Julia Wiedeman

The Shows, The Dreams, The Body of Work

Dear Peter Gelb: A Letter from a Friend

Hey Peter Gelb!

I just heard about the 72 hour cease fire at the Metropolitan Opera and the Gaza Strip starting today, crazy coincidence huh?!

I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but I just wanted to check in and say “Hi!” just in case you needed a friend right now. Hi! My name is Julia. I know you are the Managing Director of the Metropolitan Opera and I am only a freelance supernumerary, still I figured I should let you know that I am here for you if you need me. I am really good at being a super (a non-singing actor) AND I am a really good listener, so feel free to be more open and honest than you have felt at the union negotiations. You don’t need to worry about me judging you, I am not part of any unions. It’s just you and me, Gelb. I can call you Gelb, right?

Like, maybe do you want to tell me how you are totally sick of being responsible for so many people?

You are right? It just seemed so obvious to me when you said a lock out of the Met’s employees was going to happen. I mean, you don’t warn people that a lock out is going to happen unless you plan on not negotiating at the negotiation table right? I am not a business woman, so correct me if I am wrong, but you would put a lot of people out of work that they are the best in the world at doing what they do so it kinda seems like you don’t care about caring about people. Since I am freelance at the Met I have a bunch of other jobs that I can rely on if there is a lock out, so don’t worry about me, Gelb. I have little to no monetary stake in this since I usually only make about $12.50 per rehearsal hour, so I know it’s not my paycheck you are trying to cut back on, right? I mean, that would be crazy! (Almost as crazy as how my take home pay for each performance of Prince Igor last season was less than the cost of one of those red silk poppies.) Every single other person in the building dedicates their talents and their whole lives to the Met Opera schedule so they have no other income to fall back on. Not only the chorus and technicians, supers and costumers, wig department and box office employees, but you would also be locking out the Met Cafeteria workers: the most talented people in the world and the nicest people who make sandwiches, out of work. You can tell me, Gelb! You are tired of taking care of everyone!

Recognizing the talent that fills that building everyday of the Met Opera season is probably really exhausting. It’s not just the amazing theatre directors that you hire and give free reign to do anything and everything they want, but the people that bend over backwards to rehearse and see the visions of those directors through in every single performance that have to be taken care of. Also, besides the star opera soloists in every opera cast, there is a whole second cast of opera singers for each and every opera. They rehearse the music, blocking and each little intention behind every utterance onstage and more often than not they are never used because you will fly in another star to save the day if a lead gets ill. Life is not fair and certainly not everybody gets to be a star, but it sure does seem like a waste of money to sit on talent you have no intention of using to cover the roles they learn. Am I right? I mean, I guess if there is someone willing to take the job, you should not be blamed, but it just seems like a screwy system to me.

Have you ever seen the 3 minute scene change in Boheme between Act One and Act Two? What those stagehands do is like a whole other show, right?! I mean, yikes, it is incredible to watch them work together. It’s like watching a dance between humans and painted wood. Even the scene changes in your much loathed new Tosca are fantastic. I would sit backstage and watch the backstage show any day of the week.

Hey, that’s what you should do! If you really want to make money why don’t you pitch a Met Opera reality show to Bravo or A&E. People would eat it up, don’t you think?! All the drama imagined and real! The music, the glamour! Just footage of Anna Netrebko in rehearsal with Bart Sher would make you millions! If you like that idea, take it. It’s yours, my dear Gelb. From one friend to another.

Hey, maybe you don’t like opera anymore. That’s fair, opera isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. But you keep telling everyone that interviews you that opera is dying. Not only is that untrue, but it’s a horrible PR move, Gelb. Everyone knows the basics of good press is not to shit on the thing you are trying to sell. Nobody wants to jump on a sinking ship! You are the captain of the biggest most impressive opera house in the world and you are telling everyone that it’s sinking!? Come on, Gelb! You’re making the storm that’s rocking the boat!

How about that metaphor, huh?! You and I have the desire to be good at coming up with metaphors in common. You know that interview in regards to the talks with the unions where you said that you didn’t know what the "operatic equivalent of it taking two to tango" is? Well I think it’s that it takes two to sing a duet. Right? That’s an opera metaphor.

