April 23, 2012


Photo by Richard Poppino
Triumphant Tamino & Pamina
My weekend was absolutely the best! Despite the fact that I caught a case of tonsillitis and am currently sitting on the couch (where I have been all day) moaning and groaning and unable to sing a single note. I have two days to get healthy. This will be fun. But I am motivated by the fact that Bri is coming into town on Wednesday and the rest of my family arrives on Friday!! I cannot wait for them to get here!!

Photo by Erica Puopolo
"My Angel!"

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Gaedwyn getting Corsetted

We opened Saturday night. Butterflies filled my stomach, and I should probably have gone on a run and thrown up before I headed to the theatre. Opening night is always a time of reflection for me. I like to look back on the journey of a show and see just how far I've come. What did I learn, what would I change, how will this change me? This particular opening night is cause for a very long, very introspective look back.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
The Queen of the Night (Alicia), Spirit No. 2 (Erica Puopolo), and Pamina (me!)

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Tamino (Craig) and Pamina

I didn't want to be in this opera. I had flat out decided a week before auditions that I, Ashley Barrett, was not going to be in no stinkin' opera. I needed a job, I needed to sleep, I needed to study, I didn't need to learn any more music. Nope, I was most assuredly NOT going to audition. A chance conversation in the hallway a few days before the audition went something like this: Me: Yeah, not doing it. I just don't have time. Other Person: Ashley, you have to audition. Me: no, not doing it. OP: Ashley, I am signing you up. You have no choice. You, you just have to. Me: nope, not doing it. The other person walked me into the room where the audition sign ups were and watched while I signed my name to one of the last available slots. I grumbled under my breath and mentally made a note to erase my name later on.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
PamTam & Papagena (Monica) and Papageno (Josh)

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Craig: "We have to do something dramatic!"

That week was the week from hell. I never made it back to the audition form to erase my name. So I said to myself "fine, I'll audition. I'll be a total bitch on my audition sheet. If they want me to audition so bad, I'd better get the lead or I'm out." I went to the audition, filled out the sheet in an incredibly snarky manner. Then I put a smiley face at the end, because I'm just not that much of a bitch in real life. I painstakingly hand printed my extensive performance background until I got tired of it and wrote "and a whole lot more you are free to ask me about, but I don't want to write out." I made it incredibly clear that if I was not given the lead I would be signing up for a math class because math was actually going to help me get a degree and this opera was not really. Besides I was planning on changing my major probably.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Off Duty Tamino (Joe) and Pamina as the Spirits

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Gettin' ready!
My audition went really well. Surprisingly well for how unattached I was from the whole thing. I sang really well considering I hadn't warmed up, or really sung at all that day. I'm the world's laziest singer. Warming up is for squares, I like to be adventurous and see what happens when I open my big mouth. Besides, I was a nube, and even though some people seemed to think I was hot stuff, I wasn't interested in being their golden child. I came to Oregon State to get out of California and to get a technical degree. I did not come here to become some super star. I was over that dream. I liked being a caterpillar, how dare they try and turn me into a butterfly. I walked out of the building feeling pretty pleased with my cocky behaviour. It wasn't until later that I realized I don't play cocky well, and apparently all my snark came off as incredibly charming. Damn those smiley faces!

Pamina the Little Person and a priest of Isis and Osiris (a punk named Paul...)

Queen of the Night (Laurel), my cray-cray mother

The callback list came out that night and there, next to Pamina I saw Ashley Barrett. It was a single name, and I rolled my eyes. They probably want to see if you can act. Pshh! That's hilarious! No one has ever claimed I was any good as an actress.I sing pretty, that's about it. I memorized the few lines of dialogue I was given. They were easy. Something about love. Whatevs. The day of the callbacks was a dark day in history. I had 2 overlapping midterms as well as an overlapping concert and callbacks on top of that. I ran through the dialogue with a friend a few times after the disastrous morning. I guess I should make it worth my while... I thought. I headed over to the callbacks and they were running behind. I waited until I was finally called in. There were three gentleman in the room waiting with the same green sheet I held in my hand. Waiting to read through the same scene I was. I smiled and we all exchanged pleasantries and the director introduced himself and explained how this would work. I took the center of our "stage" and one of the three boys followed. The director said go, and we began the scene. We finished and he dismissed the boy. Another stood at the ready. The director told me to please now play this like I was an incredibly bossy person. I smiled and we began. The second boy was dismissed and the director asked if I was the oldest child. I nodded and he said he could tell. The room laughed and boy number three stood up. "Ashley would you now please play this like you are just sickeningly sweet." I nodded again, and we began. Boy three and I were dismissed and as we left we were told the cast list would be up in an hour or two. I left the room and asked the girl with all the sheets if she needed the dialogue sheets back. She shook her head. "No, you might as well start learning it anyway, just keep it." She walked away and I just stood there realizing what had been not so subtly hinted to me over the past few days: I was never being auditioned. I had the role. It was mine, and everyone but I had known all along that was going to be the case.

