15 Days and Counting
What week is it again?
15 days and counting down....
With the start of my role intensive at NYDV right around the corner, I find that I really have to pace myself. I am nervous and eager to please. I have a deep-seated need to prove that I belong here, in the company of so many exceptional artists. After auditing an incredible masterclass with Kathy Olsen this past week, I have a very good idea of how talented and dedicated these other artists are. Frankly, it can be a little intimidating.
One of the trickiest things about being an artist is navigating the highs and lows of one's relationship with one's own ego. On the one hand is the cautionary tale of every artist who, like Narcissus, became too enamored with their own glory and miraculously transformed themselves into an insufferable, boring, egomaniacal prick. But just a hop, a skip, and a jump away from that archetypal disaster we find ourselves in the throes of Imposter Syndrome. There's no agony quite like a self-imposed agony!
This week I found myself dancing with Lady Imposter and I did not enjoy it one bit. But let me go back a little to help set the stage for her grand entrance.
When I auditioned for NYDV I had heard wonderful things about the program. I was encouraged to apply by people whose opinions I really value. I was told, many times over, that I was a very good fit for this program and that I stood a really good chance of getting in. I thought that I believed that, too. But when I received the email signaling my acceptance to the program, I could hardly believe it. And then - and here's where Imposter Syndrome got really creative - I started to wonder if it was really such a selective program after all, because - well - I got in. So how hard could it be? For the record, having watched performances by many of my classmates, everyone in this program is exceptional. It was nothing more than what one of my good friends calls "brain weasels". But BOY are those brain weasels insistent! But I pushed those weasels away and got to work learning my role. I wasn't going to allow imposter syndrome to keep me from performing at my best.
Then, a couple of weeks ago I participated in a masterclass with a notoriously exacting repertoire coach. I was a last-minute addition to the roster after a participant had to drop out. I only had about six days to prepare, and I needed a specific type of repertoire, so I had to learn something completely new. I had only 30 minutes with my pianist prior to the start of the masterclass, but she was an outstanding musician and collaborator and I felt very good (if a little nervous) going into the workshop.
Well, unfortunately, the class was a bit of a disaster. The instructor had never taught over zoom before and he didn't understand the nature of video conferencing, particularly when it came to musical timing. (For those who haven't experienced this, sometimes the audio and/or video feed gets stuck for a second, then the algorithm speeds up the sound to get back to real time as quickly as possible. It makes sense for a meeting, but is more of a problem for a vocal masterclass, especially one with significant connection issues.) I was the first student in the class, and although I was fairly happy with my performance, the instructor was not. He berated my pianist and myself for timing problems which I am 99% sure were simply technology problems. He complained about the way the room was set up and made us take almost 10 minutes rearranging it. Then he briefly mentioned that he didn't like some of my diction (his area of specialty), but barely made any concrete suggestions to improve it. I watched the remainder of the class, and while he was honestly terrible to nearly everyone, no one earned quite so much derision as I did.
I immediately found myself feeling inadequate. I couldn't help comparing my Master's in Theatre with the Music degrees my fellow participants held from Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music. I knew that the other students in that class had years of diction in French, Italian, German, even Russian, and I had none, except my own efforts to train myself with Rosetta Stone and second-hand books. I felt defeated and I started wondering, not for the first time, if I was too far behind to catch up to my colleagues. I started to worry that I would be behind all my fellow students at NYDV as well. To keep myself from repeating that horrible experience, I redoubled my efforts to be as over-prepared as possible for my role intensive in August.
I overdid it.
I mean, of course I overdid it. Who didn't see that coming? (Hint: Me.) I sang too long, too many days in a row, and then I found that I really needed to take a couple of days off. There is definitely such a thing as too much practice.
Then, like the cherry on top of my Imposter Syndrome Sunday, I received an email informing me that I had made the finals in the Medici International Music Competition (Vocal Performance, Professional Division). And just like when I got into NYDV, I found myself trying to lessen the accomplishment. I immediately started questioning the legitimacy of the competition. I spent two hours scouring the web for any sign that it was a scam. Why? Because at some level, I still have a hard time seeing my own worth.
The Medici competition is legitimate. New York Dramatic Voices is an incredible program, and a highly selective one at that. But Imposter Syndrome still has a grip on me. That fear of not being enough haunts me. It makes me work so hard to prove myself that it backfires spectacularly. It keeps me from really enjoying my own accomplishments.
When I was young, those fears really got in my way. They kept me from enthusiastically going after my dreams. But I won't let the Imposter Syndrome win anymore. Not ever again. I may think those thoughts, but I won't let them make my decisions. It can be hard to maintain one's sense of self-worth in an industry where our employment is dependent on us putting ourselves up to be judged over and over and over again.
But that is one of the reasons I am so excited to sing with NYDV. There is a sense of support and camaraderie that is cultivated in this place (virtual or physical, it hardly matters). It's what I wish the whole industry was like. It's a nurturing environment that helps great artists blossom. How lucky we are to be here.