Thursday, February 26, 2015

Celia Berk: You Can't Rush Spring!

You can't rush spring
No matter how you try
A bud knows when to bloom
A bird knows when to fly
Although your eager heart may long to see
The blossoms on a cherry tree
The winter needs her time to say goodbye
The rose will come
The robin will appear
And someone with the song you've waited long to hear

-Ann Hampton Callaway 

I am thrilled to announce that the subject of my blog today is nominated for TWO MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs). Her two categories are for Female Debut AND CD. She is also receiving a Bistro Award on March 3rd!

As we endure one of the harshest winters I think I have ever endured, it is difficult to get out of our "comfort zones"and go out and do anything socially or otherwise.  
Celia Berk epitomizes what it is to get out of one's comfort zone.
A few weeks ago was one of those moments in which we ventured out on a cold snowy night. We ended up at The Metropolitan Show to witness first hand what is being referred to as one of the greatest singers to hit the cabaret scene in some time. I actually loved her long before everyone else jumped on this wagon. The "her" I am referring to is Celia Berk.
I saw her at The Iguana years ago when I was hosting with Dana Lorge and fell in love with her. I was thrilled late this past year when she turned the cabaret community on its feet with her appearance at The Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention.
Richard Nesbit photo with Alex Rybeck, Ann Hampton Callaway (who wrote the title track of Celia's album YOU CAN'T RUSH SPRING) and guitarist Sean Harkness
Celia Berk didn't rush her own spring. She has arrived at the right time!
Today, I celebrate Celia Berk and her body of WORTH!
Celia's singing career doesn't start very far back. Somebody said that she sprung fully formed in the last year or so. She started out to have a career in the theatre and got a degree in theatre.
She came to New York after graduating and decided it wasn't the life for her. She went away from it for thirty years! She only came back to it about six or seven years ago. At the same time, all those years she said she wasn't doing it anymore, she was actually taking voice lessons every week. She left it and she never left it is the right way to put it. She started to feel an impulse to do something besides just the voice lessons. She got a coach and as a result started hearing arrangements in her head. She started looking around for an arranger and the "gods" really smiled on her because it led to Alex Rybeck.
Jeff Harnar, Celia Berk, Alex Rybeck (Photo credit: Richard Nesbit)
She then started singing with a group that Sarah Rice organizes upstate once a month. That got her back up on her feet and she met a singing partner that she did a series of duets with utilizing very tight harmonies.
Alex came along because, as stated earlier, Celia was working with a coach, and she told him of these arrangements she was hearing in her head.Her coach told her he didn't do arrangements.She said, "OK. I'm going to have to go and look for someone who does." She has a friend in London who is a very well regarded jazz musician and she asked him if he would do it for her and he told her that he didn't have the time.
Russ Weatherford photo from October 2014 Cabaret Convention
He then put Celia in touch with conductor/director Ted Sperling, who he knew because he had once played for Audra McDonald in London. Ted was just getting ready to do South Pacific and unfortunately didn't have the "bandwidth" but suggested his friend Alex Rybeck. Celia still hasn't met Ted Sperling! It is one of those six degrees of separation.
Jeff Harnar came into the mix because he is a very good friend of Alex's. Celia was seeing Jeff perform in various venues and Alex was taking Celia out and giving her a cabaret education anyway.She saw Jeff on the cabaret spectrum as someone she really liked in terms of both his musicality and also he embodied what she wanted cabaret to be like. It was very evocative to her of what nightclubs must have been like in its hey day.                    About two years ago, Alex took Celia to see Jeff do a show at The Laurie Beechman Theatre at the WestBank Cafe.
As she watched him, she thought, "Now, this is someone I would trust and respect and want to guide me into whatever comes next." At that point they were recording the album, but Celia knew that when the album was done, she would want to put it on its feet and sing it, so she asked Alex to approach Jeff for her. Jeff listened to the album when it was still in the mix process. Jeff said yes, he would help her, which was thrilling for her.
Alex and Jeff have been friends "forever". Celia really wanted this to be a "three equal voice" process. She cares so much about what Alex has to say.
