor when the pirates attacked them, so they took their women and children to sell as slaves.  SO, they trained a bunch of women who could run fast to get the pirates to chase after them, through all of the winding alleyways and tunnels, then the women would run off to a sidetunnel, and BAM!  The pirates were scorched by boiling oil!  

After that, we attended a truly god-awful musical ABOUT the history of Amalfi, in Italian.  It offended me as a writer, actress, and singer, and afterwards, my mom and I had to listen to the Yeast Nation and Ella Fitzgerald songs to cleanse our ears of the filth that we saw.  It was the worst musical we had ever seen, and we had seen some PRETTY BAD musicals this year.  The one good thing we could say about it was that the lights were pretty.  The acting was bad, the story was poorly written and broke one of the biggest rules of writing/acting- SHOW, DON'T TELL. Not to mention, most of the singers were bad, and the songs were inapproprietly placed.  

Currently, we are driving up north to Lazio, where we will hang around in the Milano vicinity until we leave on Saturday morning.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Bel Canto institute is over…. but not my trip to Italy.

As of last night, I am finished with the Bel Canto Institute.  Currently, I am driving through beautiful, beautiful Toscana/Umbria/Lazio with my grandfather, listening to a podcast called the "the Shazamcast", made by two of my best friends, Leo and Dan.  (You all should listen to it!  If you like superheroes, it's your thing.  Anyway, Italy… is ridiculously beautiful.  I'm not sure if I said that in the last post, but in my opinion, almost everything about Italy, primarily the landscape and the FOOOOOD are so much more beautiful than that of America.  
My friend Valentina, who has lived in Italy/ Monaco all of her life, never seemed very pleased with American food.  Now I see why!  
I'm going to miss Florence… while the Bel Canto institute might not have been fun, the rare moments I had time to actually explore were extremely enjoyable.  For example, I spent most of the Saturday before last walking around Florence- I meant to go to the flea market, the 14th century pharmeceutical garden, and an art collector's house that got turned into a museum when he died 30 years ago.  The flea market was right next to my host mama's house, so I rather enjoyed going there.  The location was quite nondescript- several narrow shacks in the middle of a piazza.  There were people that tried to sell you two-euro bracelets, dusty old bookstores, and lots of plane trees.  Romany ladies (gypsies) in their loose t shirts and long colorful skirts shook their cups of coins in your face.
I love the Romany!  Even though I'm always wary of getting my wallet stolen when I'm near them, i've always been fascinated by the culture, and it's really funny how different it ACTUALLY is than, say, my board of "Gypsy/B0hemian Clothing" on pinterest.  They're very interesting people.  There was the woman with the long braids who hung around the Duomo, the man who always played the accordion near my music school,  the old lady with the scarves tied around her hair who asked passers by at the grocery store for a bit of spare change, and the girl who looked around my age, sitting outside of the bank, drinking beer after beer.  In september, I plan on studying the culture. 

Anyway, the flea market looked quite seedy from the outside, but once you actualy went in, you saw the cute gardens, dusty stalls, and charming white lawn chairs everywhere.  I had no money, but I enjoyed peering in through the dusty dark windows- I saw many creepy dolls, shiny mandolins, jewelry, books, victorian furniture, and jars of strange old knickknacks.  My walk to the garden was in vain, though, because I couldn't seem to find it.  The church itself was quite beautiful, though… I was quite disappointed when I found you needed to pay 9 euros to go in, and even more disappointed when my friends told me they had been there, and how to get there.  There was a little shop nearby, that sold herbal remedies and soaps and such.  After that, I took a walk across the Arno to the south (well, it looks south on the map) half of Florence.  I was hot, sweaty, and extremely tired from the long working hours of the Bel Canto institute, but everything I saw was freaking beautiful.  It blows my mind how old Florence is… it's very, very different from New York City!  Florence is a lot more organic, a lot more preserved, whereas Manhattan is very shiny, new, and mixed.

I never did find the museum.  But I was very glad indeed that I took a walk that day instead of going on the excursion with the rest of the class.  It's not that I was trying to avoid people; it's just that Jane said that "there was a surprise" on that day, and if you wanted to go, raise your hand… you could only go if you raised your hand, and she would only tell you if you raised your hand.  I can't commit to something unknown!  I think that next year, the "surprise" should have been going to the beach, rather than playing botchi ball (however you spell it).  
The next week was the week leading up to the performance.  It was AMAZING how much my voice teacher helped me with my voice!  I love her energy, and the techniques and visualizations she gave me to help.  I recorded every lesson to listen to when I got back home.  Mercifully, the performance classes were over, and my mom sent Jane and email asking Jane to stop talking about my hair.  We had a class on how to do stage makeup, and I had bought some concealer, eyeshadow, and lipstick for practicing.  Apparently, I was really good at doing makeup, and it was my first time!  I suppose it helps when you've been ODing in Rupaul's Drag Race all month.  I'm fascinated by the drag culture, and I love seeing a man transform into a woman… for me, it's the height of makeup magic.  I miss the gay community of New York!  I haven't seen any gay people AT ALL in Italy… but the day before I left for Italy, my mom took me to a gay piano bar on Christopher Street on the weekend of the Pride Parade.  I was facing out the window, so I could see all the drag queens walking by.  Our waiter, a slim graceful man wearing shorts and an artfully slashed shirt, was scandalized when my mom and I said that we just wanted water… "JUST water??  It's f**cking Friday!  It's Pride weekend!"  

The pianist's boyfriend sat right in front of the piano, and then the same waiter started flirting with him.  All of a sudden, the pianist stops playing, slams his hand on the piano and yells, "HEY!  That's my man!"  Then the whole bar starts chanting "Fight!  Fight!  Fight!  Fight!"  There wasn't any violence, though… at one point, when the pianist was playing "Piano Man", he let the waiter sing a verse.  He sang it, "Jim, I believe this is killing me, as a smile ran away from my face, well, I'm sure that I could be a porno star, if Michael just sat in my face!"
I'm a little sad that I missed the pride parade, because that was the exact same day I left for Florence, and they were having some of my favorite drag queens perform there!  Milk… Jujubee… Pandora Boxx… well, there's next year. Hopefully, I'll be staying home more next summer, or at least hanging out with my family.  Remember when I was talking about GAD last year?  The Going Away Disease?  Well, it hit me pretty hard this year.  Especially as my family wasn't there!  So, I had read somewhere that doing your favorite hobbies that you do a lot at home helps you cope with it.  So, I went to the fabric store near my house and bought several yards of dusky pink satin and shimmery copper organza, and made a very poufy neovictorian skirt.  Then I went to the 99 cent store and bought a ton of duct tape and also some plastic dish racks with which I cut out some crude boning.  Then after I made the corset base, I covered it with strips of what looked like teastained brown ribbon with latin script all over it.  Then when it was done, I burned some holes in the back with incense, and laced it up with ribbon.  
I wore it on monday (my version of giving Jane the finger).  My mom had sent Jane an email, and apparently she responded saying that "there were problems with my focus" and that "I might have trouble with college".  This sounds an awful lot like how my teachers in public school talked about me to my mom, but WHO'S HOMESCHOOLED NOW??  For the concert, I had my hair done up really fancy by my good friend Kate, who used several elegant pictures on pinterest for reference.  I wore my grandmother's fuschia necklace and a long, elegant wine-red gown.  I had serendipiduously found it in a thrift store with my mom for ten dollars!  Of course, I wore makeup, as well.  My friend Nicolas said that he liked my makeup, but "it wasn't me".  My friend Kira, who lives in New York, wore a slitted turquoise dress which looked extremely beautiful with her red hair, which she did up in a complex braided knot.  She sang several art songs, and also an aria from "La Serva Padrona", where she was an extremely sassy serving maid named Serpina.  My other roommate, Eva, wore a floaty, pale pink gown, and pinned her hair up with silver rhinestone pins.  One of the songs she sang was one of the songs that Jane had assigned to me, but my voice coach admitted it sounded too silly for me too sing it.  I loved how Eva interpreted it, though.

