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Strasberg dance teacher Jeffrey Ferguson joins Will & Simone to talk about dance, travel, and more on this episode of In the Chair. Stay tuned to hear Jeffrey guess Will & Simone’s Sun, Moon, & Rising signs.
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Simone Elhart: We always have people say their name so that we know how to pronounce it. Because we never want to-
Will Brockman: Insult someone.
Simone: Because when we start it’s always like, “today we have so and so with us!” And we never want to be like “we have this person” and they’re like “that’s not my name.”
Will: Yeah, that would be bad.
Simone: Names are important in the arts.
Will: Names are very important.
Jeffrey Ferguson: That’s true.
Simone: Alright cool, do you want to just jump in?
Will: Hello Simone.
Simone: Hi Will.
Will: How are you?
Simone: Good! How are you?
Simone: I’m smiling really big because we have one of my favorite teachers here at Strasberg with us today!
Will: We have Jeffrey Ferguson!
Simone: I’m so excited!
Will: Hi Jeffrey.
Will: How are you?
Jeffrey: I’m very good, thank you.
Simone: So he actually just got done teaching-
Jeffrey: A musical theatre class.
Simone: A musical theatre class! Yeah, so he’s just jumping right in with us. He’s really here. I love it. So Jeffrey, why don’t we just start and can you tell the listeners a little bit about your life, like how you got into the arts, where you’re from, all that stuff?
Jeffrey: Well, I’m from Miami, Florida. I went to school [at] Princeton University, Class of ‘76. I got a scholarship to the Ailey company in ’76. And, from there, I danced with the companies that were there and then I went into musical theatre right after that. I had a very major audition with Bob Fosse for Big Deal and he kept me. It was me, him, and his assistant and he kept me dancing throughout the entire time and finally he said, “Okay, I need you to learn this song.” So I learned the song and started to sing it and it had a high G and at the time… I couldn’t hit that high G.
Simone: I was gonna say! I’m so used to you having that good-
Jeffrey: I could not get it. I hadn’t studied voice, I was studying dance all that time. And he says, “Oh, I really like you but the character that I’m thinking about for you has to hit this high G. So, I’m sorry.” So I didn’t get it. So I started auditioning more and getting voice lessons and all that sort of stuff to get better and that’s how I started.
Simone: Wow! That had to be crazy!
Jeffrey: It was amazing! I mean I had just finished dance study so I was really good. And also, this is interesting, when I was going to audition for shows I knew I was good. I’d be dancing circles, or I thought I was dancing circles around everybody.
Jeffrey: But I never got cast!
Simone: I feel like this is a lesson that you bring up a lot to your students.
Jeffrey: I was like “what is this!” And I made a mistake. I fell and I started laughing and I started to continue dancing and I got hired for the job. And I realized then, I had an epiphany, that talent is a dime a dozen in New York. They’re looking at personality. Can I work with this person, will I have fun with this person? That’s what they’re looking at. And I went “wow!” So that changed my whole perspective. I don’t have to be perfect.
Simone: I love that though!
Will: Well we talk about that a lot, talent at a certain level is just a thing.
Will: It’s just expected and it doesn’t make you different from anyone else.
Jeffrey: Anyone else, so true. It’s about personality then.
Simone: And I love that too, because I think that’s something I should probably work on. That idea of being like “guys I messed up but it’s fine! I’ll just have a good attitude about it and keep going and learn from it.’
Simone: Wait, I love that.
Jeffrey: And then I just continued to do musical theatre and tour. I understudied Ben Vereen in Pippin on a tour, and did Broadway and then I came here to teach! They asked me to come and teach at the Strasberg Institute for tap and jazz, they needed one teacher not two teachers.
Simone: Mm, to do both.
Jeffrey: So they asked me if I can do both and I said, “sure.” And that’s what I did, I came to teach at NYU, but you already know that. So I’ve been here since 1989. Oh my god.
Jeffrey: 30… It’s 30 years, yes!
Will: 30 years!
Jeffrey: My god!
Jeffrey: Wow! Off and on because when I first came I was performing a lot, they don’t allow you to do that anymore.
Simone: They’re like “we need-”
Will: “We need you here full time.”
Simone: “We need you here,” yeah, for the students.
Jeffrey: Exactly, exactly. And because the school’s become accredited they have faculty in place.
Simone: Right, that makes sense. I forgot about that aspect. But wow! So I’m interested because you said you went right from Princeton to Ailey, were you dancing at all while you were at Princeton?
Jeffrey: Absolutely! It’s interesting, I took dance as part of my Phys Ed credit.
Simone: Wait, that’s awesome! I love that they let you, that that counts.
Jeffrey: Right, and once the teachers there discovered me and said “we need men at the Princeton Ballet Society, would you like to come and join and take free classes?” I said, “sure.” I had no clue. She took me around to buy dance clothes. She bought me a leotard, tights, dance belt, a belt to roll my tights up, ballet slippers. She bought me the entire thing.
Will: So was that really the first time that you were dancing?
Jeffrey: First time I was dancing, that was the very first time I was dancing in a company.
Simone: Yeah, like a formal setting.
Jeffrey: Yeah formal setting, I had danced [for fun] because I liked dancing.
Simone: I was gonna say, I feel like you have a natural-
Will: But not in a methodical training way.
Jeffrey: Exactly, no training. It was my first training.
Simone: That’s so exciting!
Will: That’s kind of wild. I didn’t realize that.
Simone: Because what were you majoring in?
Jeffrey: Psychology. Minor in Industry. I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I even took my LSATs.
Jeffrey: Yes! I thought I was going to be a lawyer. But that didn’t happen.
Simone: I do feel like though, having you as a teacher I can see where the study in psychology has impacted the way that you approach material.
Simone: I can see where- and we were chatting before we started recording about how much that education outside of the arts can impact your arts.
Jeffrey: Absolutely. I used to say, I taught at the Ailey school and I taught kids from the high school of performing arts. And they used to come every Monday and Wednesday to study dance, and some of them were getting older and I said, “If you have a gig right after school, take that gig.” But I said, “if you don’t have a gig and nothing’s happening, go to college.” Because it broadens your horizons, it just makes you that much more aware as a person of who you are and the experience that you can actually bring to art. And some did that. One of the guys got into the Nederlands Dans Theater at the age of 18. That was a gig, he went and did that. And I said “Great! You do that.” Because they were good. God, they were good.
Simone: Yeah, I feel like traveling and being in that sort of space-
Will: It forms your world.
Will: The thing is the art isn’t the interesting thing, the art is the vehicle for whatever the interesting thing you want to talk about is.
Simone: Oo! I liked that.
Will: Thanks, I went to Tisch.
Jeffrey: They say, “art must speak.” Art speaks in so many ways, politically speaks and socially. It just speaks. And that’s important.
Simone: Yeah, I feel like that’s something that I learned a lot from your class was just like what we’re talking about now, knowing your steps and doing your steps in dance is never-
Will: Anyone can do that.
Simone: And I think that is applicable in acting and singing, just hitting your lines and your marks, and just hitting the notes is never going to get you all the way there. You have to have something behind that as well.
Simone: And I think dancing is a great way to learn that too.
