Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Month's Worth of Discovery... 'and all that Jazz.'

Basie as Brahmin: Jazz Guru Bob Hallahan

Jack-of-all-trades: Performer Scott Wichmann

It has been quite awhile since my last post... Sorry about that-- It has been quite an eventful month or so. Since the closing of 'Scapino' on January 22nd, I have taken on many fun & challenging projects, and I will fill you in on each one until your eyes glaze over and you begin to drool all over yourself. So get a bib.

'I Have a Dream':
In January, Theatre IV gave me the job of directing I Have a Dream for it's Theatre IV America touring program. For two and a half weeks, I had the pleasure of working with perhaps the most committed and talented cast of actors I have ever directed. On the first day of rehearsals, I was given their contact information-- The contact sheet had the words 'Dream Cast' at the top... It couldn't have been more aptly put.
Keydron Dunn, Brad Fairbanks, Sadrina Johnson, Christopher Schoen and Jason Weaver (a brilliant & powerful MLK) put their heart & soul into telling the moving and inspiring story of Martin Luther King through the medium of theatre. This production was truly touched by divine forces, as we rehearsed daily for two weeks at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. At the Invitational Dress Rehearsal, People got goosebumps as Jason pumped new life into the famous 'I Have a Dream' speech at the end-- It was alive, fresh, new, Immediate; And, more importantly-- Possible.
I advised the cast (as they took to the road to perform the show for children all over the country) to remember -- no matter what is happening around the world-- That they are doing the work of peace in real time. Educating children with the knowledge that there is dignity and purpose in the way of non-violence. Talk about right livelihood-- Dr. King's message was never needed more than it is today, and the cast of I Have a Dream has re-energized and re-invigorated my faith in the communicative & healing power of theatre. I will never, ever forget the experience of working, discovering, and creating such a powerfully hopeful story with them.

'The Bachelor':
In late January, I took part in the final staged reading offered by David Sennett's Richmond Ensemble Theatre. The play, a new translation of George Sands' The Bachelor, was very well received by the audience, and hopefully it will have a life beyond it's initial reading. Special thanks should go to Mr. Sennett for his service to the artists in the Richmond Community. His tireless efforts to bring actors more employment opportunites should not go unrecognized.

'An Evening With Ol' Blue Eyes':
On saturday, february 4th, I got to work again with my good friend (and jazz pianist extraordinaire) Bob Hallahan. Mr Hallahan served as arranger/musical director for Barksdale theatre's world Premiere Musical revue Ella & Her Fella, Frank-- Starring myself and Maxjazz recording artist Renee Marie-- back in 1999. This time, we performed on a bill titled 'An Evening With Ol' Blue Eyes' for the Performing Arts Foundation of Luray, Virginia, at the invitation of Chairman John LaCava. Bob & I were backed up by Bass virtuoso Randall Pharr, and 'slick-as-soap-rat-a-tat-daddy' Aaron Binder played drums. These guys are wicked good.
We swung the you-know-what out of 18 Sinatra tunes. Here is the set-list from that night:
I've Got the World on a String
It's All Right With Me
I Get a Kick Out of You
Old Devil Moon
Someone to Watch Over Me
That's Life
Fly Me to the Moon
Angel Eyes
Come Fly with Me
It Was a Very Good Year
The Lady is a Tramp
The Way You Look Tonight
One For My Baby
I've Got You Under My Skin
My Way
Theme From 'New York, New York'
Day In, Day Out (encore)
It was a pleasure to perform for such a great crowd. they braved some treacherous weather to spend the evening with us. The best part for me was seeing the smiles of recognition on the faces of some of the older patrons as they recognized a tune or two they hadn't heard in years.
At the end of the evening, several audience members came up and asked me "Do you have a CD I can buy? I would buy one if you had one!!" Other people were like "Me too!!" Someone even suggested I go on American Idol. (Thanks but no thanks) I realized that they really enjoyed it and that there was a genuine connection there. This got me thinking about doing these gigs more regularly in an effort to learn and grow more as a vocalist. I really love the music of Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bobby Darin, Mel Torme, Nat 'King' Cole, Oscar Brown, Jr, and so many others from the heyday of the American Songbook.
I'm looking forward to finding my own voice and finding more songs to sing-- I'm being pulled in that direction and I think I'll follow its' call. Richmond is a great place for learning the craft of Music, and it is home (or has been home) to some really talented and committed professionals. Some of these include the above mentioned messrs. Hallahan, Pharr & Binder (sounds like a swingin' law firm) and the world-reknowed talents of vocalist Renee Marie, drummer Howard Curtis, bassist Elias Bailey, and pianist Daniel Clarke, to name just a few.
If anyone is planning an event which requires live music, email me at