I sang two songs that I had been working on before ("Segui, segui, dolente core", and "O cessate di piagarmi"), plus an EXTREMELY fun song in the Neopolitan dialect called "Me voglio fa'na casa".  I had first heard it in performance class, but it was a lot funnier, because somehow to me, operetic tenors make songs a lot funnier, and I was laughing so hard when I heard the song.  The concert itself was held in a big, grand auditorium, with several hundred seats.  I was slightly nervous about singing Italian in front of italians, but I just let the music take over me, and communicate more through my actions.  Afterwards, I was reunited with my mom, my grandpa, and Valentina, who had driven ALL the way from Narni to see me!  There was a lot of tearful hugging, but I had to say goodbye, and spent the rest of the night at an excursion with Mary Elizabeth eating fried potatoes with jam.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I am finally doing the program that my whole year has been leading up to

Saluti d'Italia!  Ora, sono in Firenze… e si, parlerò in italiano quando io voglio!
In case you didn't understand that, I was basically saying that I'm in Florence right now and I relish the power of having another language… Okay, yes, I speak at the level of a three year old, but I LOVE speaking in Italian!  Maybe I'll be bilingual by next year!
It took SO much to get me here.  It made me want to cry, seeing how many people wanted to get me to Italy to study what I wanted.  So, I 'd like to take this opportunity to thank them.  So many people have helped me out… if I listed them all here, it'd probably take half the post!  I wish I could, though, because I owe you guys a HUGE one.  Thank you.
Many things in Italy are so beautiful, fresh, and amazing, it makes the food, culture, food, art, food, attutude, and food of America pale in comparison.  I'm very grateful that veganism is a little more well-known in Florence than in the rest of Italy.  I thought I would have a hard time finding food, but it's just the opposite for me!  The food is so fresh here that it NEVER fails to disappoint, no matter WHAT I order or eat.  If I were in New York, and I had a slice of toasted bread with olive oil, I would be all, "Screw this, I'm getting Indian food instead,".  Normally, eating this much bread would make be feel sick to my stomach, but for some reason, not here.  Maybe it's different/less pesticides?  The placebo effect, even?
I think the food here is my favorite part of being in Italy.  And I'm really happy that I can eat gelato, too.  A lot of gelato places where I am have gelato made of soy milk.
Me and two other girls from Murrica are staying in a beautiful complex that used to be a convent over 700 years ago.  Our hostess is a very Italian, very kind woman named Maria.  She's very motherly, and cooks amazing food, but at the same time, very sassy, and I've also learned Italian profanity from her.  At the dinner table, we ONLY speak in Italian.  That's our rule.
There seem to be a lot of rules here.  I'm not used to so many rules.  For example, we're not allowed to go out on our own, we can only go out at certain hours, we're not allowed to wear such-and-such clothing, this is where we're allowed to go, etc.  Of course, I got away with dressing weird.  I'm extremely glad I brought my harem pants, because I'm rather sick of skirts and dresses.  You can't sit comfortably in them.  Also, we have a three hour class.  In a classroom.  With desks and everything.  And you can only sit in them with your legs straight out.
Being homeschooled, I'm not used to this one bit.  So I find myself needing to take yoga breaks.
Usually, I sit in the back, with my friends Nicolas and Gabrielle, which gives me a bit of leg room, and a bit of coverage to hide that I'm writing in my journal, because I get my best ideas when my mind is relaxed.

But recently, I was instructed to sit in the front because Maestro Klaviter (I call her Jane when she's not there) said that "she wanted me to participate in the class".  I actually do concentrate!  I just find it difficult to hold my attention onto something for so long.  So, I started to doze off… which didn't help as she kept drilling me on acciacchaturas (however you spell it).  I managed by taking a break in the middle of class to sleep in the hallway.
It's kind of uncomfortable to be in a situation like that, where the only feedback we're allowed to give is "when she calls on you", which is, more often than not, having us agree with her if the singer was legato or not.  I haven't sung in performance class for a week.  I get that it's helpful in the long run, but I don't like sitting still for that long.  If I put ALL of my concentration on something, it's hard for me to learn.  In the middle of performance class, she was talking about what you should wear for THE performance.  Suddenly she asked me to stand up.  I wondered if I was in trouble.
"I hope this is not how you plan on doing your hair for the performance, Miss Harris,"
I flushed with embarassment, but channelled my bellydancer friend, Neva, and whipped it around in an attempt to make her laugh.
"Now you just messed it up more.  You need to make your hair look good."
Ugh!  I was never angrier with a teacher like that before!  I sat down and crossed my arms.  Remember your karma.  Remember your karma, I kept thinking.
"Thank you, Maestro Klaviter," I said.  I felt a flame of defiance in me.  I wanted to break the rules.  I wanted to dance around the classroom or play Billy Joel on the piano while she was talking or play improv games in the halls, but I couldn't because then I'd have to go back to America and let my whole family down!  I'm doing this for them.  While Jane's back was turned, several of my classmates made heart shapes with their hands at me, and felt heartened at their sympathy.
Why me?  Was it the way I dressed?  As stated before, clothes and makeup are art to me, so why make them boring?  Dressing "goth-yogini" absolutely was within the dress code. Maybe she didn't like my nose ring?  I wasn't wearing anything skimpy or that would make singing difficult.

