Interview: Laura Welch

Today we’re joined by Laura Welch. Laura is a phenomenal musician who makes a living as a pianist. She mostly performs for musical theater and she also plays at the local dance studio for the ballet classes. Laura plays a wide variety of musical styles and has even performed as part of a symphony orchestra on occasion. It’s a clear she’s an incredibly passionate and dedicated artist who loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I am a musician – a pianist, specifically. I am classically trained, though nowadays I am highly experienced in playing a multitude of genres, from your typical “classical” fare to jazz to modern-day pop. I make a living primarily through playing piano – something I try not to take for granted as not everyone can say they live off doing something they love and don’t really consider “work.” I play for a church service (sometimes two) every Sunday morning, and I currently accompany ballet classes at a dance studio. In the past I have accompanied voice classes held at various schools in the area, and at one point I was part of a thirteen-piece jazz orchestra as well as a ragtime band. Occasionally I am given the opportunity to play in the local symphony orchestra, but it does not happen too often.

Currently one of the biggest presences in my life where my talent is concerned is the theatre community where I live. I played my first musical back in 2007 – I was freshly nineteen, I recall – and after that I was quickly absorbed into the world of musical theatre. Since then I’ve played for a plethora of shows (I stopped counting about three years ago), and I’ve even gotten to music direct a small handful of them! I can’t see myself stopping any time soon, so long as I am available and can be put to use.

What inspires you?

I find much of my inspiration comes from the people I get to work with in whatever environment I happen to be playing in. In theatre, it’s the actors, crew, and musicians I get to perform alongside. In the dance studio, it’s the teachers and students whose movements are supported by my playing. In both of those cases there’s a feeling of collaboration for me; we are creating something together by combining our respective talents, whether it’s for an audience or for ourselves in that moment. The challenges that come with playing alongside other people – be it other musicians, dancers, vocalists, or whoever – push me to do better, to be worthy of working with these other performers who have dedicated themselves to their own crafts and are working just as hard to do well by them.

I also get inspired by particularly moving pieces of music, especially ones that are adept at conveying an emotional story. I am a huge instrumental score/soundtrack junkie, whether it’s from films or video games or what have you, and it’s not uncommon for me to shut myself away in my bedroom with my phone and a pair of earbuds and just sit and listen for an hour or three. Doing so when I have the time is relaxing for me, but it also reminds me why I do what I do and why I love it so much. Having a story told to me through music alone reminds me that I’m capable of doing the same, and what a pleasure and privilege it is to be able to reach someone else’s mind and heart through something that I can create.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I’ve always held a fascination with music, even when I was a very young age. At this point I really don’t remember always wanting to be a musician, but when I was seven my parents asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons and I recall taking to them immediately. My parents got me this tiny little keyboard to practice on, and once it was apparent that I was getting better and better – and fast, at that – my teacher urged them to buy me an actual piano. (Spoiler alert: they chose to make the investment, and I bet they’re glad it paid off!) As time went on I got more and more invested in being able to play the piano, so much so that I left other hobbies and commitments behind (including playing softball and learning to play the trumpet). It got to the point where it followed me to school, so to speak: I got my first real shot at accompanying in sixth grade, when I learned to play a song we were singing in choir and was then allowed to accompany the group at a concert. More opportunities arose in middle school when I joined the orchestra and jazz band, and by high school I was both singing and playing piano in the choirs I had joined. By the time I was nearly a legal adult I had clearly decided that yes, this was definitely the path I wanted to continue taking.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I’m not sure if calling it a unique feature is correct or not, but I’ve developed this one tendency that pops up when I’m involved in musical theatre that people have come to associate with me: I have to see to it that the production’s band/orchestra gets a name. I just do. Every musical has a band, and every band needs a name. It’s silly, but I’ve found it can be a bit of a bonding experience among the musicians (and even the cast and crew) when it comes to deciding upon one.

Often times the names will be inspired by something from the musical in question; sometimes it’s a line of dialogue, sometimes a lyric, and sometimes even a tempo marking in our music. Two years ago when I music directed a production of The Rocky Horror Show, we named our band The Satanic Mechanics (inspired by a lyric taken from “Sweet Transvestite”). Last year in a production of Little Shop of Horrors, inspired by the brief gore featured at the end of the first act, we called ourselves Gut Buckets (but you can’t just say it; you have to sing it to the tune of the Hot Pockets jingle). And recently for a production of Chicago, we had two drummers splitting the five-week run between them, which essentially meant we had two different bands, so we needed names for both of them! We ended up alternating between The Spread Eagles and The Dirty Bums (both names having been pulled from one of the show’s most famous numbers, “The Cell Block Tango”).

