Interview with Cabaret Singer Carly Ozard … MORE SHIFT HAPPENS

carly ozard

Carly Ozard is a cabaret singer originally from the Bay Area who is returning her for a one-night only performance of her new show, MORE SHIFT HAPPENS, on August 18th at Feinstein’s at the Nikko. Learn more about Carly and the show from this advance interview!

Carly postcard Webb - More Shift Happens 8-18-16

How does it feel to be returning to SF for this show? 

First of all, thank you so much for granting me this wonderful interview. It feels very welcoming!! I’m really excited to be coming home to the Bay because this collaboration is going to be one of the best we’ve ever had. We have Musical Director Rick Jensen and me from NYC, Drummer Brandon Walters and Guitarist Terrence Brewer and back-up vocalist Jennifer Haber all from San Francisco, and back-up singer Francesca Camus from Las Vegas all on one stage!!!

Is being back bringing up any fond memories? 

My favorite memories about singing in San Francisco are usually with the Richmond Ermet AID Foundation. It’s always such a great evening for a fantastic cause and Ken Henderson and Joe Seilor (the show’s producers) are the best. I also loved working with Russell Blackwood and Scrumbly Koldewyn in the Thrillpeddler’s last season in the Untamed Stage (2016) and want to come back and do a role for them again, like, yesterday.

What are some of the things you’re making sure to see/do/enjoy while you’re here?

While home I’ll frequent Martuni’s and any solo shows or musical theatre productions that I can see as well as score a brunch at Café Klaus!

Awesome choices! There are a lot of local “cabaret” groups and singers … what does this term mean to you? How does it fit your identity as a musical performer?

Truly, I think it’s fantastic. We can always be inspired by people and check out what others are creating. I’m inspired lately by Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret, and anything that Joe Wicht is involved in is always going to be top notch talent. The Cabaret Showcase Showdown is a wonderful breeding ground for local talent. Oasis has unbelievable projects going on all the time! People are challenging themselves and I think it’s fabulous.

My identity onstage is always evolving (as it is offstage as well); I learn, I grow, and I make mistakes. I learn from them, and build in a different direction. There’s so many more bells and whistles that performers are encouraged to pursue. It’s no longer a singer on a stage with a piano. You need a band. You might need video projections or a costume change, a small set…. Or in NYC, sometimes a theremin.

Yes! Your work is a blend of many things! Mostly, it seems to be a blend of music, comedy and confessional. What can you tell us about the process of writing More Shift Happens? 

My director Kristine Zbornik and I took a lot of self deprecation out and made the first half of the show more of what I call My Own Personal Chorus Line experience. I’m not a dancer – but I am a vocalist who has built a new instrument since moving to NY, and with it, I’ve been able to launch myself towards opportunities that my old singing voice wouldn’t have gotten me. I’ve been in the room where it happens, so to speak…. For Broadway and National Tour Casting, and it’s SCARY. I also think it’s important to enlighten your audience and share with them about the process of graduating from nightclub personality to actress, singer, taking on scripted roles for the first time. That’s the first half of the show. The second half takes us through some travels I experienced as a working performer for the first time. There are wonderful stories, some really tough ones, some that shake you up, and some that reveal some good juicy NY stories. I’m really looking forward to it!

carly ozard photo

Sounds so exciting! So it sounds like your work/ voice changed in the past decade since you launched?

I left San Francisco with a pulled larynx, and atrophied muscles around my chords. I was taken on by Bill Schuman who trains mostly opera singers, and we built a whole new voice. I can belt a high A now comfortably, which has gotten me callbacks for really big projects. I’m in the process of becoming a real honest to God dramatic soprano.

In terms of other changes, the terror I used to experience onstage hoping I would make it through the evening doesn’t happen anymore. The fear has subsided and now I actually can be present onstage and focus on my craft. Acting is hard. I had never been trained. I think a lot of people assumed I knew things when I never really did. When I lost my voice, I lost my identity. When I got my instrument back, it taught me to be grateful for something.

Also, Teachers. If you can’t find the teachers who have your back, KEEP GOING until the best ones find you, and then there it all will be for you….. the right time to learn and the best time to go forward in your next personal steps of growth.