Jeffrey: That’s true, dancing is an extraordinary way to- well, luckily I work with a company, the Ailey company, that was very dramatic. Alvin Ailey himself was an actor. He did musicals, he did plays. I mean, he was an actor. So he brought that into his choreography. He used to sit down and describe scenarios and situations and said, “this is what these people are doing and this is how these people are feeling and this is what is happening.” So your dance is more informed and it creates such a story, it’s just wonderful.
Will: Right, and I mean dance itself is such a primal art form in that every culture has some genre of dance that they were using to tell story. It wasn’t dance just for the purpose of dance, it was storytelling.
Jeffrey: Right, always storytelling.
Simone: Well, and I think, in that sense, one of the best things about dance is that you don’t need to speak the same language in order to see the story.
Will: To understand what’s going on.
Simone: Which is why I think it’s so important that you are able to tell the story with your body, because you could speak to someone that you have no language ability to speak with. But you can still have a conversation through the art form. And I think that’s one of my favorite parts about dance. It’s like, you can do any style of dance and somebody who maybe hasn’t met you before or doesn’t speak your language, isn’t from here or whatever, can still see you and understand what you’re trying to say.
Jeffrey: That’s what happened when I went to Japan.
Will: Oo! What happened in Japan?
Jeffrey: First of all, they used to have these tours – tour companies – that bring these Japanese over called Jazz on Broadway. They used to come do jazz at Ailey and then they go see shows on Broadway.
Simone: Oh fun!
Jeffrey: So I had them everyday in my jazz class and then they see shows at night. And I did quite a few of those so the traveling company thought that I had a following, and they wanted to do a five city tour in Japan. And they set it up! We did a five city tour in Japan and went-
Simone: Oh my word!
Jeffrey: Exactly! We went and danced, taught. And like you said, people who don’t know the language, they can see what the body is doing and feel the emotion through the body and be able to do it.
Simone: Yeah, because that’s the thing that I feel that we all have in common is this packing that we’re put in. We can all bond over that and that visual. I just think that’s so cool!
Jeffrey: Yeah, that was great. That was great.
Will: Let’s pause for a second… We’re back.
Simone: So, you said you went to Japan but then you were also just saying about Guatemala.
Jeffrey: Yes. I went to Guatemala to perform and teach. I taught for five weeks there and rehearsed and performed with the company. It was Jazz Dance Tance. It was a great little school and a great group. And we got to perform! We stayed at the German embassy; it was the wife of the German ambassador’s company, we stayed with them. It was really quite lovely. My host found out I spoke a little Spanish- she would not speak English to me. She spoke Spanish to me the entire time! I answered her in English, but she spoke Spanish to me the entire time. It was so funny.
Simone: I feel like that’s the way that if I had to learn a language, I feel like that would be the best way. To go and be like, “Okay. Now I have to figure it out, gotta learn it on the fly!”
Jeffrey: So I got listening very well, it was just the speaking…
Will: Speaking is really hard.
Jeffrey: It never came quite as easily.
Will: Yeah, because I don’t speak Spanish I speak German. But, when I was there, I refused to use English because I really wanted to push myself to at least a correct grammatical way to communicate with people. But it’s really hard to think of stuff and then start saying it. It gave me a new admiration for international students that come here.
Will: Because they have such a hard job of actually learning stuff that they’re paying to learn in another language.
Jeffrey: What’s interesting is they actually start though in second or third grade. If we started languages in second, third grade…
Will: We would know it.
Jeffrey: But our education system doesn’t do that, which is unfortunate.
Simone: So Japan, Guatemala, what are some other places that you’ve-
Jeffrey: France. I’ve taught in France, I’ve taught in the Caribbean, Trinidad, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico, what else? God, all over the country obviously. Where else, where else, where else? That’s it…
Simone: If you had to choose-
Jeffrey: Bermuda! Yeah I went to Bermuda every year for like five years.
Jeffrey: Yeah, teaching there and choreographing.
Simone: If you had to choose one of the places to go back to where would you go? If I could buy you a plane ticket right now.
Jeffrey: Wow! I don’t know! France probably. Yeah, probably France. I got to teach in the southwestern part of France, in Biarritz. And then I got to teach in the Bourgogne region, and then of course in Paris. I mean all over, I like France.
Simone: I feel like a lot of times when I ask people, when they’ve traveled, France tends to come up. I think I asked Geoffrey Horne here when we asked “where’s one of the places you’ve been that you’d like to go back?” And he said the south of France.
Jeffrey: It’s just that overall, everything, the food, the people are nicer than I thought. They won’t speak English to you unless you try to speak French. Once you try to speak French and they see that you’re struggling-
Simone: That you’re trying at least.
Jeffrey: Then they start speaking English.
Simone: They’re like “okay at least you gave it a shot!”
Jeffrey: Exactly! It’s very funny that way.
Will: Yeah. I want to switch gears a little bit and hear a little more about Jeffrey Ferguson the person. And kind of explore some of your interests outside of dance and outside of theatre. Because we were talking about how the art isn’t the interesting thing, it’s the people that are behind it that are the interesting thing. So I just want to hear about some of your extracurricular activities, so to speak.
Jeffrey: I love cooking and baking. And I’ve loved that since I was a little kid. My mom taught me all of this stuff. My mom was an only child and when she married my father- my father came from a family of fourteen, so he taught her how to cook, how to clean the house, how to do clothes and wash clothes, iron clothes, everything! So whenever she wanted me to do something, she would say, “well” – they call me Carl by the way, that’s my middle name – so she goes, “well, Carl, you may have to do this you never know you may marry a woman who can’t do it.”
Jeffrey: So I learned everything, and cooking was pretty much my favourite part. And then I started baking because of the creativity of it. It was like, when I was studying dance at Ailey, it was repetition of ballet everyday and just the repetition of learning. I said “ugh!” So the creative outlet was to bake. It was great. I continued with that and got really good at it.
Simone: I was going to say I’ve tried some and can confirm! It’s very good.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I’ve gotten really good at it. In fact, so good at it that I’m sharing recipes with my sister who went to culinary school.
Jeffrey: Yeah. So she keeps saying, “so when are you going to set up this online business, sell these products?”
Simone: There you go!
Jeffrey: I said, “you know, when I retire in four or five years.” Because I’m old.
Simone: You seem very youthful, so I don’t-
Jeffrey: Exactly. I say, “yeah, maybe in four or five years when I don’t wanna kick up my legs or whatever, we’ll start it.” And I thought, “oh wouldn’t it be great if I could live six months in Florida and six months up here, and have an online baking business!”
Simone: Because all you need is a good kitchen.
Jeffrey: Exactly! A great commercial kitchen. So I love baking. I mean I just love singing, I grew up in church, gospel singing, so I’ve been singing all my life. And of course I trained when I came to New York. So I enjoy singing, and any time friends need me to come and do a little show and I’m available I’ll say, “sure!” Because I like doing it. But basically that’s it. And I love reading. A lot!
Simone: What’s your favorite reading genre or book genre?
Jeffrey: Science fiction!
Simone: You like science fiction?
Jeffrey: Yes, I love science fiction! The creativity, you know. I love the way they think of things, how things operate in the future-
Simone: I always think about that! Especially when reading science fiction novels or watching Sci-Fi movies, because they have to create a world that doesn’t exist!