Now--I just have to find out if Garanimals makes a tuxedo...

Vipassanna Meditation Course:
After the Luray performance, I spent ten days taking part in a Vipassanna Meditation Course in Shelburne Falls, Massachussetts. The course was taught by SN Goenka, and quite frankly I would recommend it to anyone. The practice of Vipassanna is a form of insight meditation which deepens the mind/body connection through observation of the breath--and the physical sensations which the body produces.
Sounds simple, but putting it into practice can be maddening, boring, frustrating and downright painful. Ultimately the practice teaches two things: Awareness and Equanimity-- Two traits which I have not always skilfully cultivated in my life. (The understatement of the millenium) Vipassanna teaches one to take the steps necessary to live a harmonious, balanced life; neither reacting aversely to unpleasant sensations ("Damn!! this cold weather is driving me insane!!") nor grasping and clinging to pleasurable ones ("Gee, I want summer to last forever!!").
Through this practice, one becomes aware of the changing nature of all phenomena (doo-DOO-dee-doo-doo!), both inner and outer... and, with continued practice, deep observation, and diligence... someday, something like true wisdom might dawn!! Holy Crap!!

As 'Caddyshack's' groundskeeper Carl Spackler said "So... I got that goin' for me..."

The retreat itself was difficult-- but well worth it. For ten days, I took a vow of noble silence--(I know, I can hear all of my friends say 'Dude, YOU shut up for ten whole days??'-- No way!!) Yes, friends, I undertook a vow of Noble silence (Silence of body, speech and mind, in an effort to eliminate all distractions) We awoke at 4am every morning, meditated according to the technique for a cumulative ten or twelve hours a day (not consecutive) ate simple vegetarian meals, listened to Dharma talks by SN Goenka, and tried to be mindful of every movement, thought, and breath throughout the day. You know... Little stuff. Wicked easy.
The first three days were focused on Anapana Meditation, or simple observation of the breath, as it flows in and out of the nose. This technique sharpens the awareness capabilty of the mind, and attunes it to pick up the physical sensations from the body. We soon learned the Vipassanna technique, expanding that awareness-- We focused on every part of the body, from head to foot, foot to head, simply observing the sensations, as they arose and passed away. We did this continuously.
By day six, some serious emotions were bubbling to the surface along with the sensations, and I began to feel very sad and isolated. I wept openly & cathartically... But meditation isn't about cryin'. With the help of my teacher, I did the best I could to simply observe this emotional storm, and not let myself get caught up in it. I began to see the transient nature of these wacky physical, mental and emotional phenomena.

Dear reader-- You're drooling. Far Out.

Sounds very involved, but it was really cool-- I started observing the fleeting nature of the world around me every morning. It was easily reflected by the weather. All I had to do was look out my dorm window. There was this large pine tree outside, matted proudly against the sky. Some days, the blue sky expanded majestically behind the tree with the sun beating down; Other days, the rain & hail pelted the tree mercilessly. One day it snowed. Another day, the wind battered the tree back and forth; Yet this tree stood it's ground, deeply rooted, and allowed the world to turn without attaching to the sun's warmth or displaying aversion to the rain, hail, or wind. No matter what, the tree stood proudly. Just a tree, not trying to be anything else. I found myself attributing to this tree a profound sense of humble dignity. I thought, as I watched silently from my window "I want to be a wise person someday; Wise... like this tree is wise."

