Ship life + Performing! Is this reality?

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Monday, 27 February

I’m typing from a breezy cafe in Nassau.  It’s sunny and very hot outside, and two of my friends have joined me for some tea, a little chit chat… and much needed wifi 😉  I’ve been on the Disney Dream for a month and a half now and things are finally starting to feel normal!  The cruise itself is such an incredible experience for the guests – there truly is something for everyone, and I’m surprised by how many adults come on a Disney cruise without children!  My life here – though not all vacation – is certainly surreal – at times wonderful and at times crazy…  It’s so much fun to perform our shows, and the Walt Disney Theatre is an amazing space in which to perform!  The beautiful auditorium seats 1400 guests and boasts Disney’s most technically-advanced stage, which is fully utilized in our shows – multiple lifts, pyro, flying, lasers – if it can be done on stage, it’s probably happening in our shows!

We opened our shows about a month ago, and it’s amazing how they have grown!  I love my cast and crew mates – we have a wonderful team, and I think the next months are going to fly by…

The first two and a half weeks on the ship were killers – we worked about 80 hours a week rehearsing and training (safety classes/certifications, ship policy, etc.), and by the end of it, we were all exhausted – and about half of us (including yours truly) were sick…  Opening each show was exciting, but not nearly the thrill I’d anticipated because I was so tired!  Now that we’re working a more normal schedule and almost everyone is healthy again, it really is exciting each time I get ready to step on stage.  That’s what I love most about performing – no matter what your day has been like, when it’s your turn to go on stage, everything else fades away and you just get to have the best time entertaining people!

Ship life has definitely been an adjustment.  Things are very up-and-down – sometimes life is great, sometimes it’s not.  I feel very fortunate that our cast is so close and supportive of each other – and that my husband has already been able to visit 🙂  Having him be part of my life here has made me feel renewed and much more at-home on the ship, even though he’s far away now.  My cabin is small, but I’m so glad that it’s all my own, and located close to the theatre, on a deck with outdoor space!

So, how do I pass my days on this glorious ship and in the beautiful Bahamian islands, you ask?  Here are some basics…  We begin each cruise in Port Canaveral, FL – my first “role” is as Assembly Leader for one of the guest evacuation stations.  We have a brief drill, then the guests head to our “Sailing Away” party – while I generally take a break before the show.  Fight call comes first – we go through any potentially dangerous blocking before each show, then shortly after, begin show #1 of “The Golden Mickeys”!  Between shows, I usually grab dinner or skype with my husband if the ship internet is working fast enough.  Show #2 can be interesting, as by that time, we’ve entered slightly rockier waters – so you never quite know what may happen 😉  After the show, we may have a company meeting/notes, some character greeting (we escort the famous Disney characters during various meet and greets throughout the cruise, about 7 hours per week), or just time off.

The next day we dock in Nassau, Bahamas – one of my favorite stops because it gives me a chance to use free wifi… and sometimes buy something new from the MAC cosmetics store nearby…  We have to provide our own stage makeup, so you can see why this is essential 😉  There are some beautiful parts of Nassau, so I try to explore when my schedule permits.  Our greeter schedule changes from day to day, but our performance schedules are almost always the same – so on Nassau night, we perform our second show, “Villains Tonight!” – again, beginning with fight call for our sword work, and then putting on 2 shows.

Our current itineraries are 3 and 4 night cruises, so Day 3 changes a bit.  On 3-night cruises we perform “Believe”, and on 4-night cruises, we have the evening off.  Right now, we’re doing understudy put-in rehearsals during the day (I’ve already performed 2 of the 6 roles I understudy!), but once we’ve finished those, we’ll typically have most of the day free to enjoy gorgeous Castaway Cay – Disney’s private island!  Even if I don’t have time to go to the beach, I always make sure to get outside for a bit – the island is absolutely stunning!

Believe” day – even though the busiest – is my favorite.  I love performing the show – both because of the show content in general, and because it’s the day my best friends appear – Mary Poppins and Mrs. Potts 🙂  We perform one matinee and 2 evening shows, and it really is a joy to do!  The last day of the cruise also has quite a few meet-and-greets, so our character friends are very busy, and we usually do greeting before the first or after the last shows – but in spite of the long day, it’s always rewarding 🙂

Well, my time in Nassau today is drawing to an end…  Thanks for following my journeys and I hope I’ll be able to coax you onto a Dream cruise soon 🙂 🙂

For Good

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Duet from “Wicked” with Emily Starnes Charleton!