Lastly, NEVER APOLOGIZE. I used to apologize for myself. I used to be insecure with what I brought to the table, and I used to pull an imaginary chair up onstage with me for all my baggage and self hatred. I’ve learned from some pretty blunt and honest influences while living in NY that it’s not helpful and really stunts your growth as well as shuts people out. NEVER APOLOGIZE for who you are onstage today. Accept who you are today, and do your JOB.

Well said. Hard to accomplish but so important. Wonderful! Changing subjects a bit, what is your preferred method of listening to music (other than live)?

I’m LITERALLY blasting my Spotify right now. I will soon be available for streaming, showcasing some great covers with the incredible San Francisco based Ben Prince as well as with EDM engineer Leo Frappier. Also… living in Washington Heights now, I’m blocks from Central Harlem where the best reggae is blasted on the streets and I walk blocks with my Shazam on automatic and get all my favorite beats and get lost in those selections. I love dance and reggae.

What a great experience! What else have you been listening to a lot lately?

Right now, I’m really into some Electric Dance Music like Kaskade- they’re fantastic to listen to, and I love Aloe Blacc, Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, and Local Drag Phenomenon Pollo Del Mar turned me onto Zoe Badwi. I also flood my playlists with a lot of Burning Spear, Bob Marley and the Wailers and underground reggae artists who I discover left and right now that I live near Harlem. OH AND PAROV STELAR. Have you heard his music???? It’s like…. Swing Techno. It’s my FAVORITE THING to blast when I’m getting ready for some Burning Man or Drag Event that needs a costume.  I’m also becoming more familiar with Country Music. I’m really into Reba, Carrie Underwood, and of course following my favorite show Nashville. I’m also really getting into Aretha Franklin. I’ve been singing a lot of her hits with a huge band at the Friar’s Club here in NYC.

What a terrific collection of different influences. … More Shift Happens includes back up singers, directors and musicians … how do you approach collaboration with other creative people?

I’m so excited that Francesca Camus is joining us. She’s really a solo artist but I’m so grateful to work with her again. We went to college together and she is another one who has built her voice up to be a MACHINE. Jenn Haber besides being my bff is always the most professional backup singer and she gets it DONE. Both girls know how to SING. How I approach collaborations is with a lot of drop box and voice memo recordings, lol. We get parts plunked and sheet music pdf’d, and then I pay everyone everything. Rick Jensen is one of the most seasoned professionals in the business and he used to play at the Plush Room at the York Hotel with the infamous late Nancy LaMott so I am honored to have him in the music director seat. Terrence Brewer is a notorious guitarist in the Bay Area, so it’s really a gift to have him onstage with me. Brandon Walker and I haven’t met yet but I hear awesome things about his drumming skills.

Fabulous. It’s so great how the various technologies available to us today can be used to make so many things come to life. What is something you want us to know about More Shift Happens before we go see it?

This is one of the hardest shows I’ve ever done. I’m taking you to Broadway. I’m taking you to Nashville, Puerto Vallarta, San Francisco, back to NY all on one planet, while simultaneously acknowledging huge life-altering circumstances that come to shake us all up. It’s really a more universal project than it is about me me me. Come relate, enjoy and be entertained.

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Female Veterans Surviving Homelessness Together – Low Hanging Fruit is a Compelling Play

low hanging fruit poster

Compelling. That is the word that keeps coming to mind as I think of Low Hanging Fruit, the play I saw last night at Z Below that tells the stories of so many people through the characters of just a few.

I described Low Hanging Fruit in a preview post last month, based upon a press release I’d received and what I could read about it online. As I look back on that post, I see that it was surprisingly accurate. Typically, when I see something, it differs considerably from the press release but in this case, a lot of what I felt during the play was already captured in that initial writing. This speaks to something I loved about the play – that care was truly given to each detail of the work, all the way down to the press release description. Everything  worked perfectly together – from the characters to the space to the makeup to the music selections. It seems no detail went unnoticed in the making of this play.

Compelling. I come back to this again because it is the one thing that couldn’t be conveyed in a press release. And although I’ll try to capture it here, it’s the thing that you really have to go see the play to understand. I see a lot of local events – theatre and comedy and burlesque and circus and music – and I generally find most of them enjoyable. I laugh and I think and I get inspiration … but it is rare that I find something truly compelling, see something so gripping that I am taken out of the whirling that is my mind, pause my thinking to experience the intensity of the moment – only to be filled with thoughts hours later of moments in the play. Low Hanging Fruit did that for me.