Spirit No. 3 Erica Jantzi (my unofficial little sister)

The Great Sarastro, my benevolent priestly dad.
I meandered over to watch the A Capella groups perform. The cast list was emailed out by the end of the show and everyone frantically pulled out their space phones to see if their name was included. I heard someone yell my name excitedly and as I turned I was being accosted by many of my classmates with congratulations and hugs. Finally someone handed me their phone in the confusion and printed out next to Pamina was Ashley Barrett. I looked at the phone for a few moments before it all sunk in. And as I handed the phone back to whoever had given it to me I realized I was smiling. Like a moron. People were jumping and leaping and laughing and squealing in the middle of the MU, and I was one of them. I found myself doing a dance, jumping up and down, hugging everyone else, giggling like a dumb-dumb, and feeling like I was invincible. I ran home to call my parents (who were too busy watching a movie to answer their phones...), and send a message to my voice teacher from home. I ate a piece of carrot cake in celebration, popped in a movie and waited for my parents to call me back.

Erica and I looking rather related

My personal slave, Jacob
Sometime during the weekend that followed I began to feel guilty. There was a double cast. All the very important characters had been double cast. Except me. There were some broken hearted girls that I had stolen that from. I didn't even want it. But I had it. I dreaded going back to classes the following week. I didn't want the attention. My plan in coming to OSU had been to coast through and not bring any attention to myself. Well I was screwed now. Monday was a weird day. The freshman I had multiple classes with were suddenly terrified of me, the upperclassman I had multiple classes with were much more friendly and inclusive. Over the matter of a few days I had gone from being somewhat under the radar to people I'd never seen before congratulating me on my being awarded this role. I was uncomfortable and irritated. My voice lesson that week started out with a congrats and me politely accepting it then explaining to my voice teacher that I didn't want to do the opera in the first place. She smiled and said she had thought so, but she was incredibly glad I'd gone to the audition anyway. I questioned why I hadn't been double casted. She gave me some answer about being a more mature singer and she was somewhat concerned about the Tamino's voices sounding so much younger than mine, especially the one who was her student. I groaned inside, but that's an entirely different story.

Monica, Erica, and me!

Our fantastic costumer Liz. This lady is fantastic! Even if she did put me in a cupcake skirt.
Jade, the second lady

Erica, me, and Liz (yes there are many a double names involved in this production)
I was the only one who got their music before Christmas. I'd done a pretty good job of pretending that I was just so incredibly excited about this wonderful opportunity that had been given to me so graciously, and told everyone how I planned to be off book by the time we got back from Christmas break. I knew I wouldn't look at it until the day before I went back to school. The first day of class the music director/choir director asked me if I'd got a lot learned over break. I told him I made it through six seasons of X-Files. "Did you sing?" "Eh, in the shower a couple of times." I went to classes and saw friends, delivered Disney lollipops to some close friends, and then went home to go pretend I knew the first act of the opera. I learned all the music that night, the words were going to take a while and those stupid melismas were going to come last. Tuesday I went to our first rehearsal feeling pretty good about myself, and it seemed to pay off. Wednesday night I repeated my master plan of learning the music the night before and Thursday went just as well. By Friday I was totally confident that I could take another 13 weeks of this.

This Spirit makes sure I don't stab myself!