She wanted to have that same instinctive impulse about the director. They talk in a sort of "short hand" with each other. They are very "generous. They open up their entire lives and will give you as much of it as you are willing to take. They don't always agree with each other all the time which Celia really likes. There may be a "debate", but it is a debate from a position of respect and real love between the two of them. They are such great friends. They are willing to treat Celia
the same way.
Because Celia's orientation is the theatre, the director is very important to her. She knows, for some people, it's all about the musical director. Alex and Celia have talked about this. For Celia, the director is as important as the musical director as they are shaping a show. These are all the elements that were/are at play with them.   
They spent a lot of time just getting to know each other. It was about her finding a way into their relationship. They are so funny and they are so smart and they are so encyclopedic and their knowledge of music and performing is just amazing. Jeff tends to talk "second" and tends to talk quieter, but Celia listens very carefully to what he says. Celia and Alex are forever talking on the phone and emailing and exploring. It's incredible!
Celia's life has changed drastically over the past twelve months and I asked her what has been the most difficult hurdle for her to get over.
She says putting the two parts of her life together. This music has now been "out there" every week. Everyone in Celia's life had this dim awareness that she would go off and have a voice lesson once a week and they would see her carrying around an opera score or a book of Rodgers and Hart or whatever, but, by and large, they had not heard her or seen her until a couple of years ago. For Celia, to not just be doing a show with a singing partner for one night in the dead of summer, but to have come out with an album and say, "This is who I am. This is what I've been busy doing with my life for the past five or six years" was a little frightening.
I wanted to delve a little deeper into what makes Celia Berk Celia Berk. I asked her what the worst job was that she ever had. She said it was when she was first trying to break into the theatre.
She got a job in a bakery. Everyone told her not to worry, that she would eat everything she could the first week or so and that after that, just the smell of  everything would turn her off and she would never again eat a baked good. The catastrophe was that never happened to her.
Every morning she would wake up and go, "I can't wait to get back in there. I wonder what I'm going to eat first!" It was not a good job if you were trying to break into the theatre because she was gaining weight at an incredible clip. That was probably the "stupidest" job she ever had.
She was also an Au Pair on Park Avenue. It was very interesting to see that the people on Park Avenue aren't any happier than anyone else.
She didn't like that job. She didn't like the way she was treated.
Something about Celia that would surprise people. She doesn't know; she feels as if she has completely opened the kimono in the past year! She doesn't know how much more is left to reveal.
If hard pressed for an answer, she believes we would find her apartment interesting. It truly is an expression of her. It is pre-war, of an era that she wishes she had lived in from a musical and theatre stand point. It is all about color and fabrics and lots of prints about theatre and music and it's a lot of books and stacks of CDs. She doesn't know if that is the persona she walks around telegraphing. She watches people's reactions when they first walk into her apartment.
Words of advice for aspiring entertainers?
Don't do it for the money! She's not sure that the money is there. Do it because you absolutely have to do it. Do it for the love of it. Keep it in proportion to the rest of your life. As hard as it was for Celia to decide not to go into the theatre, she ended up a more rounded person than she would have otherwise been. She has different skills. She has circles of friends that she otherwise wouldn't have had.
In truth, she would not have been able to develop on the corporate side and the philanthropy side. She believes all of that now comes up on the stage with her and she is glad for it. She thinks to make life too
narrow and not to make it have to be everything because it is so hard and you are so exposed if you do it.
I asked Celia to finish this sentence: I'll Never Understand why..."feedback cannot be given more carefully in the creative process."
If Celia could change ONE THING about the profession, it would be the business model. It doesn't work! Somebody's making money, but it is not, by and large, the performer.