My dear friend Emily is visiting NYC right now and we managed to squeeze in an impromptu duet!! And such a special one to celebrate a decade of friendship! 💗 Today’s #WeeklyWednesday is “For Good” from Stephen Schwartz’s “Wicked” ☺️ 

It meant a lot to get to sing with Emily again! She’s a big reason I’m at NYU right now (she’s an alumna of the program)! We were planning to get together today and decided to sing this! I hope you enjoy it, even though we didn’t have time to polish it (we literally ran through it once and then recorded this one take 😉). 

I hope this finds you well, and thank you for watching!

#AshleyWagnerArts

Whirlwind

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Sunday, 1 January

Did someone change the date on all of my calendars?  Because it doesn’t feel like it could possibly be the first day of a new year – and the end of my time in Toronto – already!  Although… when I think of the many intense-but-fulfilling rehearsals, cast activities, and holiday trips we’ve squeezed into the 3 weeks since my last post, it seems that surely several months must have passed…

Only 2 rehearsal days remain before our cast heads to Orlando for further training (and DISNEY WORLD!) and boarding The Dream!!  A week from now we’ll begin our 2 weeks of rehearsing on the ship before taking over from the current cast on the 22nd.  It’s unbelievable, exciting, a little nerve-wracking, and generally amazing to think what we’ll be doing so soon!

Rehearsals have been very challenging, but have become increasingly fulfilling as we’ve begun rehearsing our final show!  “Believe” is my personal favorite of our three shows, both because of the wonderful roles I get to portray in it and because of the content – so many of my favorite characters and songs are in this show, and the storyline is quite heartfelt/Disney magical 🙂  We ended our rehearsal day yesterday with our first run of it, and though the day was quite full and tiring, it was absolutely exhilarating!

We’ve also thoroughly enjoyed our holiday season here – from Christmas room decorating contests to Secret Santa (so much fun!), meals and plenty of Disney movie watching together, and a trip to the local Christmas market, it’s been a fun, festive season, even though I’ve spent it far from those I love the most…  I’m so glad we were able to get a group together to sing and play at Kensington Gardens, a local retirement home!  Even though we sing and dance most of the day, it’s a refreshingly different experience to do it in this capacity, and for people who might not otherwise be able to have live holiday entertainment.  I had a wonderful time, and I think the residents and other performers did, too 🙂

We had 4 days off for Christmas vacation, and although it passed way too quickly, it was a much-needed and mostly wonderful break!  It was so therapeutic to be with my husband again and have a little bit of “normal,” even though we were in the middle of a cross-country move.  Although it was quite hectic balancing time to relax, unpack, and celebrate with my husband’s family nearby, it was worth it – and now I have a picture of what our life will be like there.  It was so nice to cuddle with our kitties in our new home and do ordinary things again!  I really enjoyed exploring our beautiful new neighborhood and visiting some of our favorite paintings at the National Gallery of Art…  I know I will continue to miss life in San Diego, but I’m looking forward to the many good things Washington, DC, has to offer.

It was very hard to say goodbye again, but this week back at work has been so fulfilling professionally.  The separation is definitely the hardest part of this contract (although Skype at least helps) – but I really love what I’m doing…  Ideally, I’ll be able to combine home and performing in the near future!

I rang in the new year back in Toronto and enjoyed spending it with friends.  After a cast get together, a small group of us went to an elegant restaurant nearby for a scrumptious dinner, a little dancing (hard to keep up when your friends are professional dancers… ;)), and excellent company!  It was a lovely end to a wonderful, eventful year and a positive start to the next!  I can’t wait to see what it holds…

Si mes vers avaient des ailes

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My first year of grad school at #NYU is done :-0  While I’m ready for a rest, I’m also sad for most of my courses to be over! My voice jury was yesterday (it went well!) and I began it with this piece, which I hope you enjoy hearing!

Music is by Reynaldo Hahn, poetry by Victor Hugo, and my accompaniment is from Free Pianist. You can also download my version for free 🙂 

One trick with art songs/poetic lyrics is that you don’t have outside context and often the lyrics aren’t the way you would naturally speak – so interpretation can be harder than with something from a book musical or opera.

I decided to base my story/circumstance for this piece on the Héloise and Abelard love story (if you’re not familiar with that, here’s a nice synopsis). I imagined Héloise may have sung it after she and Pierre were separated and before she decided to continue their forbidden relationship through correspondence (and that this song is what ultimately spurred her to write to him). I hope you enjoy that take!

Here's a great translation by Richard Stokes:
My verses would flee, sweet and frail,
To your garden so fair,
If my verses had wings,
Like a bird.

They would fly, like sparks,
To your smiling hearth,
If my verses had wings,
Like the mind.