Dear Chris!
That was the last time I felt good about myself in a rehearsal. The following 9 weeks were some of the darkest, most trying, terrible times of my life. My course load was heavy, I was writing a dumb paper I hated, I spent about 5 hours a day singing, I kept gaining weight, I was always tired, I couldn't remember the last time I saw the sun, but I was pretty sure it was in California, suddenly the entire music faculty had forgotten my name was Ashley and my professors started calling me Pam or Pamina and I wanted to punch a wall each time... I was miserable. The opera was priority numero not-at-all. I was mad. Why hadn't I not auditioned like I told myself? My mom told me not to, why was she always right about the things? Why did I have to do twice as much work as everyone else? These translation tests were NOT in the syllabus and I hate speaking German. Life, sucked. There were other reasons why I was mad about the whole business, but again, another story. Small things continued to happen through the term that left me with one option by the time finals were done: I was moving back home. I had a disastrous term from start to finish, and I was just tired. I missed my family, I missed the sun, I missed open toed shoes. I hated music. "Being a music major makes me hate music, so I'm just done." I was over dramatic people and people who kept telling me they had such great expectations and plans for me. How dare they plan my life! This is MINE, keep your paws off. To top it off I was having some financial aid issues and it looked like I wasn't going to be able to attend Spring Term. I talked to my mom and my sister several times, crying my eyes out about how miserable I was and how everyone else was making me miserable. One day in a voice lesson, while complaining about how I had done a character study/analysis during week one, and I had read essays about the opera and my character in an effort to give as true a representation as possible, my voice teacher told me I was fighting everything. "You aren't this flighty thing you're being, you're not a last minute person, you know how to do this, so stop fighting." I left angry. Clearly she did not know me. I am the very definition of flighty and last minute! That's why I was the one who organized everyone's translations and painstakingly went through each piece to make sure they were as complete as possible. And for that matter I had every right to fight! This is my life! I will not be a pawn, I will make my own decisions, I will do my own thing and make pretty dresses and have a cow named Helena Bovine-Carter.

Alicia and Spencer (who plays Monastatos)

Chorus girls and Priests!
I spent all of Winter Term crying. It was awful. There were friendship problems, heart problems, Tenor sandwich problems (again, another story), financial problems, if it could go wrong, it did. I had no social life, for various reasons, and spent my nights watching bad television, crying, eating carrot cake, dreaming about sunshine and surfing, and trying to figure out some solution to my problems. I didn't attend but a very few school sanctioned events. If it hadn't been for Laura I honestly would have become a hermit. One day I was pulled out of rehearsal to get a lecture from the head of the vocal department about how I was expected to act a certain way because of the position I held in this community. "What position?" I asked indignantly. "Well regardless of whether you want it or not, you are a leader here. You need to show your face at these events because people look up to you. And you may choose to ignore that, but wherever you go this is the position you will be put in." When I called my mom that night to vent about how manipulative and condescending this conversation was, I may or may not have left out most of that conversation and just yelled about how dare they try and control me! Then there was the "I don't know why she won't learn this resititive correctly. It's like she's refusing to learn it, and it's just so silly," comment that was said within my earshot. I went home so utterly upset I started throwing up and couldn't stop for three days.

Jordan refusing to smile

Spirit No.1, Melissa! Ginger power!
The week before finals I had reached my last straw with financial aid and despite the incredibly gracious scholarship given to me by the music dept. there was just no way I could afford to attend Spring Term. This meant I had to move. Luckily a friend needed a roommate and the day before I was supposed to leave for Spring Break I moved out of my dorm and into an apartment with my friend Allison. I was just angry about the whole situation (not the moving part), and to top it off our last week of rehearsals was awful. I so wanted this to be a good production! But we didn't have enough time, or enough musical rehearsals, or enough staging rehearsals, or this or that. I declared my utter hatered of opera. What had I been thinking? My mom was so right, I shouldn't have done this, and I never would again.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Erica: "I'll be Tamino and you be a Spirit!"

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Sun Medallion

Spring Break was a magical time. I was away, I didn't have to think about music, or the opera, or financial aid, or moving, or pretty sets of eyes, or anything but sleeping in late, staying up late, visiting neat places, and walking through forests by the beach. The fourth day of Spring Break I grabbed my score and shoved it into my bag. As my grandma and I drove into town I opened the score to a particularly difficult passage. I spent the half hour drive memorizing it, checking the translation, and singing it in my head. That night I sang the section to myself over and over again until I could literally sing it in my sleep. The next day I took another section and repeated. "Golly, this is actually really easy. Maybe I am a genius at memorizing and learning music quickly if I actually put in the time..." By the time I went home I was nearly pitch perfect on everything.    The day Spring Term started I went to a very dark place. I was horribly homesick, upset I wouldn't be joining my friends in the classrooms, and the thought of going back to rehearsals made me sick. As I walked from my apartment to the theatre I sent a voice message to Chelsea. I was crying and saying how much I did not want to do this anymore. I was no good at this, why, oh why! had they chosen me? I'm not a princess! I'm not a star! I'm me, little ol' me, scared by just about everything, terrified of my own feelings, and definitely not this person that people seemed to think I was. I saw a seagull as I walked and burst into tears. Seagulls live on the beach, like the ones back home, home, I just want to go home and hide under my bed and never have to be anything more than a doof who talks big but never actually accomplishes anything. So why the hell was the universe conspiring against me and convincing other people I was more than I actually am?