Simone: And that is a crazy thing! Especially the really good people, they create these universes that are so real. You know what I mean?
Jeffrey: So real!
Simone: But they’re just so opposite of what we have.
Jeffrey: And I love that about science fiction. That creativity, that fertile mind that keeps coming up with these wonderful scenarios. So yeah, science fiction.
Simone: Are you reading anything good right now?
Jeffrey: Right now… no. I’ve been reading a lot of short stories. Science fiction fantasy, more fantasy than real hardcore science fiction. I used to read Dune every year, every summer in June for ten years.
Jeffrey: I read Lord of the Rings.
Simone: That’s an undertaking!
Jeffrey: Every March.
Will: The whole series?
Jeffrey: The whole series every March, for fifteen years.
Simone: So you’re a quick reader. Wow!
Jeffrey: Yes! Because I loved being in those worlds. And I still have a Dune movie – not the ‘84, the television version – I still watch that occasionally. I still watch Lord of the Rings. The Jackson- what’s his name, Peter Jackson? To just immerse myself in the world, that kind of stuff.
Simone: And I guess that’s kind of like [what] we were saying: the stuff around the artist makes the artist.
Simone: When you think about our work, we have to create these worlds that are not real.
Simone: And so it’s interesting how-
Will: Reading is so important. I don’t remember who I was talking to but they were like, it’s the only art form that allows you to fully immerse yourself in someone’s shoes because you’re hearing their inner thoughts and external thoughts and observing everything that they’re observing.
Jeffrey: And you’re creating. Through the words, you’re creating that world. You’re seeing it.
Will: Yeah, you’re an active participant as well.
Jeffrey: Exactly. They’re describing it but you’re creating it. It’s just wonderful. I love that part of reading and I don’t understand why people don’t read as much. But I love that part of it.
Will: Yeah, I really don’t get people that don’t read.
Will: No, really though. I really, after graduating, just started really seriously reading for pleasure again. Mostly just because when I was at NYU, I was reading a lot for class. It’s not like I stopped reading for several years all together, but now I’m- I’ve talked about this before, my favorite genre is memoir. Because I really enjoy reading about real people’s real experiences. Because I think it gives me as an actor insight into stuff that maybe I could play one day. This is a world that I don’t know anything about, that hearing someone talk about is really, to me, super interesting. And if it’s a really well-written memoir, it really has their voice in it and it’s super authentic.
Jeffrey: That’s why I love history too.
Will: Yeah, history is so interesting because you have to understand where you’ve come from to understand where you’re going.
Jeffrey: Yes exactly.
Will: That’s a big thing.
Simone: I love what you said, though, about being able to hear someone’s voice and the idea of a book being how you can most intimately know a person or a character. Because I think similarly with memoirs, you see people on TV or in interviews but a memoir is thoughts as well. I just read Busy Philipps’ memoir. And, you know, you can watch her on a talk show and “know” her, but you won’t really know until you hear about where she came from and how she was thinking about things while they were happening to her.
Will: It’s a completely different experience. I just read Chelsea Handler’s memoir and I think she’s super funny. But her memoir was, well, not serious-serious, but she talked about the death of her brother, the death of her parents, how comedy was that flotation device, so to speak, in all of it. And it gives you a more three dimensional picture of someone and that is so much more interesting than any other way to describe someone. So, books are important. I don’t get why people don’t read. People have to read.
Simone: You hearing us listeners? Go!
Will: Go buy a book, go to the Strand!
Jeffrey: That’s true, I mean books are really good but… read something.
Simone: Anyway that you can. We were just talking the other day, on a phone call about recording this week, and you said “isn’t it crazy that the majority of Americans haven’t read a book in the last year.”
Will: Yeah, that’s an actual fact.
Simone: That’s a statistic.
Jeffrey: That’s a statistic? Really?? Wow!
Will: I think it’s just over 50% but that’s still the majority. Most Americans have not read a book in the last year.
Jeffrey: That’s extraordinary.
Will: Isn’t that really sad?
Jeffrey: That’s the dumbing down of America.
Will: Yeah. It’s partially, I think, because television is more ubiquitous. There’s more stuff on television. There’s more movies that are available in the theatre at one time than there used to be available.
Simone: And also… these cell phones.
Will: Phones, YouTube, stuff like that.
Simone: These cell phones take your attention away.
Will: I find it’s a very active choice to sit down and read.
Jeffrey: Exactly. It is actually.
Will: So it’s not an easy thing for a lot of people to do. But it stimulates the mind in a very different way.
Jeffrey: Completely. I often say, you know, when I was coming up we didn’t have video tapes, we didn’t have- All we had pretty much was books.
Jeffrey: We didn’t have anything. We had radio, portable radio to listen to music. But we hardly had anything like we have today. The computer, the phone, all the iPods and that. We just didn’t have those things, so you read! Or you went to live concerts. It was quite fascinating. So that’s where my joy of reading came from, we just had to read.
Simone: And we kind of have chatted about this before with the idea of as performers we need to be present. And we talked earlier about this position that you adopt when you have a technological device. You slouch, you’re looking down, you almost armadillo yourself into a ball while you’re doing this. And so talked about how even reading a book you’re not as closed in, you still have this outside awareness, I feel like when you’re reading a book. So I think it’s interesting to think about, because I think that is one of the challenges of people who are coming up in the arts right now: the fact that our hobbies and our activities aren’t as present.
Jeffrey: One of the things that I often talk to students about is that, I say “where do you think your talent comes from? Some of you have really innate talent but how do you nurture your talent? How do you grow your talent?”
Jeffrey: I use an example, my example. I said that there was a guy named Mark Reuben in class. He used to hit the most dynamic pictures while he was dancing. I used to stand behind him and try to imitate that and try to hit the most dynamic pictures with him. And then there was this woman named Tina Yuwan who was so subtle in her movement it looked like she wasn’t doing anything, but she was doing everything! So I said, Ooh… That’s good to imitate. What does that feel like? I imitated that. And there was Oka who had the most glorious hands for a man. I said, oh my god, his hands are so gorgeous! So whenever I took ballet, I would imitate his hands. You know what I mean?
Jeffrey: And then there were the others that I used to imitate and follow. And I said [to the class]: Do you realize that all of those things became uniquely me? That no one can do what I do? Because they don’t know where all of that came from.
Jeffrey: Isn’t that amazing!
Will: Yeah, it is.
Jeffrey: And I said, “So if you find someone that you admire, that you really enjoy their work… See if you can just follow what they do.” You won’t become them. Someone might say, “Oh my god, you look like them, you sound like…” But you won’t become them because the more you do it, the more you become uniquely you through your own experience. That’s where your talent comes from, that’s how your talent is nurtured! It doesn’t come out of a vacuum.
Will: Yeah, as an artist you’re constantly curating your own self out of the world that already exists.
Will: That makes a lot of sense.
Simone: Well, I think it’s interesting too because at school, at least in my experience, I feel like there’s a tendency to be like, “Okay, you’re talented, Let’s work on your skills.” And I don’t think it’s often talked about that you can also train your talent.