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

It’s easier said than done, but try not to let your mistakes and insecurities discourage you from practicing your craft. Growing up, I was very much a perfectionist concerning just about everything I did, and I practically crippled myself with doubt whenever I hit too many walls when it came to practicing piano. I could be very impatient with myself, and it took me years to allow myself the courtesy of making mistakes without beating myself up afterwards. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still occasionally have bad days where I get frustrated with myself. If it does happen, though, I do allow myself some distance from whatever hurdle it is I’m trying to overcome before I attempt it again. Practicing in anger does me no good at all, and brief time away can help refresh my mood.

One other thing I try and make sure I do when practicing is give my weaknesses twice the time that I give my strengths. Sure, it’s fun playing the passages I’m good at over and over again, but that intimidating section I’m still struggling with will continue to be difficult if I never actually practice it. Yes, it will be tedious and slow-going and I may not enjoy it at first, but before I know it a week will have gone by and suddenly it’s that much less intimidating! Why was I ever afraid of that section in the first place? It’s so easy now! Because I gave it time. Slowly and in small increments, yes, but time nonetheless.

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Photo by the Humboldt Light Opera Company (https://www.hloc.org/)

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I am gray-romantic asexual.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve never encountered prejudice in my field. I was never really worried about judgment from within the theatre community, considering the vast diversity of orientations and identities I’ve seen among the people in it. Though I publically came out as asexual about four years ago, I’m sure there are still plenty of people I work with at places like the dance studio and the church I play for who have no idea I’m ace. The topic of my orientation is not one I feel comfortable just diving into without good reason, though if it happened to come up I think I’d be fine with divulging the information. The majority of people I work with outside the theatre community are pretty broad-minded, so I’d like to think I wouldn’t encounter any prejudice from them either.

I’ve only personally experienced a couple of moments of ignorance, and outside my field at that, but it was never anything hurtful. One instance was a person not knowing of the existence of the asexual spectrum (who listened intently when I offered to explain it to them), and the other was a person making a (mostly) harmless generalizing assumption about asexuality in an offhanded comment while in conversation with me.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

The idea that because a person is asexual, it means that they don’t desire – or even understand – relationships at all is one that I’ve encountered enough that it’s starting to give me a headache. I’ve seen it perpetuated in various forms of media, from fanfiction to comics and then some. It feels like too many people zero in on the misconception that asexuality = NO SEX, and then too many of those people continue on and assume that without sex there can be no relationship, which is utter bullshit.

People can be asexual and enjoy and desire sex, just as they can be asexual and not enjoy or desire sex. People can be asexual and feel and desire romantic love, just as they can be asexual and not feel or desire romantic love.

The lack of sexual attraction towards others does NOT automatically disqualify the possible desire for romance and/or intimacy.

The sooner the general populace starts to understand this, the less headachy future me will be.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

You do not have to figure yourself out right now. You have time. Some days it will feel like you needed to figure shit out weeks ago but the answer is nowhere in sight. Some days it won’t bother you at all. Just know that solving the puzzle that is you often takes more than a day. Sometimes it takes months, or even years. It’s possible you may never figure it out completely. But know that in the end, regardless of everything, your feelings are still valid. It sounds cheesy, but listen to your heart and your body. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. If you think it feels right and you feel safe, maybe give that something a shot.

And if in the end using a label makes you feel that much more comfortable, use it. If the idea of using labels is uncomfortable, then don’t. You are no less valid regardless of what you do or don’t do. You are you. And you matter.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I don’t really have an online space dedicated to my craft. (I keep telling myself to make an artist page on Facebook or post recordings on Soundcloud, but so far no dice.) I do, however, occasionally post things on Instagram (at flamingo.hate.marshmallows) related to my adventures in musical theatre. I’ve got two shows in the works as we speak, so there should be some fresh musical-related content added soon!

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Thank you, Laura, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Jessica

Today we’re joined by Jessica. Jessica is a wonderful fanartist and does quite a bit of performance art as well. She writes mostly fanfiction. When she has the chance, Jessica also enjoys participating in musical theater. It’s very apparent that she loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a writer! Primarily fanfiction, though I give original fiction an attempt every once in a while (I don’t seem to have any original ideas, sadly, or maybe it’s just that I genuinely like fanfiction better). I’ve also been performing for most of my life: singing in a trio with my mother and sister, choir when possible, and performing in various musical theater productions. Sadly, I don’t get to perform as much as I’d like to nowadays. Writing you can do anywhere and anywhen, but full-scale theatrical productions are a lot harder to fit into a busy schedule.

What inspires you?

Where writing is concerned, it’s the sheer complexity within every human being. Every character is a world unto themselves, a host of motivations and drives that makes for so much dynamism. Real people are fascinatingly full of conflict, and therein lies the potential for any given scenario to believably go a hundred different ways. How could I restrain myself from exploring all those possibilities, every choice A and choice B? Honestly, I think that’s why fanfiction appeals to me more than original works. Fanfiction provides a space for individual characters to…spread out. It gives thousands of people with differing perspectives the chance to offer up their interpretations and let them intersect, providing a fantastically intricate portrayal of a character who would otherwise only be a fraction as evolved. And once I get to know a set of characters so deeply, I find it very difficult to return to published works where I only get 300 pages and barely scratch the surface! I want to know people (re: characters), and if the author doesn’t provide me with enough depth, then I’m compelled to explore them myself, drop them in new and different scenarios and feel my way through their reactions until I’m content with what I’ve found.