Photo by Erica Puopolo
L-R: Lady No. 2, Jade, Lady No.1, Gaedwyn, The Queen of the Night, Laurel, Lady No. 3, Allison

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Lady No1 vs. Spirit No 2.
That rehearsal went really well. I mean, really well. My voice was on fire, I didn't miss a cue, and nearly everyone else was just fantastic! I walked home in the rain feeling something strange. I didn't know what it was. I felt like I should have been humiliated but everything I'd been going through these past months, but I wasn't. People hugged me and said how much they missed seeing me on a daily basis. I started connecting with people who I'd known for months, but had never really sat down to talk to. There were some wonderful people around me. And suddenly, as if a light switch had been flipped, when someone complimented me, I actually believed them. It's hard for me to talk about this part of the story because it doesn't make sense, and I don't want to sound arrogant. But sometime during that first week back I realized a few things: 1) I was fighting. I was afraid to succeed. I didn't want an excuse to not be lazy. I was willing to settle. 2) I wasn't just fighting what other people wanted for me, I was fighting myself, I refused to believe I was something other than mediocre, and in doing so was actually fighting the very thing I was created to do. 3) I matter to a lot of people, people who will stop using my given name to try and convince me that I was not idly given this role, people who were willing to fork over an ridiculous amount of money to help me out, people who could see the fight I was putting up in order to try and avoid facing my own demons. 4) the x number of years I spent flip-flopping between various theatrical arts actually ended up paying off because, 5) I was so much more prepared for this task than many of the others around me. They had never been taught many of the things I took for granted. 6) I not only deserved this role, and the praise I was getting, I was actually born for it.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Melissa A helping with Makeup

Photo by Erica Puopolo
This pretty much sums up Tamino and Papageno's relationship.
Joe Tamino and Ian Papageno
As that first week wore on my whole person was filled with completely bewildering joy. And I realized I was doing what I love. I love this, all of it. The bruises, the late nights, the long nights, the beads of sweat, the giant hoops skirts, the singing my guts out, the wonderful moments when I get so completely lost in the character and story I am telling that I am literally weeping with emotion. I felt passion return to me, drive, motivation, desire, love. Every morning I wake up thinking, how lucky am I? I get to go perform again! Friendships have blossomed, bloomed, I have grown up, and I, for the first time since January 26th 2006, know exactly what I want. I know who I am, and I feel brave again, brave enough to take on the big bad world and show them what I've got. I am a great actress, I am a great singer, I am a great friend, a great woman, a great person, and that's okay that I know that. Because knowing you're great doesn't turn you into a mega-bitch-ego-maniac if your knowledge also comes with that balance of humility. I personally believe that humility and love go hand in hand. If you love something, you respect it, and you treat it with reverence, which means you approach it humbly. I love singing. I love acting. I love performing. I don't care for fame or glory, honestly. I am perfectly happy knowing that I love this more than just about anything else. If all I ever do is community productions, great! If the stars align and suddenly I find myself blessed with greater opportunities, who am I to stop that? Yes it is my life, but it's also not. I was given a gift, and one that I deserve to share with the world, and one that enough people have vested time and heart into, that they deserve to have that shared. And my mother is wonderful. She knows best about pretty much everything there is to know. But she did a damn good job raising me and it's time I rely on those instincts I inherited from her. So I will continue to audition. I will continue to sing. I will continue being good at this one precious thing. It is mine. It's time I owned up to it.

Photo by Erica Puopolo
The woes and joys of corsets. Some are happier than others...

Photo by Erica Puopolo
Joe: "I like big hoops and I cannot lie..."
And despite the heartache/break/attacks, I managed to survive these past four months. One of the biggest reasons for that is this cast and the absolutely wonderful people surrounding me. I love these people. My heart just overflows with joy each time I get to see them, and I finally feel like I have found my family up here. I have met some of the most wonderful, kind, patient, brilliant, talented, smart, wise, hilarious people, people who will stay with me forever. My colleagues are the best there is. I have been so blessed by them and their light and it's really hard not to be moved to tears just thinking about how much I truly, truly love each of them. The world is full of wonderful people, and I don't know how I managed to get so lucky to have so many in my life. This has honestly been one of the best experiences of my life. My hopes for this adventure I embarked on 7 months ago have been completely blown away in the best way possible. Yes, I have been blessed beyond measure. 

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