A few years ago, I was living in New York City working in theatre. When I wasn’t touring or in a show I took an intensive scene study class, and when I say intensive, I mean that it was INTENSE. Crying, screaming, throwing things, cursing, and occasional mild violence were all par for the course. For an actor, it was glorious.
One evening, we did an exercise in which each student brought a photo or painting of a person, and then worked to bring that picture to life. My choice was a photo of Janis Joplin, in the midst of an agonized wail. I have always been amazed by her rawness and freedom. Especially during my days singing musical theatre, but even now, I am her polar opposite- with ten years of classical training, excellent vocal health, and a conventionally pretty sound. I wanted to act the way Janis sang.
To get into character, my teacher encouraged me to sing one of Janis’s songs. At the time, I was feeling stuck in a bad relationship, so “Ball and Chain” seemed an appropriate choice. As I began to sing in front of my peers, something happened that I had never experienced before… I let go of all inhibitions. I sang with every ounce of passion I possess, with utter disregard for how I sounded or appeared. While performing, I was vaguely aware that my classmates were screaming and cheering, and only when I finished the song did I realize I was drenched with sweat and tears.
In all my years of performing, I had never sung with such honesty and abandon. The class instructor got down on her hands and knees and started bowing. Two of my best friends from the Boston Conservatory were there and were also crying- they didn’t know I could sing like that. I didn’t know I could sing like that. It was a moment of profound discovery.
I realized that, for me, singing is my way into my truest form of self-expression. Not long after that class, I decided to put acting on the back-burner to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter. The first song I wrote was called “Burning Now.”