While she played a CD of classical music for us to listen to, she stood right next to me and stroked my hair with a sinister leer on her face, as if saying, "Remember, your hair isn't acceptable," or "Someday your hair will be mine,"
I was somehow reminded of Umbridge.
I missed my brother, Quintin, I think, most of all.  I messaged him on facebook saying what happened.  Quintin has a reputation in our circle of friends for being very fabulous and flamboyant with what he wears.  This summer, he got accepted into the prestigious Wooster group for acting.  Apparently, the teacher used him as an example of "how not to dress for acting", because he was wearing skinny jeans. BS.  When we were in Yeast Nation, he did SO much physical acting, probably way more so than in the wooster group, and he wore skinny jeans!  His sympathy made me break down in tears.  I never realized how close I was to him!
I missed my whole family and my friends.  Homeschooling seemed so magical at the moment, almost like it was too good to be real.  It was like forbidden faerie fruit… one taste and everything else seemed like dust.
I found myself fantasizing about being with my friends, while singing "Stasis is the Membrane" while crying on my bed.  (I dearly miss being in musical theatre… while I love classical musical, there's a certain level of outrageousness you can't get away with in opera.)
My mom would be visiting Florence for ONE day before she left for Narni to teach piano in their music program.  Naturally, I wanted to see her, and I asked Maria if I could leave the house at four or five AM to see her before we had to leave for a field trip to Lucca.  I figured that since it was before curfew, it would be cool. Maria said yes, but then we got a call from Maestro Klaviter saying that I wasn't allowed.
Eva and Kira, my wonderful roommates, said that they could leave with me at 6:30 to see her in front of the building, 30 minutes before we had to leave.  I was so happy.  I would be able to hug someone from a situation I wasn't thrown into!  I would be able to tell her about Jane and get Mom sympathy!
We walked there, and guess who was there?  Maestro Klaviter.
I'm glad I'm an actress, because it kind of hurt to address her formally and cheerfully.  Nonetheless, I was extremely happy to see my mom again, and she whispered, "Chin up, Syd.  It'll all be good in the long run!" to me.  This was very true.
Later, I had an epiphany- why not write a comedy sketch about my less-than-pleasant experiences in the Bel Canto institute??  From a different point of view, it could be quite hilarious.
Anyway, I got to see her for five minutes, which was good enough for me.  That day, we went to Puccini's house.  Puccini wrote a great number of operas, including one of my favorite, Tosca.
His house was very beautiful and was built to inspire him and to hold music to the best advantage.  Ironically, he died of throat cancer from smoking 60-70 cigarettes a day!
His house was extremely beautiful, and I loved the gardens especially, which looked like flora from Hawaii.
Fun fact:  Puccini got one of the first speeding tickets in history.

After that, we went to the beach for like, five minutes, and man, I wish I could have brought my bathing suit, because the surf and sand of that Mediterranean were so perfect, soft, warm, and beautiful.
Then after the ridiculously long bus ride back to Firenze, I had a voice lesson with my teacher, Maestro Thayson, a woman who's title I do not use sarcastically at all.
Maestro Thayson is SO kindhearted and sweet and supportive of you, you can't help but want to make her proud.  My voice lesson is probably my favorite lesson of the day, because not only do I get to see her, but I've been getting THE best vocal training I've had, every day of the week!  I learn so much, and she's been working miracles on my voice.  Recently she assigned me this hilarious Neopolitan sailor's song to sing because I've been doing "so many melodramatic, sad songs,"
She lives really close to the Duomo, so I get a really beautiful walk on my way to her house.  The buildings in Italy are ridiculously beautiful.  Also, the streets make it ridiculously easy to get lost; once I ended up at the Ponte Vecchio when I meant to go home.
Fun fact about the Duomo: The constructor was building the decorative strip around the tallest dome when he asked Michelangelo's opinion on it.  He said what literally translates as "it looks like a cricket house" and then that made him really sad and give up on the project.  I'm glad he didn't ask Michelangelo sooner, cos that building is BEAUTIFUL.

My second favorite class is my Italian class; it's rather small, and the teacher is very quick, sassy, and clever; her name is Sara and she somehow reminds me of the Doctor.  Every day she dresses in a different color, with a corresponding fan that she fans herself very dramatically with while perched on the desk.
We learn a different thing about grammar each day, and she never makes you feel bad if you got a question wrong.  Then, at the end, we all talk in Italian.  My SPEAKING Italian isn't that great, but I can understand nearly everything people say if I concentrate.  I really get a lot out of the class, and there's a view of the Duomo!  Also, a cherry tree, which just makes me hungry.
I love doing homework for Italian class.
I really wish I could explore Florence more, because when we do go out, it's for mandatory excursions at night with another teacher that will not leave us alone because she needs to watch us… feels like a dog being walked more than anything, but at least I get gelato!  Or for a tour.  In the tours, it's also with a teacher, and it's rather touristy but I'm glad I learn something in them.  Oh!  I got to see THE David, by that critical maniacIMEANartistic genius Michelangelo… it looked like pure perfection manifest!  Like, not human-made at all.
Next time I'm on my own and have free time between classes, I would REALLY love to explore Florence on my own… apparently there's a GREAT jazz scene in South Florence, and there are also several gardens that have been described as heartstopping.  Maybe I'll go to a service in the Duomo.  Of course, I'd LOVE to visit any old castles, or that then-secret tunnel built by a princess to visit the other side of Italy in the dead of night.  I appreciate the excursions and everything, but the constant feeling of having my every move watched makes me uncomfortable.  I had a really lovely day today, doing nothing at all, and then we all had fresh pizza, fed pigeons, and visited the tea shop.  It was a day of great smells.  Okay, maybe not the pigeons.

Despite my quiet struggle with patience for Maestro Klaviter, and being thrust into a situation with an uncomfortable amount of rules for me, I love being in Italy and experiencing Italy and eating Italy, Juilliard will love to see this on my high school transcript, and dayum, my voice is gonna sound great.
The overall experience is amazing for me; only ⅓ is kind of mreh because it hurts to miss people so much, and also culture shock; not with Italy but with education.
This is an adventure, though, and a lesson in many other ways than one.  I love all of my friends and miss them so much.
Wow, it just hit me.  I'm.  In.  Italy.  Meraviglioso.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Steampunk World's Fair

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a steampunk fanatic.  Not that I'm alone in this; several friends and I have created an elaborate steampunk universe, and base our outfits off of our characters.
Man, I wish I could live there!  I go somewhere like the steampunk world's fair, and am happily lost in the haze of beautiful costumes, creativity, and bohemian people- the very stuff of my imagination...but then the next day, when I'm back in the normal world, to quote my friend Leo, "Life seems so underwhelming,"

Not that it is, of course… As long as I can be creative, then I'm happy.  It's just that it makes me question why the population has to be "normal".  Is there a pressure to wear a pencil skirt and blouse and pantyhose and torture shoes when you go to work?  Why not express how you feel with how you look?
I feel like steampunk is actually a really good thing to have in your life, or at least be exposed to, because most importantly, it lets you dress up and make up stories like you did when you were a kid.
Also, in this society, we buy something, use it briefly, and then throw it away.  Or we buy stuff just for the pleasure of buying stuff, and then forget about it when we buy the next stuff.  Why not make something beautiful that lasts for a really long time?  There's enjoyment and practicality every step of the way, plus you're reducing what you're putting into a landfill.
In  steampunk literature, there's a lot of focus on bringing to light the oppression of the victorian age, such as women, other races, other classes, gender identities, etc.  Sadly, this isn't the case in the "normal world"… not much more than it was in the Victorian era.
I love wearing steampunk clothing in public because it makes me feel like I'm in that universe, and it breaks up the mundanity of everyday life.
However, I wish that steampunks (or at least steampunk women) were as respected as they are in that community, because the night I came back from the steampunk world's fair last sunday (the 18th), AT LEAST three people hit on me.  (One was a goth transvestite or genderqueer person)
This happens every time I am steampunk in public!  I wish that people would see that I'm trying to express myself artistically, and just because I'm wearing a tight corset, doesn't mean you can try to pick me up!

