Thursday, November 13, 2014

Karen Mason: It's About Time!

Don't count the days, make the days count.
~Muhammad Ali

Karen Mason has starred on Broadway, Off-Broadway, television, and recording: and "has few peers when it comes to ripping the roof off with her amazing voice that knows no bounds!" (TheatreScene.net)
Karen is a ten -time MAC (Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets)  Award winner and has won the MAC Award for Major Female Vocalist of the Year for six consecutive years. She has also won the 2006 Nightlife Award for Major Female Vocalist and has three Bistro Awards.
Her latest CD, It's About Time, is currently in the works. We'll get to that at the end of this article. Let's celebrate Karen Mason and her body of "worth". I first met Karen in the 1980s when she was appearing at Don't Tell Mama here in New York with Brian Lasser. I became a fan and have remained so ever since. We sat down recently for a chat.
I have never had a happier time than I am having these days sharing these amazing stories.
Here is the result of my chat with the amazing Karen Mason.
What initially pulled Karen into this profession is that she just loves the "magic" of it all. Her family always had music around the house when she was growing up.Her mom always played records of Beethoven to Frank Sinatra. They had a wide variety of music. Music has always been a part of Karen's life.
When she was younger, her parents used to take her to see shows. They were very good about getting their family out to experience different art forms. When they took them to see shows at the St. Louis MUNY Opera, they were sitting "way, way, way" far away! Karen was enthralled. She KNEW that it looked like the kind of excitement that she desired to be part of.
When she was in high school, it was a way to meet boys because she went to an all girls high school.  She did her first show there. She admits to being a " fat dorky" kid, even though her mother will swear that is not true. Karen felt like she was always on the outside of things. When she sang, however, people responded in a different way.
With Bob Kale, Lee Roy Reams and Anita Gillette.
That acceptance, in a way that she had not known previously, and the fact that she always loved being on stage led her to pursuing this. To this day, she truly feels at home on stage. Prior to this interview(the day before), she and Lee Roy Reams did a benefit together for TRU (Theatre Resources Unlimited) honoring Barry Moss. She and Lee Roy had a conversation discussing people who get very anxious before going out on stage. Neither Karen or Lee Roy have never experienced that type of  overwhelming anxiety. She admits to lyric panic and nerves but it is never debilitating. She so loves to be on stage and it becomes like a drug to get out there and share her joy of entertaining. What has kept her in this business is that "I don't know how to do anything else!" She loves it so much that she wants to be a part of it. That includes being a part of the singing community, the acting community, the Broadway community. She loves doing a wide variety of things, but her heart will always be in the world of cabaret and theatre.
Karen had her first "professional" gig in 1976 on New Year's Eve at a place in Chicago called The Other Side.
They had actually hired Brian Lasser, who Karen was working with at the time. She had met him earlier that year and he got hired to play for New Year's Eve and he asked if he could bring along a singer. They said, "Sure, but we're not going to pay you any more money." In essence, it truly wasn't KAREN'S gig, but it was close enough! Brian and Karen split his fee and it became their FIRST professional job.
What does Karen do when she needs a little "nonsense" in her life? In her heart, she really wanted to be a dancer and "I am definitely not". She loves putting on old Motown records and dancing around the house. She loves having on all of those songs she grew up with. Paul, Karen's husband, is always laughing at her. THAT is perfect "nonsense" for her. It is all about total enjoyment. "I will probably never do it for anyone outside of anyone who is in my apartment,
Rehearsing with Brian Lasser in 1988 at The Wellington Theatre in Chicago
BUT it is so great. It clears my head and I just love it!"
What does Karen want most in life above everything else? All of the cliche answers come immediately to mind. But her hope is that her family and friends and her husband to be safe and out of harm...more than anything. Beyond that, everything just seems transitory. When she first moved to New York, it was to be a star.
She wanted to be Barbra Streisand. My response was that Barbra Streisand now desires to be Karen Mason!
When I posted on Facebook that I was going to be interviewing Karen, I asked if there were any questions from my followers.
Sally Kellerman, Karen, Ann Jillian, Nancy Dussault at The Cinegrill LA 1989
Someone who attended the TRU benefit the day before asked me to ask about Karen's subtext when singing. At the benefit, Karen sang Brian Lasser's song, Better Days. As mentioned before, it was a benefit honoring casting director, Barry Moss. He was one of the recipients of an award. Barry passed on earlier this year and was always very good to Karen. He cast her in a few things. Barry was the kind of "angel" that comes into your life and is ALWAYS there and always supports you. He loved actors. Brian wrote Better Days for Karen when Karen had just gotten "dumped" by someone. THAT is hard to believe! Karen had been in love  and after her breakup, Brian wrote, "There will be better days.There will be brighter lights." To Karen, that song will ALWAYS have a connection to her sweet Brian.
