Thursday, July 29, 2010

All that has happened...(Part 1)

Three weeks later, and a lot has happened. I would say this trip rates somewhere between "life-changing" and "totally worth it"...meaning I still have yet to see what all comes from this trip, but I can say without a doubt or hesitation that it was everything I wanted it to be and more.

(Sorry, no pictures this time...there will be some in my next post on Hamburg!)

Let's wind the clock back three weeks. The entire group of IPAI students arrived the night of July 4th. We were all tired and a little sad that we were missing out on Independence Day with our friends and family, but we were very excited about getting started. After our welcome dinner and a (not-so) quick tour of the town with Darla Earnest, we all went to bed ready for rehearsals. I won't bore you with a day-by-day account of what happened, because many days had a very similar pattern. We would get up for breakfast around 700. We had German language and culture class at 800. We had coaching for the life of a performer at 915. From there we would go to our assigned voice lessons or coachings, which alternated days. The hotel would serve us lunch, afterwhich the Musical Theatre students would go to acting classes while Opera students would go to dance, and two hours later we would switch. The evengs were full of rehearsals, both for the large company numbers as well as smaller group songs we were divided into. Aside from the occasional change as the need would arise, the majority of our time was spent in this intensive routine. The plan was to simultaneously prepare us as a group for our showcase performances both in Kiefersefelden at the end of the month and for an informal viewings in Hamburg (for MT students) or Munich (for Opera), as well as prep and train us for auditions in our respective cities as well. We lived and breathed our music and our craft. Here I will just focus on some of the memorable aspects of the training in Kiefersfelden.

The training we received this summer itself was more than worth the cost of the trip. I have grown, both vocally and as a performer, in three weeks what would have taken me a school year to achieve. The morning sessions with Darla were invaluable. I really wish I had the opportunity in school to study German. The language makes a lot more sense than I thought, largely due to the fact that English is Germanic in origin. Darla gave us a crash course in German culture, particularly Bavarian culture. Whenever you think of all the cultural clichés of German culture, they primarily reside in Bavaria, the south-eastern region shared with Austria. Darla taught us all the terms and phrases for basic communication, from standard greetings ("Grüß Gott/Grüss Gott" = "Greetings in the name of God") to how to ask for directions or order food. The people here are exceptionally friendly, and they are always ready to help and willing to wait while we Americans stumble over our butchered words. Often the younger people are eager to speak in English both to show what they know and to practice, in addition to simply being curious about us. We met many fun and interesting friends around town at the restaurants and pubs.

My voice lessons in particular were rewarding. My voice instructor was Matt Nesmith, a theatre teacher from University of New Hampshire who will soon be taking over Bruce Earnest's old position at University of South Dakota. He was a very personable and easy-going guy and clear instructor. He was eager to get to know not only what kind of singer I was, but also who I was as a person, so he could more clearly connect song interpretation and performance. One of the most interesting experiences of the entire trip happened while I was in a voice lesson with him. We working on more clearly communicating the text of a song, and he asked me about the situation in which my song takes place. At this time we were working on "Everybody Says Don't" from Stephen Sondheim's Anyone Can Whistle. The character, Hapgood, is a rougish idealist who has strived all his life to set people free as individuals. He has come to town to admit himself to the local asylum as a form of retirement, for he sees the free-spirited people inside as more content and free than the people outside dully going about their miserable lives. Matt took this idea and decided that in order to help me communicate my character's intention with the song, he had me sit down in a chair and then proceeded to tie me up. His reasoning was that since my character came to town with the intent of being admitted to the insane asylum, I should sing the song as if I were in a strait-jacket. This forced me to not get distracted with movement and action, and gave me a more urgent need to communicate visually in the only way I had left: my face. Moments like these proved to be some of the greatest breakthrough's in my time there.

We also did a LOT of dance training in our short time at IPAI. My body is still aching from all the stretching and drilling we did. Our dance instructor was a man named Chris Niess. He comes from the University of Central Florida, and was one of the most interesting characters we met. A shorter bald man who walked about with a cane, at first glance I did not expect him to be our dance instructor. He focused a lot on making sure we were grounded in our movements while keeping our bodies and faces lifted. He coached us on movement in our interpretations of our solo pieces as well as group numbers. He whipped the 30 or so of us into shape in less than three weeks, and did so with a spirit and tenacity that was infectious. Here was a man who was excited about what he did, and wanted us to allshow how excited and committed we were too.

I think that is one thing that defined this entire trip. All the instructors that came here from all over the states and Europe were all infectious in their enthusiasm to help us grow and learn. Here we were thrust into an environment that was quite simple one of the most ideal learning situations that could be constructed. We were in training a majority of the time, with the remainder of our time being left up to us to either rest or practice on our own. We had lots to do, but for once we had plenty of time and opportunities to do it. In the end, it rested on us what we got out of this experience. For myself, I feel like it couldn't have gone better. Not only did I improve as a singer and a performer, I gained incredible experiences, made invaluable contacts for my career and education, and made memories and friendships I will cherish all my life.

Howeve, more than all of this, I believe the most valuable thing I have gained in the last few weeks in an increased sense of self-confidence. I have not always been the most confident person; in fact as a child it was one of my greatest struggles. Yet, with the help of friends and family and, above all, God, I built up and developed my confidence to where I was a fairly independent and self-assured. I still struggle with doubts, as everyone does, but I also dealt with my limitations which I viewed as insurmountable. I always thought of them as the boundries of which I had a healthy awareness. Chief among these were my vocal abilities. I got into singing relatively late compared to most musical theatre students. Before college I never sang outside of church. Even though I am aware of my significant growth vocally over the last couple of years, I still always felt like I was coming up short when compared to people who had been doing it their whole lives, or worse, those who were "naturally gifted". I always took comfort in the fact that I had a gift for performance and acting, and what I lacked in singing I could make up in the performance and character portrayal. I never used this as an excuse; I still worked hard on my voice, approaching the training as I do every other aspect of my craft, but still the self-doubt persisted. This is not necessarily a bad thing; a certain level of dissatisfaction is part of what drives us to be better, but this shouldn't come at the cost of our confidence. This past year has been especially hard, between having a fairly mediocre senior year in the theatre and preparing to go out into the big scary world. This trip has changed that for me, or at least given me a boost in the right direction. I know the kind of performer I am. I know my abilities. I know my potential. I know my worth. My self-confidence is through the roof. I feel like I could knock down a wall with my chest. Come what may, I will meet it head on. I may or may not be ready for it, but I have God at my back, so I'm going to try anyway. School is over, it's time to grow up. So bring it on. Let the lighting flash. Let the thunder roll. Let the storm winds blow. Let the hard rain fall. Let the trouble come. It will only make me bring it on!


  1. Kris Kuss, I am so proud and excited for you! I am so glad you have had an amazing trip, and that you have grown so much. You are going to do some awesome things in your times sir. I can't wait to see those things play out. But again I am proud, and excited for you. It looks like we have to be grown ups now... and you know what? It doesn't sound half bad. You in Germany doing your acting stuff, and me in Greece doing mission stuff. Adventures here we come :)

  2. Kris, thank you for updating me on your time in Europe. I'm glad to hear your trip has been more than successful and hope to hear even more about it soon.