Now that I have a job (okay, I busk, but it makes money, right???), I plan on making more steampunk clothing.  I get inspired easily for outfits, most of them very bohemian or punk or whatever.  Like I said, I feel like I'm living in that universe when I'm all steampunk'd up.
For the steampunk world's fair, I didn't have much time to order the corset making supplies I usually use for steampunk events, so I did the best I could with the things that were around my room.
A while back, I bought an ugly-a$$ amish dress from a thrift store in Texas.  My mom said I shouldn't get it, but I thought it really had potential.  So I cut off the skirt part and added elastic to the waist, and voila!  Then I created a lace-up bodice recycled from the fabric from my costume when I was Jan-the-Sweet.
Even if you don't have any money when you go to the Steampunk World's Fair, it's a LOT of fun.  You can listen to the dozens of live steampunk bands, or attend the (free!) workshops (some of which being "Book Purse creating", and "history of voodoo").  Also, on the last day, people will likely give you free stuff, or five dollars off of their merchandise.
However, I do recommend coming with about a hundred dollars, because there are REALLY amazing things being sold, most of them handmade, all of them fascinating, unusual, and beautiful.
Everything from corsets to leather masks to Doctor Who tea.
I went to the fair with Leo and Julia, a girl who used to be homeschooled but now attends high school.  Julia also brought her friend Emily from high school to enjoy the adventure.
Julia's mom, Pam, drove us ALL the way from Brooklyn to Piscataway.  I think that next year, when I learn to drive, I'm going to drive my friends there, cos I hate being a burden on the parents of us crazy teens.
Leo proposed an idea that we get a three-day pass next year, and stay in the hotel.  Julia, who makes jewelry, wanted to open a stall at the steampunk world's fair so that we could go for free.  Thank GOD I'm legally going to be an adult next year!  Then we can do whatever we please (More or less), with me as their guardian!  I've been writing steampunk songs ever since the fair, in the hopes of performing there next year.  We all want to perform in a sort of cabaret show, where we have singing, short scenes, dancing, comedy, maybe improv, etc… a bunch of our friends would each contribute something.
Oh, I wish I could live in the steampunk universe!  But that's why we write, right?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Anthony Quinn Foundation

Hello, everybody!  I'm just loving this spring weather- just not the allergies.  BUT after that five-month winter, I ain't complaining.
My allergies have really hit me hard last week especially.  AND I had a sore throat.
It was particularly inconvenient for an event I was going to.
Okay, get ready for this: I got a $3000 scholarship from the Anthony Quinn Foundation for the Bel Canto institute!
I think I've told all ye about the Bel Canto Institute.  In case you don't remember, it's a summer program  IN FLORENCE, ITALY, where I get to study classical singing with a very prodigious voice coach (not assigned to me yet), tour the city (the cradle of the Renaissance!), eat fantastic food, and have intense Italian classes.  I feel that when I come back to New York, I'm going to be fluent or close to fluent in Italian; at the moment, I've been studying Italian like crazy, but I'm at the point where I can have really derpy conversations with people.
I'm hearing SUCH many things about Florence, everything from "You absolutely must go to the Uffizzi Gallery!" to "Italian men like to pinch girls,".  But mostly good things.
I am going to miss my friends SO much, though!  I'll only have a free day
One of my closest friends, Valentina, plays the piano (jazz!) but wants some slightly more formal lessons for a performance that's coming up.  So her mom (Jackie) and my mom have come up with an ingenious solution.  My mom exchanges piano lessons for Valentina, while Jackie gives me an Italian lesson!  In one of my earlier blog posts, I introduced this family as the people who I made pasta and had  an Italian conversation with.

Last week, they even came to see me get my award in Rhode Island!  Anthony Quinn was a writer, screenplaywright, book collector, sculptor, painter, and actor.  He passed away a few years ago, and his wife runs the (enormous!) house and the foundation.  The house was beautiful!  We got to see his sculptures, and were even told we could touch them cos "His art is a sensory experience, too!"
There were some truly maginificent sculptures, many of them depicting abstract female figures growing out of raw  rock.  He loved collecting crystals and statues, and even had a Philosopher's Stone on display!
Kathy (his wife) led us around the garden and grounds.  I loved how the grass was long and soft, splashed by the yellow and purple of violets and dandelions.  She said she much preferred it this was because it was naturally pretty.  Anthony was laid to rest in a circular garden with a pond in the center, huge windchimes making soft gonging sounds emit from a plane tree.  His grave was under an enormous stone which he apparently brought back from Italy.  He loved stones.
 Before the award ceremony, I met several delightful people who sponsor the Anthony Foundation.  Many of them were interested in musical theater, so I had something to talk about!  They all seemed genuinely pleased for me.

Several people were present to give out the awards to the four of us.  They said a brief speech about each person's accomplishments, and then presented the award.  After I got mine, I had a brief interview for a video for the website, and then I went back to the public area.  I made friends with a girl who agreed that high heels shouldn't be mandatory for public events, because they mess up your feet and hurt like hell, so why should women have to wear them??  Then we had the idea that if there MUST be high heels, they should be some kind of multipurpose item that you wear, like yeah, they're shoes, but you can use them to plant corn!  It's a self defence weapon!
Unscrew the heel and it's an awl!  Detach the other and it's a lighter!  And with the heels off, NOW you can dance.
Seriously; this has to be a thing.

After the event, my dad summoned me to the car.  He was sitting in the front seat; didn't say a whole lot, but he gave me a pendant necklace with a bear made of jet, carved in a native american style.  My dad wears an elaborate turquoise and pipestone necklace, also with a bear on it, because of his Choctaw heritage, I think.  My dad said I reminded him of Bear. When I wear it, I not only feel connected to my indigenous ancestors, but to my dad.  I don't really think I could have been accepted by the Anthony Quinn foundation had it not been for my parents.  My dad gives me vocal lessons twice a week- he's one of the best opera singers currently in the classical world, so he really knows his stuff.  AND he treats me as a singer, not as his daughter, so he doesn't mince words!
My mom works even harder for me.  She helps me tune up my voice nearly every day, and helps me memorize the songs, too.