How do you like that? The freakin' tree taught me how to meditate. Sweet!!

(I hope to cultivate the diligence necessary to keep on practicing this technique-- heaven knows that Awareness and Equanimity are paramount to an artist... Especially one who's between gigs.)

Home, Sweet Home:
After the retreat was over, I travelled to my hometown of Pittsfield, Mass and spend a week with my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Sandy. They are tremendously giving and loving folks, and I have been blessed to have them in my life. It was great catching up with them. Then-- Jackpot!! My Mom came up on the third day (she is moving back to Mass from North Carolina) and I was the luckiest guy in the world for a week. I was able to spend some much needed time with my Mother, the sweetest woman I have ever known. A five-minute drive, and BAM! I got to pop in and visit with my Father, who is "Wise like this tree is wise," without having to meditate. Dad showed me his model train setup-- It goes all around his downstairs living room, workshop & storage shed-- It is awesome. (I love my Dad, because as hard a worker as he is, when he gets down in his workshop & starts tinkering with his model railroad, he's really just a big kid)
I saw all of my little cousins; All of them are growing and talking-- and throwing up-- and radiating the unique joy of childhood. It was a really great visit. I re-connected with my family, went to Friendly's with my cousins Carrie & Tammie (they shook their heads as I ordered a Garden-Burger) I watched some Celtics games, got my tail kicked in 'ESPN NFL 2K' by my 14-year old cousin Bradley; I reminisced, explored and observed just how much my hometown has changed over the years... Yet I can't wait to visit again-- and bring my wife Jennifer with me next time.

Thomas Wolfe was full of shit-- You can go home again.

Today, Tomorrow & Beyond:

After such an introspective month or so, filled with music, inspiration, meditation, and family, I am even more aware of the many blessings in my life. My family is #1 on the list. I wouldn't be the person I am without them, and I feel incredibly lucky to have their continued support and encouragement... Even if some of them are still scratching their heads wondering "Now-- What the hell was he doing for ten days exactly??"
As things stand right now-- tomorrow, Sunday, March 5th, at 1pm, I will be doing a staged reading of a new play at the Firehouse Theatre. The play is entitled The Secret of Madame Bonnard's Bath, written by world-reknowned playwright Israel Horovitz. Mr Horovitz will be in attendance, and there will be a short Q & A afterwards. It's cool enough that I'm helping to evolve the work of such a distinguished american playwright-- but a really swell perk is that Mr. Horovitz is father of Adam Horovitz, AKA the 'King Adrock' from my favorite musical trio,
The Beastie Boys.

(...I guess-- wait-- doesn't that make Israel 'Dad-Rock'??....)

After the reading, I will be waiting by the phone to find out if my next gig is a go or not-- My participation in the Actor's Guild of Lexington (KY) production of Richard Dresser's Rounding Third is still up in the air-- Some last-minute concerns have to be ironed out before I can start rehearsals (talk about a leap of faith!!)... I am also up for a few roles in various shows about town, but for the time being, I must be comfortable with uncertainty... No matter what happens, I will try to practice awareness and equanimity, (meaning I will try not to freak the hell out) and try to always be conscious of the opportunities for personal peace which are present in every moment. easier said than done.

So, umm...well-- That's all for now.... The Virginia Baseball Congress Schedule comes out soon & the VBC Cardinals are looking good this year; We're working out and staying healthy in an attempt to win lots of games. I'd love to hit .300 and steal 25 bases-- that would rock.

Oh-- I am now caught up in the highly-addictive MYSPACE Phenomena-- I recently created a page for myself there. There are some cool pictures, sweet tunes, and links to people way more interesting than me. You can visit it at:

May All Beings Be Happy,

Scott Wichmann

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