Simone: And we talked about this a little: in this town, talent is expected. So I feel like it’s not necessarily something that somebody will say, “Oh, you should work on your talent.” It’s more, “Let’s work on these individual skills.” But I love that point of: it is possible to grow your talent.
Jeffrey: Absolutely. I mean, what made me want to stand behind Mark and imitate what he was doing? I liked what he was doing! I said, “Oh my god, I wanna do that too!”
Simone: I wanna look like that!
Will: Yeah, because that’s not really something that someone can teach you.
Will: There’s not a codified way to go about doing it. It’s just being around people who are also doing x, y, z.
Jeffrey: That’s when I discovered, even though I knew I was talented, I discovered that there’s always going to be someone a little bit better than you. There’s always going to be someone that is not as good as you. So you need to keep working with and finding people who are better than you, and learning from them.
Simone: Yeah, because I think that’s a fear in this industry too of people that are like, “I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are better than me because then I won’t look as good.” That kind of thing where people get uncomfortable when their friends are slightly more successful – quote unquote, because success is relative. But they’ll get uncomfortable with that and I do think it’s so important to surround yourself with people who you feel are a step ahead of you because then-
Will: You learn from them.
Simone: They can pull you along with them.
Jeffrey: Exactly. Also too, it’s also how you’re brought up. I was brought up to be very independent, independent minded, and to know myself because I came from a very religious household. You know what I mean?
Jeffrey: When I say religious I mean truly religious: Pentecostal, speaking in tongues, that stuff. Religious. And they always talked about being true to yourself. Doing unto others as you have them do unto you. You know what I mean? So, being truthful to yourself. And I think if you’re humble enough to do that, then you are humble enough to learn from someone else and not fear that you’re going to be less than. So that’s the problem. Don’t even think about fearing that you’re less than because you’re not. You’re learning, you’re not less than.
Will: I think people get confused in thinking, “I’m at a point in my career where I don’t know everything, and [therefore] I’m worthless as a person.” And those are not the same thing at all.
Jeffrey: Exactly, absolutely not at all.
Will: But I think it’s easy to get them confused.
Jeffrey: That’s true.
Will: But they’re not the same thing.
Jeffrey: No, they’re not the same thing. You know I often say – I told you two earlier, I said – whenever I got an audition and I got a ‘No’, I used to say under my breath, “Someone’s going to use this talent.” Because I believed in my talent. I believed that I can sing well, I believed that I can dance well, I believed I can act well. And I believed on it, even though I wasn’t getting jobs.
Simone: But I do think there’s also, in that… if you don’t like what you’re doing and you don’t believe, then nobody will. They’re gonna go, “Oh, she also doesn’t think she’s very good.” But if you walk into a room and you’re like, “No, I know I’m good and if I’m not what you want then I’m not what you want.” I think – and I say that from the point of also being a young actress that’s also struggling with that – but I think it’s something [to take] that from the people that have found success. Even in Busy Philip’s book, she talks about- she’s like, “The auditions where I went in and I was like, ‘I really need this and I don’t know if I’m what they want. I’m going to try to be what they want.’ I didn’t get.” But all the auditions where she walked in like, “Okay? Guess I’m going to do this, because this is what I know how to do. I guess I’m going to do it.” She was like, “Those are the ones that I got.” Because you walk in and you’re just-
Will: And then also being somewhat satisfied with what you did whether you booked the job or not.
Will: Because I auditioned for a few grad schools this year, after applying to just Yale the year before, and I left that audition, while I was still in school, knowing that I had done a horrible job. It was while I was in the room that I was like, “This is not good. This is not the work that I’m capable of doing.” And then the next year, I came back and I got two callbacks. I knew I was doing a good job and ultimately didn’t get in but I left being like, “Well, that was all that I could do.” I looked back on it even now knowing that there was literally nothing else that I could have done. I’m just not what they wanted at this particular time. And that’s fine. Because if – we’ve talked about it a lot – if you are too sensitive to rejection you will just continue to beat yourself up and you will go nowhere.
Jeffrey: Absolutely nowhere.
Will: Because rejection is the only thing that is guaranteed in this world.
Jeffrey: Exactly. You get a lot more ‘No’s than ‘Yes’s. A lot more. And the thing is, that’s why I tell people, I say, “When you go to an audition, be prepared and do the best audition you can possibly do.” Because I’ve been on the other side. If they like you and they can’t use you, they take that picture and put it on the side. Because if something comes up, if they’re doing something or someone they know, a friend, is doing something… If something comes up and they say, “We’re looking for this talent, we’re looking for…” They’ll say, “You know what? There was this person at this audition.” Because you gave a great audition. You should always leave the room with a great audition. There was a casting director that used to always call me in. Always. And I felt really bad because I think after the fourteenth or fifteenth time, I said, “I really feel bad. I never book anything.” He goes, “That’s okay. But you give a good audition.” A casting director said that to me and I went, “Oh! So you’re trying to impress all the directors by bringing in people who are really good.”
Simone: You might not be perfect for the role but they’re like, “Look at how talented this person is!”
Jeffrey: Exactly! “Wow! I know a lot of talented people.” I said, “Okay, that’s what you’re doing. So, good, just keep calling me in.
Simone: One of these times it’ll work.
Jeffrey: Someday I’ll get it. Exactly.
Simone: Yeah, because I do think it’s a hard lesson to learn where – I do think it’s years of experience – but I think so many forces [that are] beyond you are choosing these people arbitrarily. You know, based on, “The person that we cast opposite you is shorter than you.” All of these arbitrary things that really don’t have anything to do with you.
Jeffrey: [With] your talent or with you, exactly.
Will: As long as you’re controlling the things that are actually in your control about giving a good audition, you can’t be upset with yourself.
Simone: And I think, I don’t remember who in this building told me this, but somebody made the recommendation that when you go into an audition, think of it more of, not necessarily a rehearsal, but you’re just working on your craft. It’s a chance for you to act and to do your thing.
Will: I feel like that was probably Tim Crouse.
Simone: It was probably Tim Crouse. It sounds like a Tim Crouse thing to say. But it’s not necessarily that you’re going in with a performance, you’re not performing a show. This isn’t a finished product, this is you working on the material with the people in the room. That sense of freedom in like, “I’m showing you what I can do.”
Jeffrey: Exactly. Especially if they ask you questions and give you direction. What’s interesting, again, is I think you need to go in knowing how you’re going to tell the story. That’s what I mean by being prepared. You have to be able to tell that story because you never know. I went in and sang “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” I sang it and it was great and they loved it and then one of the people, the musical director said, “Can you do this as a blues?”
Simone: Oof so you’ve got to switch genres really quick!
Jeffrey: Exactly. And I went, “Yeah…” And I went to the pianist and I said, “Okay, let’s start off with…” and he goes, “What do you want?” and we started working a little bit. He gave us a couple minutes to work on it. And once we figured it out I said, “I’m ready now.” And I just sang it. And that’s when I got [unintelligible].
Jeffrey: It was like they just wanted to know if you could change-
Simone: Right, could work with them.
Jeffrey: Work with them, change genres…
Will: Because then it becomes a different story.
Simone: And then it’s also- it kind of goes back to the point that we made earlier about how they know you can sing. They wanna know if-
Will: Right, that’s not the issue.