My aunt was visiting (the sassy foodie aunt) and she, my grandma, my mom, Quintin, Valentina, and her family went to a lobster restaurant for dinner (I had a salad).  Valentina's grandma lived nearby, and had arranged for us to stay at her house.  Her house was BEAUTIFUL!!  It was, without a doubt, THE biggest house I've ever seen.  She loves Morocco, so the walls were hung with painting depicting scenes in the Middle East, and the tile work was, I think, from Morocco.  There was a swimming pool, a sauna, and many bedrooms whose luxury was only surpassed by those at the palace of Versailles.
On Mother's Day morning, all the moms, grandmas, and aunties had breakfast on the front porch with a shimmering view of the ocean.  We had mostly sweets for breakfast.  After thanking our hosts and saying goodbye to our friends, we drove back to New York.  But first, had a DEElicious lunch at my mom's favorite destination in New England; Mystic Pizza.

Right now, I am slightly nervous.  Why?  Well, tomorrow, I'm going to audition for a pre-college vocal program at Juilliard (my college of choice, and if I get accepted, then I'm more apt to get accepted to go to the ACTUAL college.)  I feel like this year is a HUGE turning point for me, and my path is very, very clear.  It's all starting with my audition, which is tomorrow.  Did I mention that already? So I have been singing literally every day, and thank god my allergies are nearly over with this year, cos I get asthma from the pollens!
I've come up with a great way to make money; I have to sing every day, right?  Doesn't matter where, right?  Well, I've been singing classical music in the subway stations, a capella, with a bag open at my feet.  And I make at least 30 dollars an hour!  Sure beats my last time busking; it was in March, and with a ukulele, and I made eight dollars in two hours.  I spent the money from my first time busking seriously at the Steampunk World's Fair, but that's a whole other blog post.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Hello everyone!  I apologize profusely for how long the gap was between this and the last blog post.  But I did have good reason for it.  Truly.  I'll tell ya ALL ABOUT IT!

First of all, you should know that my parents have recently released a CD of songs by Francesco Paolo Tosti, an Italian dude from the late 19th century/early 20th century., with my dad singing the songs and my mom accompanying.  (The CD's name is "Romanze: Songs of Francesco Paolo Tosti" if ya wanna buy it...)
So they've been having these CD release parties, and we had a handful of them in Texas.  As i have stated, I am NOT a winter person.  I am a heliophile.  I love the heat and I was already sick of the winter in October.  So you can imagine- 80 degrees!  It was heaven for my mom and I, and I actually got to wear SHORTS one day!
We stayed with my grandfather in Austin, who was recently recovering from a health scare.  Fresh out of the hospital, he drove to the airport and picked us up!  My grandfather is a stocky, Hispanic guy that likes wearing loose button-ups from thrift stores.  He has expressive eyes that gleam like he just said something sarcastic, a dry sense of humor, and a horsey laugh, matching his love of betting on horses.  I love him so much.
Anyway, he took us out for some REAL tex-mex food after we got off the airport.  You may think, that as a vegan, it'd be hard for me to find things.  Not true.  I've found that in most cuisine that isn;t American, it's easy to tell which is animal product and which isn't.  I'm not a big fan of American cuisine anyway... I'd much rather have something that is traditionally vegan rather than an over-processed substitite for a hot dog or something.

Due to my recent discovery of Indian food, my threshold in spice tolerance has went up, so during my stay in Texas I've been having lots of tex-mex whose names I don't even remember.  I wish I spoke Spanish.  My grandpa speaks it fluently, but he never spoke it to my mom, so the chain was broken.
We also went thrift shopping.  The thrift stores in Austin are THE best!  For example... I found this gorgeous, floor-length, wine-red evening gown, that fit me perfectly... for TEN DOLLARS.

After Quintin and my dad came, the temperature dropped and our family quickly went into business mode.  Our first concert was done in honor of my dad graduating from Oklahoma State University.  He's so happy!  He got a ring and everything.  It was done in a very fancy indeed country club.  Quintin and I were starting to miss our friends, so we gave them a call before the concert started.  Apparently I was starting to sound southern, as I was using "y'all" in speech.

Okay, here I have to go off on a tangent.  If you translate "vous", "votramos", "voi" or "أنتُم" translates so awkwardly into English.  Here we get "y'all" or "you lot".  So I've decided to use "ye" in everyday speech.  I used in yesterday in a sentence, and it actually sounded good!  Using "ye" kind of makes me feel timeless and fairy-tale like... helps me get into character when I portray fantasy characters.  I dunno how I feel about using it to blog though... Who knows?  Maybe ye will see me use it one day.

Back to the concert, circa. 20 minutes before it started.
We snitched fruit and Quintin entertained my mom and I with Arnold Schwarzenegger impressions.
So then my dad sang a bunch of songs, a couple with Quintin and I.  There was one song called "God Bless the U.S.A." that I suppose it nice, but it's awfully patriotic.  (Is it bad that I consider myself so much a New Yorker that I don't see myself as American?  Or maybe it's a feminist thing... is there any matriarchic U.S. history?  I shall find out.  To the google!)
Quintin sang that with him, and the whole audience stood up and took off their cowboy hats or put their hands on their hearts.
Then we packed up and went to my mom's friend Liz's FARM to sleep!  I loved the horses, the wildflowers... and our hosts were so kind!  I had bought some tempeh at the nearest whole foods, and they actually wanted to try some, and they actually liked it!  These were hard-core meat eaters... heck, the farm was solely for raising beef.  The cows were there... and they had hamburgers for dinner.  I honestly found that quite disturbing, though I was glad the cows were happy and well cared for.
Everyone said, "Mmm, you can taste the love!"  I muttered under my breath, "Yeah, you still killed something,"  I didn't dare say anything directly... vegan or not, I was grateful that they didn't challenge my lifestyle... so I didn't challenge theirs.

I've noticed that there are two kinds of vegans.  There are those I like to call the "Buddhist vegans", who are kind of accepting of everyone and brings cookies to share with people and inspire people to practice veganism, rather than force them to.
Then there are the "Jehovah Witness vegans" who scream at carnivores,  and point fingers and throw red paint on people... generally the equivelant of my uncle in Texas lecturing me that it was sinful to read Harry Potter.
That night, we were kind of plunking around on Liz's piano, and everybody sang.  The next morning, Liz decided to teach me how to drive... on a tractor!  (Well, I CALL it a tractor, but it had a different name)
I had always been a bit nervous behind the wheel, to say the least.  The last time I tried, I was white-knuckled and intoning "crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap"
It seems that in Texas, the kids all learn to drive when they're 15.  And I... well, I'm from New York.  Do I SERIOUSLY need to learn?
In a short half-hour, I was quite confident in my driving abilities and remembered how to use the stick shift and everything!  Thank you, Liz!