Pure and faithful, to your side
They’d hasten night and day,
If my verses had wings,
Like love!

Thank you, as always, for watching this #WeeklyWednesday! I hope it finds you well – and I look forward to seeing you next week 🙂

#AshleyWagnerArts

Ups and Downs

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Wednesday, 7 December

As I’m sure you’ve gathered from my lack of posting these last couple weeks, things have gotten BUSY here!  Today is one of those wonderful days where I have a big break between rehearsals, so I’m attempting to catch up…  Highlights from the last 15 days:

Work
We finished learning our first show (Villains Tonight) and have run it several times.  Cleaning and polishing continue 😉

Now rehearsing our second show, The Golden Mickeys.  I’m on ensemble track for that, so doing lots of vocals and some choreography.  Understudying Cruella de Vil in this show as well, which is a really fun part!  My friend who is the principal Cruella is quite a good dancer, so u/s’ing her track for the rest of the show is quite a challenge for me… but I’m working very diligently off to the side and after rehearsals, often assisted by one of my incredibly-talented and lovely-in-general dancer friends 🙂

More sword work.  I am almost a convincing pirate now.

After being squeezed into my harness tighter than Scarlett O’Hara into her corset, I got to do some more flying – this time higher and faster!

I reached my 30-day employment mark, got my Disney cast id card, and am now entitled to receiving those discounts I’ve told you about 😉

Play
More fun cast events, including a homey and tasty Thanksgiving potluck, a crazy trivia night, the most hilarious surprise birthday party I’ve ever attended, and kicking off Secret Santa 🙂  Christmas shopping with a friend, spending some time singing with her, too, and planning out duets we want to work on!

Enjoyed quite a bit of practicing for fun – singing through some of my favorite songs, challenging myself vocally, treating those times like voice lessons – I miss my teacher back in San Diego!

First snow of the season – one week ago today!  In spite of my greatly preferring warm weather, it was actually kind of nice – big, wet flakes.  Still doesn’t feel like Christmas, though – partly because I’m not rehearsing Christmas music for the first year in a long time 😉

Read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in about 4 days… (maybe that’s really why I haven’t been blogging – I pretty much rehearsed, read, and occasionally slept those days).  Great series, though!  I’m a little embarrassed to say that I also went to Breaking Dawn part 1 and liked it… cheese and all 😉

Spiritual/Personal Growth
Feeling motivated to be more giving in general and to set goals, so I’ve spent some time recently thinking about what I want for this contract, and life in general.  Who I want to be, what I’d like to achieve – and working on setting some short and long term goals.  Recent services from our San Diego church that I’ve listened to online and our cast Bible study here have reinforced that feeling, so a lot of us have been trying to help our community in small ways – like giving a yogurt to the homeless guy in front of Starbucks on the way to rehearsal.  Just trying to be the best person we can be in general.

One of the projects I’m motivated to do right now is organize music for a retirement home here.  I love doing that – and since I’m surrounded by such talented, like-minded people, I think this will be the perfect way to share our gifts and spread some holiday cheer.  A friend and I visited 2 places this past weekend and are working on organizing it 🙂

A few days last week were tough for me – combination of rehearsals and outside things, like severing those last ties to San Diego – it’s still hard to say goodbye to our home there.  Fortunately the funk has passed, but I’m sharing it because I think it’s important to remember that even when you get your dream, there are still rough times that you’ll have to work through.  For me, it was feeling dull and unimportant – not getting a chance to shine/be praised when other people did.  Sounds silly and selfish, especially if you’re not a performer, but I think it happens to all of us…  Since we’re not rehearsing my solo parts yet, I felt like I wasn’t contributing (and of course, began to feel like maybe they don’t think I’m any good…), but was constantly trying my hardest to do things that I’m not very good at – or that no one saw (understudying scenes).  Long choreography rehearsals for the numbers I’m understudying made me feel overwhelmed and discouraged, which is funny, because I’m actually getting it pretty well – much better than I would have if I hadn’t taken dance all summer/fall.  And the people here are so helpful and positive, and believe I can do it – I just need to believe I can, too!  It’s always stressful for me when I don’t excel at something (thus, my antipathy to sports) – especially if I’m still not great no matter how hard I work – or when it takes me a long time to grasp something that other people are just somehow able to do! 😉  Even if it took them years of training to master it.  I’m not sure what the solution is, but rational thinking and my usual positive outlook on things have returned, and this week is off to a very good start, choreography and all 🙂

Switching gears… in case you’re still reading – and interested – here are some of my first impressions of Toronto that I’m finally getting around to posting:

I’ve never seen so many coffee shops!  In our area, there’s at least one on every corner, often more than one.  Some places even have multiple Starbucks on the same block!  Pleased to report that Tim Horton’s are almost as frequent… and consequently, I’ve had more doughnuts since I’ve been here than I have in probably the last 5 years combined… but at least I’m dancing a lot!