Simone: If they want to be in a room with you and work on a show with you for however many weeks.
Jeffrey: Exactly. Can you do this, can you do that? Exactly.
Simone: Are you going to throw a, “No! It needs to be like this. It’s supposed to be a jazz song, I’m not going to do that.”
Will: Yeah, because you have to be centered enough in yourself to know that… Let’s say you did turn it into a blues and it was a little bit not as perfect as your first audition, that’s still fine.
Simone: They don’t expect you to have-
Will: They know you’re malleable enough to change on the fly. If they gave you a few more hours in the rehearsal room, you’ll get it by the time you open!
Simone: If you tried it a couple of times. That’s the thing is that when they give you directions-
Will: Just take them.
Simone: They don’t expect you to be perfect, they just gave you an adjustment.
Jeffrey: Well, one person did. Blake Edwards. I auditioned for Victor / Victoria and he loved my singing. Because he saw me, he actually saw me do the Leading Player in Pippin for his step-daughter’s theatre. Julie Andrews’ daughter, in Sag Harbor. But anyway, he had me sing. He goes, “Can you sing this song?” So I say sure and go stand by the pianist. So the pianist started playing a little bit and I started singing the song, a song I’d never heard before. I started singing it and then after I sang it – he’s so nice – he goes, “Can you scat that?”
Jeffrey: Instead of words? I said, “If you give me a day, I’ll have this perfect for you.” He goes, “No, no that’s okay then. Thanks.” What he was looking for was a musician who could scat and change right on the spot. I couldn’t do that. So I didn’t get the job. But I did say, “If you give me a day, I’ll have this perfect for you.”
Simone: Let me practice, I can be back tomorrow!
Jeffrey: It’s like, on sight? I wouldn’t know!
Simone: Yeah, I was just going to say. He was looking for a sight reader.
Jeffrey: Yeah, he was looking for a sight reader and a musician. Someone who could do that stuff and I couldn’t do that. So I wasn’t going to even try because it would have been a mess.
Will: That’s a hard skill.
Simone: I think there’s power also in knowing. Like, “I’m not going to do something bad for you.”
Simone: I’m going to make the choice to say no.
Will: It’s like when you have an appointment for something and you know you have not prepared, you probably shouldn’t show up.
Simone: You should call and be like, “I’m sorry I’m not going to make it.”
Will: Because it’s better to just give the appointment slot to someone else than to look like a mess in front of the casting director. Who’s probably going to see you again for something else.
Jeffrey: The thing is people have to remember the psychology of all of this, people remember bad stuff more than good stuff. And if you go in with a bad audition they’re going to remember you, because it was a bad audition. And when you come back they go, “Oh, I have a feeling about this person. I don’t know what that feeling is, but I have a feeling.” And it was because you gave a bad audition and they remember.
Simone: Their brains, somewhere deep in there they remember.
Jeffrey: Exactly. So that’s why I always tell people, “Be prepared, do your best, give the best audition you can do and then that’s all you can do.” Because people do remember bad auditions more than they remember good auditions.
Simone: Yeah. I can definitely say, even from experience watching shows like American Idol, the auditions that everyone talks about are the ones that are really, really bad.
Will: Or the really, really good stuff. But the stuff that’s in between? No. I was seeing on Twitter the other day… there was someone that was joking, “They always say, ‘oh you don’t remember this bad stuff that happens at a talent show. But I remember, Amanda. I remember.’” People remember that stuff. They really do. It’s really sad.
Jeffrey: That’s the psychology. So I said, “Remember this.” Because I’ve been on the other side. I’ve seen people remember this. They do remember this, so you need to be careful.
Simone: And I think there’s a good perspective too in being on the other side of the table. Because I think that’s something that I don’t necessarily have experience in. That is, I’ve never been on the creative team of a show so I don’t know-
Will: Ever? Not even in community theatre or anything?
Simone: I’ve never really been on the audition panel side.
Simone: I’ve been more on the production side, but not in the creative sense of seeing auditions. And I do think that that’s a big learning curve.
Simone: Just knowing what it looks like to have somebody come in and give an audition.
Jeffrey: And having the producers or anything whisper in your ear, “I like her.”
Simone: You’re like “Oh, you do? Interesting.”
Jeffrey: You go, “Okay. But I want her!”
Simone: There’s somebody over there that’s-
Will: Way better.
Simone: I think that’s also a good thing to know too. That, a lot of times, the people that are in – the money people in the situation aren’t artists. So they don’t know the intricacies of the arts that we do.
Will: And then there’s a myriad of reasons why they would hire someone, whether it’s connections, money, whatever. There’s a thousand things.
Simone: Which is why it’s out of your control. You just gotta relax.
Will: I want to switch gears again.
Will: So there’s something that – if I’m totally wrong on this, we will edit it out – but I just want to ask… astrology?
Will: Yes! Okay wait, I just need you to go off.
Jeffrey: Okay. I love astrology. I haven’t studied it in a while. I used to study it in the 70s, 80s a lot. In fact, I was thinking about having an astrology business.
Simone: You could do that, with your baking too!
Will: Oo an astrology bake shop!
Jeffrey: I own about three, four hundred astrology books.
Jeffrey: Yes! Which I’m thinking about… I don’t know what to do with them. I guess give them to a library if they want them. But yeah, I have a lot because, again, I used to study it. And I had a really good… When I think about astrology and tarot cards and numerology and all that sort of stuff, I always think of them as a template for psychic energy. Because you see a template in reading the cards or reading the chart, and information is coming in about it and it’s more like a template for psychic energy. That’s how I look at it.
Will: That’s interesting.
Simone: I like that, too. Because I think it’s one of those things where you take it as a way of understanding this greater thing that we’re all a part of and how-
Will: Well, because astrology is having a moment right now. It’s very much back. It was a little dormant for a while and now it’s, with our generation especially, it’s a very big thing to know at least in cursory terms your sun, your rising, your moon. Stuff like that that people weren’t talking about even just a few years ago.
Jeffrey: Because we’re realizing that there are influences, energetic influences that happen.
Simone: That’s what I’m saying, it’s crazy to think that this wider universe that we’re in doesn’t affect us.
Jeffrey: All your cells, everything is related to the energy of the suns, the planets. And if you think Jupiter, as large as Jupiter is, doesn’t influence some of the stuff that you’re doing, over its cycle… Anyway, yeah, I used to know a lot of that stuff.
Will: Are you ever able, just because you’ve studied it a lot, able to intuitively tell what sign someone is?
Jeffrey: Or if someone tells me their sign-
Will: Does it start to make sense?
Jeffrey: It makes sense and I can sometimes try to guess their rising sign. Because your rising sign, I believe- this is my theory, I believe your rising sign is the sign to which people usually connect to. Because your rising sign is the sign in which you show yourself to the world.
Will: It’s like your outside face.
Jeffrey: Exactly. Your sun sign is your inner self. So your rising sign… a lot of people I guess, I go, “I’m guessing this” and they go, “No, that’s my rising sign.” I say, “Yeah, I figured.” Because your physical self, it’s how you approach the world and the world approaches you.
Will: Do you want to guess ours?
Jeffrey: Oh god!
Simone: That’s a lot of pressure.
Jeffrey: It is a lot of pressure. Wow.