With performing, it’s all in the music. There’s something transcendental in harmony, I think, when a well-tuned chord can make your soul shiver. There’s nothing more satisfying than being a part of good music.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I was always an avid reader. In fact, I completely disregarded regular forms of human interaction as a child in favor of reading Harry Potter as often as possible. Then I was introduced to fanfiction by a friend in maybe sixth grade and I was sold. I started writing it at about the same time (mostly terrible attempts at smut, just mirroring the equally terrible smut my friend gave me to start with, lol) because how could I not? I never really stopped writing, one thing or another, and now I have a degree in Creative Writing and a to-be-written list a mile long! Whether I ever get the inspiration to write an original work or not, I’ll never stop writing something.

As for the performing? Well, that wasn’t even a choice! My mother always says it was cheaper for her and dad to breed a band than to hire one, so my sister and I were raised to it. So there’s the family band with all four of us, but also the girls’ trio. My mother had a trio with two friends of hers, and they almost made it big! Made it to NYC and got onto a talk show and everything before they broke up for families instead, and me and my sister grew up listening to their CDs, so it was only natural for us each to pick a part and follow in their footsteps. Tight a cappella harmonies like the Andrew Sisters and the perfect blend of voices that comes with family. And finally, my mother worked as a music teacher at a children’s theater, so we got funneled right into that. I spent 16 years at that theater, from toddler-hood until I graduated high school (and back for another show as an alumnus), and I performed in probably 21 mainstage productions over my tenure there. Now I fit in community theater productions whenever I have the opportunity (fingers crossed for more of those).

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

I wish I did, haha. I’m sure I have linguistic markers, but I’m not self-aware enough to know what they are.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Ask questions. Especially in your writing. Just ask questions upon questions and never be satisfied with your answers because there’s always something else to explore. For one, it’ll help you flush out your stories. Get stuck? Write a list of questions you as a reader would have, and then pick a handful to answer and follow the path those lead you down. Lather, rinse, repeat. And with your characters, every answer you come up with will show you another facet of them, another angle to work, another layer of their personality and experiences that should affect the way they act and react within your story.

For performance, just work hard, honestly. I know from experience that hard work and dedication are worth so much more than natural talent. All the most successful professional performers I’ve ever seen have been middle-of-the-pack, talent-wise, but they worked their asses off, practiced intensively, and were proactive in everything they did. That’s worth more than anything else.

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I usually just say aromantic asexual and leave it at that because most people I talk to don’t know the more specific terminology, but really I would say I’m (het) lithromantic autochorrisexual. I’d also say I’m slightly romance-repulsed and definitely sex-repulsed.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I’ve been lucky enough to avoid most of that in real life, besides a well-meaning but vaguely invalidating comment or two from a friend when I was first thinking of it as a possibility. The only real instance of acephobia I’ve encountered was on an anonymous peer-therapy-type website where I went to get advice about my ambivalent feelings toward my then-boyfriend, when the person I was talking to told me I should break up with him and marry a table instead because I was probably boring. So. That was fun.

The good thing about writing, especially with fanfiction and pseudonyms and such, is that no one needs to know anything about the author. So I haven’t encountered any badness there. And the theater community oftentimes overlaps so much with the queer community that the people involved are wonderfully diverse and accepting. My orientation hasn’t come up much in that context so far, but I have doubt I would face any discrimination from my peers there.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Probably that all asexuals are sex-repulsed. I am sex-repulsed, but it offends me on principle when people assume that all of us are.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Don’t let a label take anything away from you. Don’t feel like you have to shave off corners of yourself to fit into a box, especially when the Asexual Box doesn’t even really qualify as such. Asexuality is a spectrum for a reason. Every line is made up of infinite points, every point is distinct, and not all points have a name. If you don’t fit any individual term perfectly, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong in what you feel or experience. The label is meant to fit you, not the other way around, and there is no higher authority telling you what asexuality should be or mean to you. I know that for a lot of people (myself included), there is something extremely comforting in finding a label, a definitive answer for who you are that you hadn’t had before, but don’t ever try to force yourself to change just for the sake of that. Don’t feel like you’re not ace enough to be ace, and don’t let anyone convince you that’s the case.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

My fanfictions are http://archiveofourown.org/users/clotpolesonly/works and https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1234540/. Unfortunately, I don’t really have my performances posted anywhere, but occasionally something of that sort may turn up on my Tumblr, here http://www.clotpolesonly.tumblr.com/.

Thank you, Jessica, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.