Anytime you lose somebody, it IS going to be hard. There can also be better days. Karen wanted to share THAT song honoring Barry.
Barry supported Brian and Karen from the time they both arrived in New York straight through to the end. Two years ago, Karen did Unfinished Business which was a show she wrote about Brian and herself, using Brian's music.
I asked Karen if she felt she is doing what she SHOULD be doing in her life. She asked me if anyone is ever REALLY sure! She has no idea beyond the fact that THIS IS what feels right to her. She know that it brings her joy to SING. I understand this. It is a visceral reaction to singing. She is actually happier when she is singing. It is the BUSINESS part that is always the "counterweight" to the joy of singing.
If Karen could change ONE thing about the profession, what would it be? She wishes it was "easier". Moving up through the ranks would be easier. Learning your craft is so important and it is not an easy accomplishment these days because there are not as many places where you can actually make a living wage. THAT is exactly what Karen would change. People in the arts should be able to make a living wage.
Karen cannot imagine not having the career she has. She can imagine it being bigger and grander but she is very happy with the career she has had. Everyone desires wanting more. That's what an artist does.
Everyone desires to work more, to express yourself more, but Karen is very happy that she met Brian when she met him. She met him when she was twenty-five.
She always knew that she wanted to be in this profession. She just didn't know how to do it. When she met Brian, it changed her life. She is very happy that her life got changed because of him.
For Karen, personally, what made it truly work was that Brian believed in their talent together. He found in her a muse that she found in him in addition to him being a mentor.What is unique is the songs that he wrote for Karen. "Unique" is a huge word but Karen was left with an incredible catalog of music and the love that he gave her is still something she has. She knows he is still with her.
When they first met, Karen just auditioned at this restaurant in Chicago that had singing waiters and waitresses. He was the music director there. When she auditioned, there was something that just clicked between the two of them.
He knew where she was going. She knew where he was going when they were performing a song. That doesn't happen that often. Usually an accompanist and a singer have to have a conversation: "We'll build up here and we'll get bigger here, we'll get smaller there..." It was so intuitive with Brian and Karen. To Karen, he was not only a collaborator, he was a mentor, because he had the knowledge of music. Karen kind of knew the songs that she liked. He also had a "director's soul and a writer's sol". He would say to Karen, "I'm going to take this song and I'm going to try this or that." Honestly, Karen was just like a little puppy going, Sure. Fine.Anything you want. I'm willing to try it all." They tried all kinds of wacky things to find where they needed to go. Karen just went along for the ride. She loved being with him AND working with him. They did Laura Nyro arrangements that were so wrong for Karen, according to her, but were so much fun, because Brian was there. Brian just had this vast fearless imagination.
I asked Karen how her opinion of the business has changed over the years. She is not so sure that her opinion HAS changed over the years. The business end has always been the most challenging for her. She admits to not having a "business head." She likes to "sing the songs and wear the pretty outfits" and express herself. She likes to work on creating things. When she was with Brian, they always did a "fifty fifty" collaboration with the business. Everything they made and worked on, they split fifty fifty.
To Karen, she thinks the "business" is a little bit harder now. The opportunities for people to learn and to grow have altered. She doesn't think people have the opportunities that were there when she first started out. People are just trying to keep their heads above water. It is a little bit more ruthless now than it used to be because there is less money. It doesn't feel as fostering as it used to.
The advice that Karen would offer to anyone trying to embark in a career in this business is to keep trying to learn. Keep surrounding yourself with people who inspire you. There are so many inspiring people in this business. Get yourself "out there" as much as you can.
Brian always said to Karen that everyone's path is going to be different. Their path was definitely different from others. Some people strike it very fast. "We'll be older". If it still feeds your soul, it is worth it. When it stops becoming fun at all, it is time to try something new. There's no shame in that. If the difficulties are too difficult, perhaps it is time to re imagine your place in the business or look at it in a different way. When Brian and Karen were starting, everyone was told, "You can't do commercials because that is such a step down." Now, everyone does it! That change is a good change in the business.
Everybody is more open to try anything in "other" areas of the business. Some people have taken those skills that they have honed in this business and have taken them to other areas of the business. It takes a village to get a show up. It takes a village to keep this business going. Karen truly loves people who are in show business. It is a career that is challenging and crazy and mean and full of laughs and full of heartbreak and yet, somehow, "are we all the village idiots?"
We all come back for more!