Where are all the dogs?

It’s so expensive!  Average price for cereal: $6.59.  Lots of fun, unusual stores here, but…

People here are very fit – it’s refreshing coming from the US!  Maybe it’s because the food is so expensive? 😉

“Like Other Girls”

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It’s my last #WeeklyWednesday of the #NYU semester! I hope you enjoy this really sweet song from the musical “Daddy Long Legs,” with music and lyrics by Paul Gordon and book by John Caird, based on the charming 1912 novel by Jean Webster!

You can sing along to the accompaniment I used here: https://youtu.be/VB0bWun_Vbk  Thanks to MusicalPracticeTracks for the great track!

Thank you for watching, and see you next week!#AshleyWagnerArts

Rehearsals and Holidays

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Saturday, 19 November
Understudying is hard work!
Company meeting, brunch with friends at Cora’s (a local favorite, for obvious reasons!) and back to work!  Today’s rehearsals were cool, but most of it was for the roles I’m understudying – hard work since you don’t get many opportunities to practice with the other scene members, in the rehearsal space, with props, while the director’s there…  It’s especially tricky u/s’ing 2 people in the same number…  Practice, practice, practice…

Sunday, 20 November
It’s beginning to look alot like Christmas!
Toronto’s Christmas season officially began with today’s Santa Claus Parade!  I decided to watch it on tv from the comfort of my room…  After some rehearsing, a friend and I (and quite possibly the entire population of Toronto) headed to Eaton Centre for some shopping.  I’ve never seen a mall so packed!  It was fun (and productive) in spite of the crowd, and a scrumptious dinner at Milestone’s was a nice finish to the day 🙂

Whee!

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Friday, 18 November

Up where the air is clear
Morning scene work, then in the afternoon I had my first chance to fly!  A few of us trekked to the Toronto School of Circus Arts on the outskirts of Toronto where we had our first training session.  It was pretty cool – just sit back and enjoy the ride!  The harness is pretty substantial and has to fit quite snugly, so that’ll take a little getting used to, but otherwise my part is easy – just pose and let the operators bring me in 🙂  It’ll be so exciting once I’m in costume and on the ship – apparently I’ll be coming in at twice the height we did in the studio!

That night, a friend and I went to the touring production of Mary Poppins, which happens to be in Toronto right now… seemed only fitting 😉  It was a great show and very well done – but the Julie Andrews movie will always be my favorite version of the story…

Whew!

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Thursday, 17 November

Whew!
Today was action-packed and mentally tiring, but generally fun – and now I can relax!  It began in earnest with 3 1/2 hours of understudy choreography.  I’ll keep it simple by saying that my brain did not explode (although it came close), I did better than I thought I would (thanks in part to the dance classes I’ve been taking since my Disney callback casting director recommended them!)… but I still have ALOT of practicing to do!

Later came 2 hours of sword work, which though also mentally/physically challenging, was quite exciting!  Clashing steel is really cool!  My day ended with a couple hours of u/s Cruella choreography, though this time much easier since Cruella’s part in this number is mostly blocking.  Thank goodness!

Tomorrow comes yet another exciting new experience – my first flying lesson for Mary Poppins!!!

Disney Magic!

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Wednesday, 16 November

What it’s all about…
…both as a Disney performer and as the person I want to be – I’m grateful that I experienced it today.  My weekly room-cleaning happened while I was in my apartment during a rehearsal break and the lady who came was really sweet.  I continued to go over my music while she cleaned and we just chatted off and on.  She really liked my humming, so I asked if she’d like me to sing something for her.  I ended up singing a few songs and by the end, I think we were both almost ready to cry 😉  She told me it meant so much to her that I took the time to talk with her, and then to have a real Disney princess sing to her – she’d been having kind of a bad day, and I’d made her feel better…  I don’t say this to make myself sound good – but just because it meant so much to me.  That’s what I strive for as a person – just to be nice to others and be the best person I can be.  It’s also what I love as a performer – sharing something I can do that makes people happy.  It’s also partly the Disney effect – and this one little moment reminded me so much how thankful I am to be here!  I wonder if she knows that she encouraged me, too…

The rest of my day was lovely in general – I had the morning off, so a friend and I went to a Grace Kelly exhibit at a nearby museum and lunch.  Then, a few hours of scene work and back to practice some more on my own.