Simone: We really put you on the spot here.
Simone: Do you feel like you’re being seen right now?
Will: I feel seen.
Jeffrey: No, I have three guesses. Sagittarius.
Will: That’s my sun.
Jeffrey: Oh see. But it’s not your rising sign?
Will: It’s not my rising.
Jeffrey: Okay. Because, see, your body has a Sagittarian kind of feel to it.
Simone: I like that.
Jeffrey: The other two things are either Cancer or Taurus. None of those?
Jeffrey: Oh okay, wow.
Will: So what brought you to Sagittarius?
Jeffrey: The way the shape of your body is. The length of your legs, the length of your body, that’s why I thought-
Jeffrey: Yeah. Stand up again. You see how his legs have sort of what we call ‘horse-like legs’?
Will: I have horse-like legs?
Jeffrey: You know the thighs are thin. But what I was looking at was also the long neck, like a horse. You usually look at physical things in terms of rising sign as opposed to sun sign.
Jeffrey: So what rising sign are you?
Will: My rising is Aquarius.
Jeffrey: Okay. I wouldn’t have seen that. Okay, that’s interesting.
Simone: I feel like we’re seeing a master at work right now.
Will: Yeah, my rising is Aquarius and then my moon is Virgo.
Jeffrey: Wow! A Virgo moon.
Will: I’m all over the place.
Simone: I was going to say, you’re pretty spread across the board there.
Jeffrey: Well you have a lot of mutability, Sagittarius and Virgo are mutable planets and Aquarius is fixed. But a Virgo moon? Wow, that’s interesting. Do you know any of your other signs? Do you know what your Mars and Venus are?
Will: I believe both of them are in Capricorn.
Jeffrey: Really? You have Mars in Capricorn?
Will: I can pull it up.
Jeffrey: Mars in Capricorn is very interesting. That’s why you have your ambition, that’s good.
Will: Oh, interesting. Wait, I’m pulling it up. My rising is in Aquarius, my sun is Sagittarius, my moon is Virgo, my Mercury is in Capricorn, my Venus is in Capricorn, my Mars is in Capricorn-
Jeffrey: Oh wow!
Will: My Jupiter is in Sagittarius.
Jeffrey: Okay, that’s a good place for Jupiter. Mars in Capricorn is a good place for Mars.
Will: My Saturn is in Pisces.
Will: I don’t know what that means, what does that mean?
Jeffrey: Saturn in Pisces is a little- Saturn is a planet of discipline.
Jeffrey: Structure and discipline, and Pisces gives it a fluidity.
Will: Yeah, that feels right.
Simone: I was going to say I feel like that matches you a little bit.
Jeffrey: So where’s your Neptune? This is generational.
Simone: I was going to say your Neptune tends to be generational.
Will: Uranus and Neptune are both Capricorn.
Jeffrey: You have all those planets in Capricorn!
Simone: I was going to say you’re very Capricorn.
Will: A lot of Capricorn.
Jeffrey: So you’re going to end up being mostly cardinal, that’s interesting.
Jeffrey: Cardinal… And Pluto is in?
Will: Pluto is in Sagittarius.
Jeffrey: Okay. Wow. A lot of cardinal… that’s a lot of Capricorn, that’s great.
Simone: I was going to say you’re heavy in Capricorn.
Will: I am very Capricorn heavy. Can we do Simone now?
Simone: Should I stand?
Will: I’m so excited.
Simone: Is this far enough away?
Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s good. Wow. Okay, I see Gemini but I’m not-
Simone: Hmm. I have a lot of Gemini friends.
Will: Yeah, you do. Do you know your rising and moon?
Simone: I think so. At least. I don’t think I know the other ones. I think I know at least my rising and moon.
Jeffrey: Physically I- Oh my gosh, I can’t tell.
Simone: I’m an enigma.
Jeffrey: No, you are. Wait, are you matching him at all, Sagittarius? Not at all?
Simone: I don’t think I have any Sagittarius. Maybe in my other planets, not in my-
Jeffrey: Oh, okay. What rules the center of the body? Let me see. Saturn rules the knees, Sagittarius rules the legs.
Simone: I’m learning so much.
Jeffrey: Not Gemini, huh? No Gemini. It’s amazing. Okay, I don’t know.
Simone: I am an Aries sun, but a Leo rising.
Will: That’s a lot of fire.
Simone: And I believe-
Jeffrey: A Leo rising? You’re Leo rising?
Simone: And then a Cancer moon. Crazy right.
Jeffrey: No, I was looking for the feline features in your body and I didn’t see it. You see the feline features in her face?
Will: Not really.
Jeffrey: Exactly! And usually Leo rising people have lots of hair! Lots of hair because of the mane.
Will: I feel like I also know a lot of Leo rising people that have big ears.
Jeffrey: Big ears?
Will: Like lions!
Jeffrey: Yeah, but big hair.
Will: That makes sense.
Jeffrey: Well, that’s interesting!
Jeffrey: Check the time you were born again.
Simone: I do have to confirm. But I will say, does it impact- I’m a C section. I was a scheduled C section.
Will: Does that change anything?
Jeffrey: No, it doesn’t.
Simone: Would that affect anything?
Jeffrey: No, because you’re born, you approached the world at a certain time.
Simone: Okay, I just didn’t know if being a C section and a set appointment… it wasn’t like, “Oh, we need to get her out.”
Simone: Alright, just checking.
Jeffrey: Your soul wanted to come in at that point.
Simone: The universe declared it.
Jeffrey: Right. Your soul wanted to come in at that point so that’s when you came in.
Will: That’s interesting.
Jeffrey: Check the time you were born.
Simone: I should though because I always estimate. I know it was in the morning.
Will: Your mom doesn’t know?
Simone: They do but I’ve never-
Will: You never asked.
Jeffrey: But you can get your own birth certificate.
Will: It’s on a record somewhere.
Simone: I was going to say it’s probably written somewhere I just always am like, “Yeah, it’s around 11am.”
Jeffrey: Yeah, check that.
Will: So what are you?
Jeffrey: I am, believe it or not, I’m on the cusp of Capricorn Aquarius. My sun.
Will: Okay, I believe it.
Jeffrey: I have Pisces moon and Virgo rising. Could you tell the perfectionist?
Simone: That I can totally see!
Jeffrey: Yeah, but they usually say that your rising sign is one of your parents’ sun signs.
Will: Mine is not.
Simone: I don’t think mine is either.
Will: No, my mom is a Libra and my dad’s a Scorpio.
Jeffrey: That’s interesting.
Simone: My mom is a Scorpio and my dad is a Taurus I think.
Will: No, me and my parents all have month apart birthdays and so I feel like we’ve always had a bit of tension. Do you know what I mean?
Simone: Your sun signs are too close together.
Will: They’re a little too close together.
Jeffrey: My father is a Virgo so I have my father’s. My father’s sun is Virgo.
Simone: How many siblings do you have again?
Jeffrey: Seven by my mother, and two more. So nine.
Simone: And where do you fall in?
Jeffrey: I’m the oldest.
Simone: Oldest, okay.
Jeffrey: I’m big bruh.
Jeffrey: Big bruh!