We must have done the family concert a good three or four times during our trip to Texas... and once we were back in New York, we did it two more times.  One of those were in Leonia, and a good half dozen of Quintin and my friends came to see!  I was so touched that they came.
One of the songs I sang was from "Yeast Nation", and... they were doing the "choreography" to it in the seats, and I was trying so hard not to laugh...
I will be performing in a solo showcase cabaret type thing to raise money this year.  It'll be a mix of classical music and showtunes.  The why?  Well, I got accepted into a very esteemed classical voice and Italian language program in Florence, with a 2000 dollar scholarship!  Nonetheless, it's still quite a bit of moolah, so my family and I have been scrimping, saving, and scrounging as much as possible.  We're over halfway, though!  It's gonna be an awesome summer.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Winter and New York City Don't Mix

It has been snowing non-stop up here.  Just when it started to melt, THEN WE GET A SNOWSTORM!  Where I live, in Yonkers, we're almost up to a foot.  And there's an icy layer on top.  Two biology classes have been cancelled because of the freaking weather!
Last Wednesday, for instance.  It was kinda nice, staying home, finishing homework and stuff, but Holly got her hands on some fruit flies and we were going to study them.
Anyway, the following day was playwriting class and math class.  Quintin had a fencing class after the math, so PJ, Quintin and I took the subway together at 5 PM.  At 103rd street, Quintin got off, leaving PJ and I together.  AND THEN... The subway totally stopped t 137th street.
No problem, we would get off and take the next one.  Nope.  THAT subway line (the 1 train) was completely down, from the Bronx to Harlem. We had to transfer to the A train, several blocks away, in Harlem, in the 15 degree weather.

Then we finally got to the A train, and informed our parents of the situation.  Jeff, PJ's dad, was willing to pick us up from the end of the A line, which was convenient, because we live 5 minutes away from each other.
I must say, PJ was a very pleasant traveling companion.  We were discussing things like what the opposite of pants are, and what we would do with clones.  I was intrigued by the idea of a sheet of anti-matter.
Then Jeff picked us up, and he drove me home.

I cannot wait for spring.  I have allergies, but at this point, I don't even care.  I'm tired of being cold.
Thankfully, I'm going to Texas next week, and it'll be at least 30 degrees warmer!  I remember the other day on facebook, my uncle posted a picture of a restaurant with a sign that said, "I miss hating the summer heat".  There were plants growing in that picture, and no snow.
Y'know, I never got the point of groundhog day.  It's a rodent.  If it sees it's shadow, we have more winter...? Or we don't?  I never remember.  How the heck did we get that tradition?


You may think that winter in New York City is fun and pretty.  The lights might be sparklier, and there may be free ice skating, but snow screws the subway system up.  Then the snow melts partially and mixes with the filth in the streets, creating gross gray snow in the curb.  And even grosser is stepping in yellow snow.  And the cold is miserable, making your face so frozen your jaw is barely usable.  I apologize for the "rant" post, but I cannot wait for spring.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Surgery

Right now I am eating endless raisins.  I can't help it.  I've been craving raisins for 24 hours.
I've been recovering from a surgery on my eyes since Tuesday, so that may be why.  You see, ever since I was a wee child, I've had a condition known as "exotropia", which is where the eyes drift outwards.  It's never hurt, but it HAS weirded more than a few people, and it's led to a few embarrassing pictures taken by other people, unknowingly by me.  I had barely any control over, having a straight gaze only when concentrating very hard on talking to people.  It got harder when I needed to use peripheral vision, or when I was tired.
My family and i assumed that it wasn't anything serious, so I did Chinese eye exercises nearly every day, in the hopes that my eyes would stop being "derpy".
However, I was informed that it was more serious than anticipated, as it could become fixed over time.  And the only way to fix it was a surgery.  Surgery!  I had never had a surgery in my life, save that one time when I had a cut knee and needed stitches when I was a toddler.
I was more horrified by the idea of looking like this forever:
(I'm on the far left)

Or this!  

Or this!

Also, I would be unable to drive, because when my eyes went all crazy, I had double vision.  So the surgery was set for late January (after my birthday!)
My opthalmologist was THE kindest doctor I've ever met!  She was always thinking about "the big picture", and was always very warm and friendly to me.  She even came to a performance of Yeast Nation! 
Anyways, she was doing the vital parts of my surgery.  What was going to happen was that they were going to weaken the outside muscles and rearrange them.  She warned me that I was going to have "red hamburgery eyes" for a week or so after the surgery.
In the days and weeks leading up to the day, my friends and family have been so extremely, almost overwhelmingly kind.  My friend Dan downloaded quite a few Lemony Snicket and Neil Gaiman audiobooks onto my laptop, and Ayun, Milo, and his sister India sent a bunch of links to some very enjoyable podcasts.  Valentina slept over last night, keeping me company and uplifting my spirits.  Other friends called me, welcomingly breaking the monotony of my sightless days.  My more distat relatives prayed for me, and our family friends in the spiritual know-how sent me Reiki energy.
I am SO grateful to be surrounded by such loving, amazing people!

The day of the surgery arrived.  I wasn't allowed to eat or drink anything from the night before until after it was over.  My mom walked with me into the operation room.  The surgeons, nurses, and doctors were very lovely people; very cheerful and friendly.  I was strapped down onto the table and a mask feeding me oxygen was placed onto my face.  I'll admit, I was a little nervous... so then I waved goodbye to my mom and saluted the medical team.  A needle was jabbed into my right wrist.  They said that this was water to hydrate me.
"Oh, that's good..." I said. (I think the anesthesia was starting to take effect)
"I didn't drink anything yet, that's very considerate of you guys............"
The next thing i remember, I was on my back in the waiting room, surrounded by Quintin, my mom, and my dad.
The rest of my time at the hospital was REALLY weird.... it felt like I was dreaming, and I had no control of what I said at all.  My dad decided to use this to his advantage.
"So, did you kiss anyone?"
"No, just in Yeast Nation?  His name's Baird and he's stupid."  

I also accused my mom of being a lesbian.  She was the only one that was nice; helping me drink coconut water and holding my hand.  My brother was being just as bad as my dad, trying to get me to say weird things.
"Hey, knock-knock,"
"Shut up!"
One of the first things I said was asking if I could watch Doctor Who.  But the hospital didn't get BBC, so I listened to Food Network on the TV instead.  Then I started FREAKING OUT when she was making chicken caeser salad pizza and yelling, "You don't put butter on pizza!  YOU DON'T PUT BUTTER ON PIZZA!"  
I think I started becoming more "with it" once the nurses suggested my mom dressing me; some primal instinct of modesty snapping me back to reality. I was able to think and speak coherently at this point, though reality still had a dreamy quality and I couldn't stand up yet.  
My eyes felt sooo strange.... I was unable to open or move them for days!  I'm very grateful for my mom takig care of me these last few days... I  was able to do some things by myself, like eating and brushing my teeth.  Then two days ago, i opened my eyes.  Here's a picture.  Warning; it's gross.  