Damn, I hope I didn’t make you feel stupid just now. I was just trying to help for the the next time you’re interviewed about this whole mess. Ugh! Peteeeer! I am on your side! I am trying to help, but I probably just made you feel like you don’t know how to do your job, like everyone else. I am not trying to make you feel bad! You are getting it from all sides right now. Everyone telling you that your plan to save money is just a temporary fix and will only last for five years before more cuts need to be made. Then they tell you that they have a better plan to save money that is smarter than yours. It is not my intention to make you feel less than, I promise you. I totally understand what it feels like to be treated like I don’t know how to do my job or be talked to like a toddler. Most of the time it is probably just easier to pretend that the supers are human props or set pieces and since we don’t talk or sing onstage I think sometimes people think we don’t know how to listen. Like the time in rehearsal for Thais, I was placed on the floor next to Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming was crossing the stage towards him when suddenly she stopped singing, the piano slowed, and Renee pointed at me, turned to the director, and said “That young lady is in my way.” So cool that she was talking about me, but she could have talked to me and that would have felt better. I scooted out of her way, because at the end of the day, that is my job: make it easy for her to do her job. Just get out of the opera singers’ way and let the magic happen.

Wait, are you not telling me something? Are you totally over being the Managing Director of the Met Opera? Is it harder than you thought it would be and you want out?

Now that I think about it, that would totally make sense. You seem to be throwing money around in a way that a Sex and The City character would to try to her solve problems and it usually doesn’t work, does it? I understand, we were all disappointed in the new Ring Cycle. You tried something new and outlandish, it didn’t work and it cost you. But it wasn’t the fault of the people who worked the show. We were on that stage acting and singing and trying to make it look like a three dimensional world instead of a Duplo set light show. Technicians were behind that pyre pulling it out of the way of those swinging blocks. Debbie Voigt was singing her heart out on top of that idiotic looking horse. In the old Otto Shenk production of Gotterdammerung we would have to run, jump and roll off the stage to get out of the way of the set that was actually collapsing to illustrate the end of the world. I am sure you have heard this enough and I am sorry to bring it up again, but Gelb you have to take responsibility for a fuck up when it is as big a fuck up as your Ring Cycle. If you want to bask in the glory of successes like the recent Rigoletto, you have to admit that you shit the bed with The Ring Cycle.

I hope you don’t mind that I am being so informal. I want to be able to really talk it out and sometimes get carried away. We’re still cool, right?

It is quite alright if you do not want to work at the Met Opera anymore. I totally get that! You think I want to be a super forever? No way man! It is one of the best survival jobs that I have ever had but there is no upward mobility for this non-singing actor. I have experienced everything there is for me to experience at the opera. Watching James Levine conduct the stellar, one of a kind orchestra. Wearing gorgeous costumes built by the best costumers in the industry. Flirting with Placido Domingo backstage in Adriana LeCouvreur. Kneeling at the foot of the stage looking up at Lise Lindstrom who stepped in for Maria Guleghina last minute in the role of Turandot to watch her nail each choreographed movement and famously difficult vocal phrases. Witnessing so many diva and divo moments that I could fill a book but it would simply be uncouth to drop anymore names. I am even on the cover of the 2014-15 Season brochure with Ildar Abdrazakov! I mean my back is turned, but it’s still me. As glorious as my six seasons as a supernumerary have been they can be just as ego battering when a director refers to me as “her” throughout an entire rehearsal process. Hell, most of the time supers have to sit on the floor of C-Level Stage because there aren’t enough chairs! But when I bow out of the 40 plus roles I have had working at the Met, I am not going to take the Met down with me. Nor should you. I mean, I’m speaking to you as a friend who gets you man. If you don’t think you can do anything more at the Met, then you should go find a job where you actually do something amazing. Golly! I should take my own advice huh!?

I hope everything gets sorted out and you can finally get some rest. I imagine it’s been pretty hard to sleep at night with everything that has been going on. Call me anytime okay? I am here for you.

Love your Super friend,
Julia

Guest submission: Julia Wiedeman

my1992diary:

Julia had a somewhat unique childhood, as an American living in Caracas, Venezuela. Nonetheless, her diary entry from 1994 shows she is dealing with the exact same things most 13 year-old deal with: figuring out how to shave, navigating love, mean girls, and trying to fit it all into multiple…

Opera in a Minute: AIDA

Do you wish you had time or money to go to the opera?  

Are you afraid that there might not be a Metropolitan Opera season this year because of the possible lock out because Peter Gelb and the Unions cannot find anything to agree upon?  

Or do you think the opera is old, stupid, boring, and cannot possibly have as interesting or complex a storyline as a Real Housewives of Anywhere?

Look no further than Opera in a Minute!  One minute, one opera, countless fun.

A little culture in not too long! 