Jeffrey: I just had to go down to Florida because I’m the executor of my father’s- when he passes away, that sort of stuff. He just wanted to make sure that everything was in line with the funeral arrangements, this is what he wanted done, I said, “Okay, okay.” But he hasn’t written a will, and I’m going, “You’ve got to write a will!”
Simone: I was just going to say I’m shocked if he has everything else lined up!
Jeffrey: I said I’m giving you until the end of this year. I’m going to call you during the summer and see if you’ve written anything. I say, “You’ve got to write a will!”
Simone: Yeah, for real! If he’s got everything else organized.
Simone: I feel like that’s the first thing that people technically organized.
Jeffrey: He’s 88 you know, so… But anyway, astrology was a big part of my life for a really long time.
Will: What spurred the interest?
Jeffrey: I like knowing stuff beyond. Again, I was born in a religious household and everything was truncated. You couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that, you couldn’t study this… They didn’t believe in theatre, my parents didn’t even believe [in theatre]. When they came to the graduation at Princeton and I was doing a show with the Princeton Triangle Club, I was the opening number. I said to them, I said “If it’s possible, you don’t have to stay for the whole show, just come. I have a friend, they’ll let you in, you can come and watch the opening number that I am in and then you can leave afterwards.” I said, “You need to see what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” And they accepted that. Because they realized I wasn’t going to go into ministry. I wasn’t going to go. They accepted it.
Simone: They were like, “Alright, he’s serious about it.”
Jeffrey: Right. So they came and they watched, and the first thing out of my mom’s mouth… My friend said [that] she said, “I didn’t know Carl could do that!”
Jeffrey: They didn’t know that I had that kind of talent. So the next day walking around the campus people came up to me and said, “Oh god, were you the guy in that show? You were fabulous!” And my parents were grinning from ear to ear!
Simone: Aww, so proud!
Jeffrey: And my father took me to New York for my first three auditions.
Simone: That’s so exciting.
Jeffrey: He took me around, we had lunch. So fascinating, isn’t that something? When he left he said, “Well Carl, your life is your own.” And I said, “Huh!” Because it means no more support, no more anything, you are on your own!
Will: But it is a good thing.
Simone: It’s a good lesson to learn. A hard one but a good one.
Will: A hard one yeah, because I feel like we’re in that stage right now.
Simone: I’m about to get that “your life is your own” conversation, I can feel it coming.
Will: It’s a double-edged sword.
Jeffrey: It is.
Simone: I know it’s because they love me and they want me to know how to do it on my own.
Will: Because it’s better that than being babied for your whole life.
Simone: Oh yeah.
Will: Because you have to be your own person.
Jeffrey: I have a nephew who’s 26 and he’s still living at home. My sister, I think she’s enabling him. But anyway.
Simone: I was just going to say I feel like, at this school anyway, there’s a lot of – and I’m sure you could also pick them out of a line up – the kids that…
Will: There’s a lot of privilege.
Simone: Yeah, haven’t necessarily been exposed to- or had to learn to do things on their own.
Jeffrey: I was looking for a job. I got a scholarship at Ailey which meant I didn’t have to pay for my dancing, which was great, but I was looking for a job and went to a temporary agency to find a job and I found a job on Wall Street. But I lived on a jar of pennies for almost two weeks. I was eating like a potato a day or making biscuits out of water and flour. A little margarine.
Simone: So this is probably where you got your creativity with baking [came in] because you had to create whatever you could with what you had.
Jeffrey: Oh my gosh. Or making large things out of wings, chicken wings, to last a long time. I worked- I had a 24 hour weekend. I’d wake up at 6:30, go to Wall Street, work from 8 to 12, sometimes 1 o’clock, rush to Ailey, dance from 1:30 to 10 with one little break from 5:30 to 7. And then I’d wait for two hours at a McDonalds and then I’d go and work Dunkin Donuts from midnight to 6.
Simone: So you were making the donuts, prepping for the next day.
Jeffrey: Yes, so 24 hours from Friday 6 o’clock in the morning to Saturday 6 o’clock in the morning.
Simone: Holy cow!
Jeffrey: I did that for two years.
Jeffrey: I really, really wanted to be in the arts.
Simone: And that’s true in the sense that they always say that if you can think of anything else you’d like to do, do that instead. If you really don’t have anything else you’d like to do, then this is the career for you.
Jeffrey: And I needed survival money and luckily I learned skills enough to teach and I taught my first New York class in 1977. The jazz teacher at Ailey, Alvin Ailey, said “Oh, Jeffrey knows all my stuff. He knows all my warm up and a lot of my choreography.” Because he was going away for two months in Germany. And he said, “Let Jeffrey teach the class.” And that’s how I started.
Simone: That’s a great transition also to knowing more people.
Jeffrey: Exactly. And it helped perfect my skills, my teaching skills. It really helped a lot. Then I learned more ballet, learned more modern, learned more this, learned more that.
Simone: I do think learning, and I’ve said this before, learning enough to be able to teach is a whole new level of learning.
Jeffrey: A whole new [level]. It’s very scientific. Analytic and very scientific. Because people don’t realize it I’m constantly analyzing, I’m thinking, “How can I make that person do better? Their body is this way, what can I show them to make their bodies go…” You’re constantly doing that in order to help improve the student.
Simone: I can even- from my experience because I’ve been in a couple different kinds of dance with you and some of them with the people of all levels, so it’s interesting to see you teach because you have such a good way of making sure that even the people that have years of experience are still…
Simone: Because we’re all doing the same thing, but all the different levels have it at-
Will: Their various levels. That’s a very hard thing to do that I don’t think you, as a student, can fully appreciate because you’re only experiencing it from your perspective. You’re worrying about your flaps and that’s really all you can worry about.
Simone: And I think one of the things I appreciated is that I felt like even though I had had years of dance and I came in with years of a little bit more experience than some of my peers… A. It was good to go back to the roots, because I think you can never practice your basic steps – your basic anything – you can never practice that enough. It’s always great to have a great foundation. So it was great to come at the very basic skills from a new angle. And then, [B.] we would be doing something and you could just throw me a note like “try that.” And even though we’re all doing the same steps, I could learn more about my artistry. I also just have a tendency to be so focused when I’m dancing that I’m not acting at all. So what I appreciated is you would always challenge me and be like, “Okay you’re doing it, now can you perform it?”
Jeffrey: Exactly, exactly. Can you express it more.
Simone: So I think, like you’re saying, that’s a skill that you don’t necessarily know right away to be able to observe a class and shift things.
Will: Especially if you’re learning things at a younger age, most people that you’re taking classes from aren’t going to teach you creativity along with it. Well creativity is not really something that can be taught, but it’s something that can be nurtured by teachers that understand how important it is. So you probably need to undo bad habits to reinsert good habits of creativity and making something alive.
Simone: That’s another thing that I appreciated about your classes. There were people of all levels in there, but the students who were celebrated the most were the ones that showed up with a good attitude and tried. Even if they don’t have the natural rhythm, if they showed up and tried to learn it…
Jeffrey: And those who worked and improved, even if it was a small amount. That improvement was very important.