But it's funny to see my brother's reaction.  I can't move my eyes from side to side, as the muscles are still stunned.  I sort of stare.  Which is perfect for a computer screen!  As I've stated before; Valentina stayed the night.  encouraged me to get out of bed and walk around.  We watched/listened to "Mary Poppins" and "Pride and Prejudice".  She even helped me realize that I can play the accordion and piano!  

I'm very grateful to have eyesight now.  I've never realized how important it is for schoolwork!  Now I can read and watch netflix!  No more derpy eyes!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Holiday Season

Happy New Years, everyone!  Though it might be a bit late for that...
Ah, New Year's.  The day where you plan your goals for the whole year.  Only to have your resolution crumble very shortly.  Take my New Year's, for example.  I had planned on going on a juice fast for two weeks starting then and there.  But my family and I were at our friends' house.  And someone brought vegan chili.  And i REALLY didn't want to offend them.  Plus it was freaking delicious.
I AM juice-fasting now, and I've been doing it for three days so far.  I will post about that experience soon.
My resolutions include writing every day, eating more raw food (i bought two raw vegan cookbooks!), losing weight because of the Mermaid Parade in June, and financially supporting my sewing endeavors, which involves me making money on the subway, gypsy-style, which involves a ukulele.

I think you can guess the reason why I wanted to lose weight.  There is a two-month period at the end of the year that involves overeating.  And cookies.  And curling up under a cozy blanket to watch Disney movies.  I ended up being unable to fit into my favorite pair of white jeans.  Whoever said that veganism isn't fattening is a liar.
So for the SALT club closest to Christmas, I invited pretty much everybody in it to my house, and they had to bring cookies.  Any cookies.  And we would all eat cookies.  So... there were about 20 teenagers in my house, no parents.  I spent a good part of the morning making (gluten free and vegan) oatmeal raisin cookies, which turned out AMAZINGLY.  They didn't even taste gluten free, let alone vegan!  I think the trick to gluten-free baking is to mix some sort of texture in there.  Like this one time I made some vegan, gluten-free lemon blueberry scones, and there wasn't enough gluten free flour.  But I had a little extra shredded coconut.  The result was pure decadance!  Even my mom liked them!
Anyway, with 20+ kids, we had many, many cookies, and it didn't take much to get full.

During the meeting (It REALLY felt more like a party) Quintin, Baird, Valentina's brother Matteo, and Michael had a SHIRTLESS snowball fight.  A couple of us watched through the window.  It was VERY funny to watch.  Later, I felt a little green around the gills, which was unsurprising, as there was a bug going around in the circle.
I spent the rest of the party, er, meeting lying on my mom's chaise.  Apparently they played spin-the-bottle in my room.  And I repeat, there was some cold going around in the homeschool community.
I was sick for about a week, during which time i spent watching Disney movies off of questionably legal websites and eating oatmeal raisin cookies.  Thankfully, I was well by Christmas.
Christmas was a lot of fun!  I loved turning on the radio and listening to songs that i knew all the words to!  If there's one thing I love about the Christmas season, it's jazz music.  If there's one thing I DISlike about the Christmas season, it's the cold weather.  In my family, I'm known for having constantly cold hands.
The chilliness really came suddenly this year.  I think that next winter I'd like to go somewhere tropical for a couple of weeks.

This year's hanukkah was rather unusual, as it fell on Thanksgiving!  So there were a lot of crossover jokes floating around the internet and my friends.  Like "Menorackey".  I made a LOT more food than we could handle, even with eight people!  It was about 80 percent vegan.  Ironically, for my mom, the lentil loaf was her favorite dish there!  I posted pictures of the dishes as i made them.  One picture of latkes had quite a few comments from Leo about that there should be sweet potato latkes (yamkes).
There was also risotto, mashed parsnips, and rolls, among about nine other dishes.  My grandma came over with the turkey (hiss), and so did the Wattses (Coco, Ben, and Tiina from the previous posts).  The evening was filled with lots of singing and piano playing.
I think it might have been from the surplus of cooked food (I eat mostly fruits and vegetables and grains) or perhaps the wheat, but I threw up that night.
The next day I ate LESS of the leftovers.  But then I threw up AGAIN.  My dad asked me if I was bulimic.
And then i started researching raw veganism.  I was a bit sick of cooked food that weekend.
A few days after, Thomas and his family invited my family over for a vegan thanksgiving.  (OY VEY)
But it was all delicious.  I really enjoyed Thomas's apple pie.  Also, leo was there, so I came with sweet potato latkes, which were AMAZING.  (They taste like a baked sweet potato!)
Angie (Thomas and Izzy's mom) made me a sweet potato casserole (without pecans), which they insisted on calling the "Jan-the-Sweet potato casserole".  Later we watched "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".  I had never seen it before and, my god, all I can say is; pure genius!
The following week, there was a homeschooling Hanukkah party.  I was SO done with latkes.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Yeast Nation

Hi everyone!  Happy New Year!  Sorry I haven't been online in a while.  you know; Christmas, Thanksgivvukah... and the play I was in, Yeast Nation.
I wrote a bit about this project a few months ago, but that doesn't really do it justice.

Last year, I was in a very small, very homespun production of Oliver.  We had a cast of nine kids, with much double casting and creative use of space.  And there was an accordion.  And a tequila incident with a prop flask.  This was in Brooklyn, at a homeschool family's loft/massage studio.  The father of said family, Ben, directed the play alongside my mom, who was the musical director.  It turned out really well!
Fast forward a few months, and my buddy Leo, who played Fagin, proposed the idea of putting together "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."... guess who wanted to direct?  He was 13 at the time!  (he has a website here) Leo is a very talented writer and actor and I must say, he did a very good job of staging it and organizing the rehearsals.  I was musical director and accompanist for the show, and even though it was just six songs, i definitely overestimated myself.  I thought I was ready pianistically!  My mom makes it look so easy!  She DID help me learn the songs, but I just couldn't learn them fast enough.  "I am going to finish learning this song by next rehearsal," i kept telling myself.

Tech week arrived, and I was THIS CLOSE (imagine I'm showing you just how close with my finger and thumb) to having a nervous breakdown!  And then, like an angel descending from the heavens themselves, I had help for accompanying!
My friend PJ played "Sam Beauregard" in the show.  He's a longtime improv artist and actor, and comes from a family in the show biz.  His dad, Jeff Lodin writes musicals and is a jazz pianist.  He can freaking improvise music!  And so, he suggested that he be co-accompanist for the performances.  Jeff taught me some tips for improvising music, and played about half of the songs, in addition to cool sound effects and mood music.  I don't know what I would have done had he not stepped in!  Now go and watch his musicals.