Feeling nostalgic about all the years at UCB that have brought me to this place in time when I get to be a UCB storytelling teacher.  I am also organizing all of the photos on my computer and happened upon some old DCM, Sheldrake Boothroy, and musical improv class pics soooooooo I am pretty thrilled it’s Throw Back Thursday!

I do not trust people who knit.  Chatting away while barely looking at their hands maneuver pointed metal spears and balls of colorful seemingly innocuous yarn and then suddenly they have hats, scarves, blankets, sweaters, booties and mittens.  It’s not so sudden actually.  I’ve watched women knit the same project for months, bypassing the baby’s due date or Christmas when they meant to be finished and continuing to knit pearl knit pearl into the night forever.  I see the fruits of their labor and cannot help but be in awe of their willingness to spend time creating something that someone is going to spit up on, suck on, loose one of, or worse yet, not give a flying fuck that they spent a portion of their lives making it.
Years ago a friend gave me a scarf that she had knitted for me.  We were not incredibly close and despite the fact that it was teal and white and green and gross and none of the colors that I wear together, I liked it because my friend had made it for me.  I felt special that she had taken the time and created something specifically with me in mind.  It even warmed my tiny cold self possessed heart that what it cost her in time she saved in money because I always appreciate a bargain.  I accepted the knitted gift with real honest to goodness gratefulness and the Christmas time oft uttered phrase “I will wear it always!”
Despite the truth of my enthusiasm, I never once wore the scarf.  Oh, I put it on every other day, wrapping it around and around my neck, but it never made it out of the house.  It was long and thin and curled inwards which made its width thinner so it was more like a thick ribbon that made me look as though I had a colorful cast around a terrible neck injury.  When loosened it was a rope of teal and white and green and gross and still managed to choke me while simultaneously clashing with all of my outer wear.  ”I will wear it always!” turned into a lie considerably faster I am sure than it took her to cast on her stitches!
My friend moved away and the friendship waned further than it already had considering that I started avoiding her so that she wouldn’t see that A) I wasn’t wearing her hard worked on scarf and B) written all over my face was that I hated that ugly fucking neck choking scarf that she had made for me with all of her heart.  The New York winter turned into the New York summer and even when I woke up already sweating at 8am, I would look in my closet, see the scarf, and feel guilty for not wearing it, ever.  Not one day passed that I did not look at the scarf and feel bad about hating it.  Naturally, the guilt turned into avoidance, turned into resentment, turned into not trusting knitters.
It is not my fault that the scarf was not a scarf that I could wear and yet in receiving it, I was tasked with the obligation of wearing it because of the time and supposed love that goes into creating a piece of knitted wear.  Did my friend know I would not wear the scarf whilst she knitted me the scarf?  Did she realize that I would be racked with guilt and subsequently avoid her, thus ending our already meager friendship?  Did my friend knit me a scarf to set me up? 
I have worked the last six seasons at the Metropolitan Opera as a Supernumerary (a non-singing actor) where in the Ladies Dressing Room, unless you are me, you knit.  The women talk and knit and knit and talk.  It is actually quite a funny scene to see 6-10 women sitting in front of the dressing table mirrors in full 18th century period costume clicking away with their knitting needles waiting for the call to stage.  There are moments of love and kindness when the women trade yarn or explain patterns and stitches, but the actual process of knitting something requires only concentrated focus and an unwillingness to give up.  That is not love.  That is dedication.  And when they are making a blanket, or multi-yarned anything, that is psychotic.  Sometimes the result is beautiful, but the act is always psychotic.
Sure, I didn’t wear the scarf, I avoided the friend, and all these years later I only every once in a blue moon like a baby picture on her Facebook as she occasionally likes a post for a show I am doing, but she’s the one that started it all by being a dedicated knitter and knitting me a scarf!  And she should have known better to give me a gift at all.  I never gave her anything in return!
Friendships can be complicated.  Friendships between women are more so.  And friendships with women who are knitters are the most complicated patterns of all.  Although it may not seem like I am the sentimental type, I am and have been known to hold onto things for years just because they remind me of a friendship, family member or simply a time when I was younger (I have no cassette deck and still have all of my cassettes).  The scarf that my friend knitted for me remained in my possession for many years, getting tucked further and further into various apartments’ closets and all the while tugging at my conscience and reminding me of my long out of touch friend.  But in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy victims needed warm clothes, I put that horrible knitted strangling scarf in a box and took it to a shelter and out of my life.
I never wore the scarf and hated it for existing, but I hope my giving it a home in my closet for all those years kept someone warm when I was finally able to let it go.