Will: I know I’m not ever going to be a dancer first. But, in my career thus far, most of what I’ve booked is musical theatre. And you have to have the vocabulary to be able to work with someone. I was just working with a choreographer [and] it was a few days before we were opening and she was like, “Oh, I haven’t choreographed seven numbers.” And we were like, “Okay!” It’s just one of those things where you have to just accept what’s going on. You take in as much as you can the first time you go through it. If you still get stuff wrong the next rehearsal you come into, you’ll get a note and then you fix it. There were a bunch of people in the company who were so stressed out and so in their own heads and it’s like… well, then you’re not going to pick up anything!
Will: You’re not going to pick up anything and you’ve done yourself a disservice, you’ve done the choreographer a disservice, you’ve done everyone a disservice.
Simone: I think your classes also have that sort of skill learning built into it, because there are so many days where you’ll just be like, “Here! I’m going to do an 8 count or 16 counts of something,” and then turn to look at us and be like, “Okay, what did I just do?” And all of us are like, “What?”
Will: I feel like the most real-world skill that I’ve gotten from your classes was just not freaking out when someone gives you a bunch of directions. Because the worst that could happen is you don’t do it perfectly and they give you a correction, or you don’t do it perfectly and you ask a question. Really it’s not the end of the world.
Will: That’s, I think, the thing that a lot of people forget is that you don’t have to do it perfectly.
Jeffrey: That’s the same thing with… They go, “How do you learn how to tap fast?” or “What do you need to do in order to tap fast?” And my thing was, “Relax.”
Simone: Oh yeah.
Jeffrey: Because when you’re tense, there’s no way in the world you can tap fast. Your muscles are locked. And that applies to everything.
Will: I was just working at my old high school accompanying 42nd Street, which was a trip and a half. And I don’t play piano professionally, but I can play it, and the first day I came in I was like, “Why am I doing so horribly? I was practicing so well at home.” And I was like, “Oh my god, I’m so tense right now.” And you just have to relax into everything.
Will: Because if you hit one bum note, no one really notices. If you miss one 8 count, no one really notices unless you let the audience know that you’re doing something wrong.
Jeffrey: Exactly, exactly.
Will: What I have been thinking about a lot lately is [how] everyone messes up every time they’re on stage.
Jeffrey: Pretty much.
Will: Pretty much.
Jeffrey: Unless. I have this thing… Unless you practice until you can’t do it wrong.
Jeffrey: You remember that quote? You practice not to do it right, you practice until you can’t do it wrong.
Will: But the thing is you need to give yourself permission to accept your mistakes.
Will: And then just keep moving on. Because if you show the audience that you’ve made a mistake, then you’ve made a mistake. The mistake is in not accepting.
Simone: I think some of my- Now that we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about some times that I’ve seen Broadway shows where people have tripped or fallen or dropped a prop, things like that. And what I appreciated so much about anybody that I’ve ever seen make a mistake in a Broadway show is they either make it look like it was part of the thing. They’re like, “Oh I was choreographed to fall just now, that was part of it.” Or they just, not acknowledge that it’s a mistake, but they make it part of their character. I’ve seen big dance numbers where somebody center stage will fall doing a battement and they just make it the character. They’re on the floor and they’re like, “Okay! We’re gonna get back up and we’re gonna keep going.” And they don’t stress about it so I think I can see these- Almost like you were saying when you fell and laughed and got up and kept going, it’s so-
Will: That’s more important than being one hundred percent technically proficient one hundred percent of the time.
Simone: It was almost my favorite part of the number. The fact that this person fell, had a little giggle and kept going.
Jeffrey: I call that the beauty of live theatre. It’s interesting, I always tell musical theatre kids because this class goes into performance, I say, “Listen, the audience wants you to do well. They absolutely do. They came to have a great time, a great show. So if you make a mistake, just keep going. They really want you to do well!” The minute you tense up, they get nervous and they feel for you and they can’t enjoy the show because they’re nervous for you.
Simone: I think that’s one thing that’s overlooked is the fact that audiences do want-
Jeffrey: They really want you to do well.
Simone: They want to see a good show.
Will: Very few people want you to fuck up.
Jeffrey: Exactly! They paid 150 dollars, they want to see a great show.
Simone: I love that as a thought too because I think there is this tendency when you’re up there and you’re like, “Everybody is looking for all of my little mistakes.”
Will: Yeah. And people aren’t against you.
Simone: No! They really aren’t. They paid a lot of money to come see you, they want to have a good time.
Simone: I like that, I hadn’t thought about it that way.
Will: I think that’s a good place to end.
Will: We’ll be right back after the break.
Will: Ok it’s on.
Simone: Hello Will, we’re back.
Will: Hi Simone.
Simone: With the long loud sound!
Will: Yes, we are.
Simone: So, I’ll go first because I just thought of a good one that’s been on my mind lately. I am really frustrated by – and I’m going to say this as male bodied people do this to me but I don’t think that that’s exclusive – I’m just mad at people that stare at you on the street. Do you ever have that? Where somebody just looks at you and they don’t stop looking at you and you’re like, “Please get out of my bubble.” I understand that you’re not approaching me or anything. I just had it the other day where I was at an Urban Outfitters, and there’s always stairs in there, and there was a guy just sitting on the stairs I assume waiting for his wife or girlfriend who was walking around the store. So he was just sitting there and I could just tell he was watching me shop. And it wasn’t threatening, I was just like, “Can you keep your eyes to yourself? I’m just here, walking around, looking at tank tops. Can you stop looking at me?” And I just noticed it lately too on the subway. And granted everybody has a tendency to, if you’re in your own world, stare at people. But I’ve just noticed it lately and it’s very frustrating. Why are you staring at me! I’m not that interesting! I’m not doing anything weird. It’s not like I’m screaming or dancing in the subway, stop looking at me I’m just sitting here.
Jeffrey: Do I have something on my face?
Simone: That’s the other thing is I’m like, “Is my shirt inside out? Why are you looking at me?” It just makes me be like, “What am I doing that’s so interesting to you right now?” So my long loud sound is for people who – unfortunately as a female, it tends to be men but not always – people who unnecessarily stare.
Jeffrey: Mine is very political because I am upset about this Miller report, that it’s not coming out totally, that they had this press conference before. And I’m like, “What is the press going to ask him? They haven’t read the report.” It’s just a spin basically, for them to spin it positively towards Trump or whatever. I don’t understand it and I can’t wait to read it just to find out.
Will: And it’s like, what is really going to happen in the end?
Jeffrey: That’s what also bothers me. But whatever [else], I hope they see all the corruption not basically by Trump but all the people that he surrounds himself with. So that’s what I’m looking forward to.
Simone: You got one?
Will: Mine is less serious. Mine is spring allergies.
Jeffrey: Oh lord!
Simone: They’re bad this year!
Will: Mine are actually better than they used to be. I feel like I’m starting to slowly outgrow mine, because I used to suffer as a child. I would always remember when finals rolled around I would have to – I wear contacts – and I would have to just wear glasses because my eyes were so inflamed and red. But it’s just not a fun time of year. I feel like I’ve never fully enjoyed spring and I would love to fully enjoy spring!
Simone: Are you off to a good start so far?
Will: It’s better than it usually has been, but I’m still giving it a long loud sound.
Simone: Alright, so here’s hoping.
Will: Here’s hoping for the future.