You can learn the plot of the story from my earlier review, so I won’t repeat that here, but do want to note that a surprising number of themes and issues and metaphors and experiences were conveyed in the short amount of time that these characters took the stage. Four of the characters are female veterans, and we learn about different experiences that happen in wartime, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the return to life afterwards. Some of these experiences cross generations, as hinted at but the Joni Mitchell music and folk songs early in the play that harken back to the struggles of Vietnam War. Some of these are unique to this generation of soldier, and more unique still to the experience of women in the military. As Cory tells her story of sexual assault at the hands of her superior, I immediately think of a recently Viceland Woman episode about the epidemic of rape among women in the US military. Her story is one story and many stories.

In addition to (and within) the multi-faceted layers of the military story, the play conveys stories of homelessness – stories of addiction, of the red tape of trying to get help from the VA, of prostitution, of childhood abuse and abuse in adulthood, of runaways, of women who are mothers and daughters, of PTSD and generalized trauma and flashbacks and wanting to remember and wanting to forget. Each of these women have their own ways of dreaming about a better future while fighting for their immediate survival.

The women live together in an encampment they’ve created for themselves, for women only, veterans only, to stick together because there is “safety in numbers”. They are a family of sorts, a family caught in the kind of high stress environment that leads to dysfunction. Through various scenes we see the utmost tenderness and care between them, and we also see terrifying violence amongst them. You can see that they hate to have to need each other and hate what they see in one another that is a reflection of the self but they love that they have one another and share a compassion for one another born out of similar experiences and needs.

low hanging fruit

Heather Gordon, Cat Brooks, Livia Demarchi in Low Hanging Fruit. Photo credit: Mario Parnell Photography.

I can’t say enough about the talents and skills of each of the individual women who play the four veterans. They embodied their characters so well it is difficult to believe they were ever anyone else off that stage. Each unique, each sharing her story in her own way, each so powerful.

The character of Canyon, the teenage runaway who comes to stay and causes some friction amongst the group, is an interesting one. In the first half of the play, she is adorable and you can’t help but feel for her. As time went on, I began to find her character saccharine and got almost annoyed with her naiveté, a story that didn’t ring true for me as I mused upon the young teenage girls I’d known in similar situations. Then her character takes a turn and the whole thing makes sense again. Well done. And I have to note here something I should have said at the beginning – actress Jessica Waldman has a stunning crystal clear voice that opens the show with song.

The lone male character in the play, a young pimp, brings another dimension to the narrative. The play is about the women and their lives and relationships; but women’s relationships rarely exist outside of the stories they have intertwined with men and so this character’s small role is a critical one. And although his own story is never addressed, one has to wonder how he came to be where he is as well, a man among women who could easily be his mothers and sisters.

The play is captivating. But it’s not always easy to watch. My heart raced many times. The characters yell with passion, the sound effects get loud (appropriately, rightly, like in a movie theater where it has to be this way and it makes it impossible for you to think of anything else). A police shooting scene caused a change to my heartbeat and breathing, too  poignant amongst the news of today, too real. This is what makes the play compelling.

And thankfully, this is broken up with occasional humor, with music, with dancing. Interludes of slam poetry create pauses in the story. The poetry has its own gripping depth but it changes the pace of the play and makes the intensity more bearable. In these moments I could catch my breath, as one imagines a homeless women must catch her own breath throughout the day in those pockets of safety and necessary laughter. I could look around the theater and notice that the space for the play (an underground theater) worked perfectly and the characters worked the whole space, moving off of the main stage and towards the audience without ever breaking the fourth wall. I could notice the details in the makeup, scars important to the story that looked real even from a few rows away. And then I could be drawn back into the intensity of the story, having had a little relief, well calculated by the playwright in bringing the story to the stage.

Compelling.

Low Hanging Fruit runs through July 30, 2016. You can go see it:

Thursdays and Fridays @ 8pm

Saturdays @ 2pm and 8pm

Saturday July 30 ONLY @ 2pm

Sundays @ 2pm

Consider attending on Thursdays when you can arrive early and learn about a Bay Area organization helping with issues related to the play (a different organization each week). Learn more about this in my original preview post.

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