During this, a friend/mother of friend/seasoned mommylord named Ayun suggested a play for doing the following autumn semester.  Her son, Milo, played Augustus Gloop.
Milo is... a wild one.  His "death scene" had us all in hysterics, and i witnessed firsthand how hard it was for the actors to not break character while he was tragically thrashing and screaming.  During the performances, there were definitely some added lines.  The ham.
Anyway, Ayun's husband, Greg Kotis, co-wrote "Urinetown" (great musical.  Go watch that one too!) with Mark Hollman.  They had written another play many moons ago called "Yeast Nation".
Ayun sent the script to my family and Ben's family to see what we thought of it.  I was initially weirded out by the story.  A kingdom of single-cellular organisms at the bottom of the sea at the beginning of time?
Nonetheless, I read the script, and was surprised at the satire, comedy, and romance.  It seemed like a very interesting play to do.
Not long after, Ayun and Ben (turned out they were co-directing!) and my mom (musical director.  Surprised?) announced that we WERE doing "Yeast Nation!"

Ben and his wife, Tiina, invited a bunch of us to their house for a yeastly acting workshop.  We learned a group number (Stasis is the Membrane) to figure out how our vocal ranges were for any potential parts we were cast as.
I wondered what part I would get.  Jan-the-Unnamed, the blind narrator yeast gifted with prophecy?  Jan-the-Famished, the pregnant one who gets manipulated into being in a horrible regicide plot? One part that I sort of liked was Jan-the-Sweet, the protagonist.  But she was in a love triangle and had to be kissed by two other characters, so I thought, "I feel so sorry for the poor sucker that has to play her,". During the workshop, we learned the story of the yeasts.  You can read it here.  We also learned to move like yeasts.  This included the grownups except for my mom.  At one point, while we were contorting and slithering across the room, she walked in, stared, and quickly left.  (She's not much into contemporary and weird theater) There are MANY deaths in Yeast Nation, caused by someone "popping" another's "jellies".
So we were working on that, too.  It was fun to die, and i found out which side of the family Milo got his acting from.

During the summer, the directors were casting us, which was very hard apparently.  We had "Stasis is the membrane" stuck in our head for months.  Which was horrible, cause there were 18 other songs!
Then we got the casting information.
Guess who was Jan-the-Sweet?  Oh, the bitter, bitter irony.

I took my script to Shakespeare Camp, and the entirety of July was dedicated to making sure the songs were in the right key.  This often resulted in sleepovers.
While I was in Maine with Leo and Quintin, my aunt sometimes made us shut up for 20 minutes, timing it on her cell phone.  (Leo's mom was in Bali, so we and another family were taking care of him for a couple of weeks.)  I really don't have to tell you what we were singing in the backseat, do I?
Then, finally, in September, we had our first rehearsal.  We basically started from nothing, and improvised our way through, doing the tidbits we liked that we did, and cutting, pasting, and refining the staging.  We made a throne for the king (Milo, which was the best thing ever) out of our bodies.  My "nook" (house/bedroom/sleeping cubby for a yeast) was formed from the bodies of chorus members.  Waves, a dungeon, breaking the fourth wall... you name it, the chorus did it!  They also got the best one-liners.  I got some SUPERB acting coaching from Ayun and Ben, the best that I'd ever gotten.
Honestly, the romantic/sexual harrassment scenes weren't TOO bad.  It was the teasing from other castmates that was worse.

Halfway through rehearsals, and the same friend who wishes to be anonymous joined us!  (I forgot what i called her before, so I'll say her name is Claire in this one.)
The music was amazing.  It's a bit rock-opera, a bit musical theater, and a bit, "What the hell is that?"  They got stuck in your head easily.  Oh!  here's a song with me singing in it!  In the story, there is a famine.  Sweet's father (Quintin!) was popped open for defiling the strictures and rising to look for food, and she's grieving horribly and questioning life and having new feelings.  Then the prince of the yeasts, Jan-the-Second-Oldest, (he was played by a kid named Baird, who surprised me in the last month of rehearsals by shooting up past my modest height of 5'2) who is smitten with her, comes with a giant piece of salt called a "fatty" as a gift for Sweet.  Sweet hates his guts and yells at him a bit.
Anyway, Claire suggested playing her doumbek for some of the songs, and it worked amazingly!  You didn't really know that the songs were missing something until you heard the drum with them.

The costumes, props, and set were scavenged for as little money as possible.  We managed to find a few bolts of fabric (pale green for yeasts, and garish blue and pink for the new life forms, known as the New Ones) for free, and spent several days cutting out no-sew tunics and jazzing them up with black marker.  The result?

Photos by Schecter Lee

Amazing under-the-sea effects created by tinted lights, sheets, and tulle.  The family who owned the space and was already generously lending it to us, donated their living quarters for audience and bedsheets for the set.  It was performed in the round, with a ladder for the effect of rising to the surface of the ocean.
If ya want more pictures, lookee here!
Whenever I invited people to see it, they were confused about what the play was about.
"Hey, is that a science song?"
"No, Stasis is the Membrane.  It's from a legitimate musical I'm in."  (He didn't believe me)
Another person:
"So, what's Yeast nation about, baking?
"Yeast infection?"
Despite the lack of clarity, a TON of people came!  A few times, the studio seated 100+ people!
This was definitely the best production of ANYTHING I've ever been in, and the audience really liked it!  Apparently one person said, "Oh we were expecting this to be a cover play done by some homeschool kids, but it turned out to be a serious play done by actors that just happened to be young!"
The playwright came, of course, along with the composer.  I spotted my ophthalmologist in the audience, and on the second night, a retired character from "Sesame Street" came to see us!  My friend, Thomas, who was in the chorus, is a HUGE fan of Urinetown.  His ambition is to play Officer Lockstock in it.  One night, the actor who played Lockstock was sitting in the audience.  During the "stasis is the membrane" scene, it's parodying a sermon or something at church; that whole "peace be with you"hand-shaking thing.  So everyone on stage shook the audience's hands.  Eliza, another chorus member, saw that she was going to be right in front of "Lockstock", so she traded places with Thomas!  Aw!  Wasn't that nice?  His excitement was VERY clear backstage.
Before the show started, it made us all very anxious, being backstage, but Claire and I figured out that meditating together helped the nerves.  And then two became three.  Three became everyone in the girls' dressing room, regardless of gender.  Ayun and Ben were impressed to see us like this before a show.

I'm very glad to have been in this.  It's made me grow as an actress and a singer, and unfortunately, what with all the care I've invested in it, it's become a part of life.  I'll never be able to look at the words "fatty", "jellies", or the punctuation of "January" the same way.  Luckily, I'm moving on. I've gotten over it, and I'm currently focusing on my vocal training, and the accordion, and Doctor Who, and important things like that.  It's 2014, and I've got other projects to do and... and... ooh!  It's being performed in San Francisco next fall?