They are just laying out all the money. The world of cabaret is not always understood or fairly represented. In the spectrum of things, if you have money at your disposal to use for entertainment, most people don't know how to factor in cabaret/nightclubs into the same paradigm of going out to the theatre or going out for a nice meal or traveling. There is a case to be made for it. Celia doesn't know if it is being made at the moment.
Celia recently saw Ann Hampton Callaway pose this question recently on Facebook, "What is the definition of cabaret? What can we do to have it better understood and appreciated?"
I asked Celia the age old question for performers: Pre-show or post-show meals? Her stomach shuts down a few hours before she doesn't compute hunger. She has had to figure out how to back up in time and a day before she figures out what she is going to eat and she eats just enough to get her through the show. She has learned that it's all about protein. She has figured out what source of protein is going to be a good source and is not going to make her all "phlegmy" or whatever and then she is absolutely ravenous after!
The first albums that Celia remembers as a kid were cast albums.
They slowly but surely moved out of the family collection and into her bedroom. Among those were also the very early Streisand albums. Those were just golden in her mind.
As far as TV watching is concerned, Celia has really weaned herself off of a lot of TV. She tries not to get hooked on long term series' anymore because that makes her really crazy. She is a not so secret General Hospital watcher.
She watched it all the way through high school and gave it up and rediscovered it years ago when the DVR came about. Every day, she records General Hospital, and sits down for about twenty minutes and plows through the plot lines that she is interested in.
with sometime singing partner Rich Flanders
It is her "dial down" mechanism. What she REALLY loves are mysteries, so she watches the BBC and Masterpiece mysteries.
She IS a fan of those great British series' with those amazing actors. Those are her favorite things. She also loves the great classic sitcoms and would love to be in a sitcom.
The music that makes Celia cry is the same music which makes her feel calm is Der Rosenkavalier . She especially loves the trio. When all else fails and nothing else can calm her down, even
if calming down entails her finding a way to get a little weepy, she just lies on the floor and listens to the trio. She has learned all three parts and it is on her bucket list. Hopefully, this spring she will finally get to perform has part of the trio.
Celia's opinion of the business has evolved over the past year. She has a lot more empathy for it. She couldn't quite figure it out because it covers such a wide range.
She didn't quite know where to look or what to focus on. She is so struck by the generosity of the people she has come in contact with, the talent, the tenacity, and they each have an interesting story.
The closer into it you get, the more heart you have for it. At least, that is the case for Celia.
Three things that Celia cannot live without: her piano, her friends, and a sense of financial security.
What gets Celia up in the morning? A puzzle! Something that has to be figured out. Either it is a piece of music or she is doing something on the corporate side that is a big gnarly problem.
Why does Celia do what she does? She HAS to do it. It is not a choice. She had a real realization of that a couple of years ago.
Celia and Joshua Dixon: 2015 Bistro Award Winners!
The older we get, and as we also see those people around us getting older, Celia had people coming up to her saying, "I'm done." Celia couldn't, for the life of her, realize how someone could come to that conclusion. It suddenly dawned on her that if anyone told her that she would no longer have the capacity to make music in some way, she thinks she would be done. She would no longer desire to be here anymore. She may not always be able to do it well, but to not be healthy enough or compus mentus, that would not be LIFE to her.
What does Celia know now that she didn't know a year ago? It is always right to take a LEAP as long as you put in the hard work before you jump.
You can never be wrong to take a chance! Thank you, Celia Berk!
Thank to ALL mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!
With grateful XOXOXs ,

Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Jerry Herman's Hello, Dolly!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!    
 Please join Gretchen Reinhagen in NYC April 1st! Part One of Reinhagen Redux
This spring Gretchen returns to the Metropolitan Room with three of her
favorite shows, three of her favorite musical directors, over three months,
singing three times the tunes.

Directed by Barry Kleinbort

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

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Keeping Entertainment LIVE!

Reserve TODAY for the 30th Annual Bistro Awards at The Gotham Comedy Club March 4th! 
Richard Skipper,

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