I do not trust people who knit.  Chatting away while barely looking at their hands maneuver pointed metal spears and balls of colorful seemingly innocuous yarn and then suddenly they have hats, scarves, blankets, sweaters, booties and mittens.  It’s not so sudden actually.  I’ve watched women knit the same project for months, bypassing the baby’s due date or Christmas when they meant to be finished and continuing to knit pearl knit pearl into the night forever.  I see the fruits of their labor and cannot help but be in awe of their willingness to spend time creating something that someone is going to spit up on, suck on, loose one of, or worse yet, not give a flying fuck that they spent a portion of their lives making it.

Years ago a friend gave me a scarf that she had knitted for me.  We were not incredibly close and despite the fact that it was teal and white and green and gross and none of the colors that I wear together, I liked it because my friend had made it for me.  I felt special that she had taken the time and created something specifically with me in mind.  It even warmed my tiny cold self possessed heart that what it cost her in time she saved in money because I always appreciate a bargain.  I accepted the knitted gift with real honest to goodness gratefulness and the Christmas time oft uttered phrase “I will wear it always!”

Despite the truth of my enthusiasm, I never once wore the scarf.  Oh, I put it on every other day, wrapping it around and around my neck, but it never made it out of the house.  It was long and thin and curled inwards which made its width thinner so it was more like a thick ribbon that made me look as though I had a colorful cast around a terrible neck injury.  When loosened it was a rope of teal and white and green and gross and still managed to choke me while simultaneously clashing with all of my outer wear.  ”I will wear it always!” turned into a lie considerably faster I am sure than it took her to cast on her stitches!

My friend moved away and the friendship waned further than it already had considering that I started avoiding her so that she wouldn’t see that A) I wasn’t wearing her hard worked on scarf and B) written all over my face was that I hated that ugly fucking neck choking scarf that she had made for me with all of her heart.  The New York winter turned into the New York summer and even when I woke up already sweating at 8am, I would look in my closet, see the scarf, and feel guilty for not wearing it, ever.  Not one day passed that I did not look at the scarf and feel bad about hating it.  Naturally, the guilt turned into avoidance, turned into resentment, turned into not trusting knitters.

It is not my fault that the scarf was not a scarf that I could wear and yet in receiving it, I was tasked with the obligation of wearing it because of the time and supposed love that goes into creating a piece of knitted wear.  Did my friend know I would not wear the scarf whilst she knitted me the scarf?  Did she realize that I would be racked with guilt and subsequently avoid her, thus ending our already meager friendship?  Did my friend knit me a scarf to set me up? 

I have worked the last six seasons at the Metropolitan Opera as a Supernumerary (a non-singing actor) where in the Ladies Dressing Room, unless you are me, you knit.  The women talk and knit and knit and talk.  It is actually quite a funny scene to see 6-10 women sitting in front of the dressing table mirrors in full 18th century period costume clicking away with their knitting needles waiting for the call to stage.  There are moments of love and kindness when the women trade yarn or explain patterns and stitches, but the actual process of knitting something requires only concentrated focus and an unwillingness to give up.  That is not love.  That is dedication.  And when they are making a blanket, or multi-yarned anything, that is psychotic.  Sometimes the result is beautiful, but the act is always psychotic.

Sure, I didn’t wear the scarf, I avoided the friend, and all these years later I only every once in a blue moon like a baby picture on her Facebook as she occasionally likes a post for a show I am doing, but she’s the one that started it all by being a dedicated knitter and knitting me a scarf!  And she should have known better to give me a gift at all.  I never gave her anything in return!

Friendships can be complicated.  Friendships between women are more so.  And friendships with women who are knitters are the most complicated patterns of all.  Although it may not seem like I am the sentimental type, I am and have been known to hold onto things for years just because they remind me of a friendship, family member or simply a time when I was younger (I have no cassette deck and still have all of my cassettes).  The scarf that my friend knitted for me remained in my possession for many years, getting tucked further and further into various apartments’ closets and all the while tugging at my conscience and reminding me of my long out of touch friend.  But in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy victims needed warm clothes, I put that horrible knitted strangling scarf in a box and took it to a shelter and out of my life.

I never wore the scarf and hated it for existing, but I hope my giving it a home in my closet for all those years kept someone warm when I was finally able to let it go.

Wedding.

Wedding.

I’ll Show You Mine

COME!!!  I CANNOT WAIT TO DO THIS SHOW AGAIN!!!!

A Funny Thing: True stories told live at the Upright Citizens Brigade.

Bob Powers tells a fictionalized story of “special delivery” instructions.

Enjoy!