It's About Time...
It has taken Karen a while to jump on the crowd funding train. It's a win win opportunity. Karen gets to put out a brand new CD. Paul Rolnick, Karen's husband produces the CDs. He is an EMMY Award winning record producer, songwriter and session singer. He's well known as a singer's producer. He wrote this great song, It's About Time with Shelly Markham. It was written for two friends who got married a couple of years ago right after Marriage Equality passed in New York State. These two gentlemen, Peter Lichtenthal and Perry Eisman, over dinner one evening, hired Karen (along with Christine Pedi) for their wedding.  Little did they know that they would be hearing at their wedding a new tune composed specifically for them. Karen had said to Paul, "Write a song!" Christine and Karen each did a performance at the wedding.
Paul had an idea for the "hook" and, along with Shelly, wrote a song that has gotten so much attention. Karen desired to do this upcoming CD around this song.
These crowd funding campaigns are really fascinating. In reality, most people who are going to buy a CD, can now buy it BEFORE it is finished which enables the artists to finish it! That is the magic of these things. Karen, as have I, have helped friends out who have done crowd funding campaigns such as Indigogo or Kickstarter. We as artists have to keep ourselves going. Fans of Karen's are most likely going to buy this CD anyway. This is a great way to help them out. From what I hear, it is a pretty fantastic CD. Some work has already been done on it. They have already gone in and recorded some of the songs. It is going to be what fans of Karen's have come to love in previous CDs. Karen loves being able to do a brand new song that is important and should be heard along with tracks like The Man That Got Away and Over The Rainbow and other songs that have influenced Karen. She is so proud of the work that she and Paul do together along with Chris Denney and Barry Kleinbort. She is so proud of this CD and can't wait to get it done.
They've waited a long time.
After the Rebecca debacle, the Broadway show that was supposed to happen (Karen is knocking on wood...or anything else that resembles wood at this moment...that it WILL get up..."it is that Midwestern optimism"), things got crazier and crazier. Karen and Paul really desired to do this CD. In the past, they have always paid out of their own pockets to produce Karen's CDs.
This time around, they thought this is a really great opportunity to be able to produce a new CD and have it not necessarily coming out of their pockets entirely. It is an expensive thing. Most artists these days self produce. We don't have a government that is necessarily supportive of our arts community.
BWW Photo Exclusive: Karen Mason and REBECCA Cast Sing for 'Carols For A Cure'
Karen Mason and Maree Johnson
We in cabaret, in particular, have always self produced. This new paradigm enables us to produce with a "little help from our friends", as it were.
When Paul played the track of It's About Time for Karen, it resonated in so many different places in her life. As she has gotten older, she has gotten stronger. It's about time that she has the confidence in
Karen Mason, Julie Wilson, Harold Sanditen
who she is and in her abilities and in her talents and her skills and her abilities as a person to do this next CD that truly speaks to Karen about who she is at this moment in her life. This business is not easy on women, in particular, getting older. Karen feels at the top of her game. She feels so happy when she is singing, but really singing well, communicating well, enjoying it. That is another thing that Karen feels it is really very important for people to know is to pay attention to women who are in their fifties, sixties, and beyond. Look at Marilyn Maye! They have a lot to say, men AND women! They still have a lot to show us.
Bill Mahar did a spot on a recent show on ageism. Check it out!
Was there a moment in Karen's life when she really wanted to give it all up and why didn’t she? 
When Brian passed on. She just didn't know what to do. Her reasons for going on were financial more than anything else, at first. Shortly before Brian's passing, Karen got cast in Amanda McBroom's show, Heartbeats. Another version of it was done the following year after he had died. Amanda McBroom is so full of life. Moving forward, that show spoke to Karen on so many levels. 
Shortly after that, Karen got cast in Sunset Boulevard. That was in August after Brian passed on. He passed on on November 20th. Sunset Boulevard took Karen into a whole new area of show business.
At that point, she no longer had to think about continuing or not without Brian. That eased her back into singing and enjoying it. Then she started doing cabaret again, a little bit at a time. She was so angry that she actually wishes to apologize now to anyone who ever played for her at that time. She was angry in her own Midwestern way. It was hard to not be disappointed with people for not being Brian. Then she realized what she has to offer...what she and Brian learned from each other. She has continued with that.
It's About Time!

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Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,



 
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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!                
Judy McLane, Dee Hoty, Charles Strouse, Cady Huffman, Karen Mason (source: BroadwayWorld.com)

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!

Be sure and Save The Date to see Kim Grogg on November 14th in Go Where The Love Is
https://www.facebook.com/events/1488744398052149/?ref_dashboard_filter=hosting
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Julie Gold (Board of Directors Award), Karen Mason, and David Friedman (Lifetime Achievement Award) MAC

Keeping Entertainment LIVE!
 
TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY


Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com
Karen Mason and  Husband Songwriter, Producer Paul Rolnick



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