Your chance for the spotlight and some fun

11:49 PM, Dec 07, 2013

Vern Lindberg sings at a Golden Link singaround at Twelve Corners Presbyterian Church in Rochester on Tuesday, November 26, 2013. (Mike Bradley)/


Written By Dresden Engle

The arts play a big role in my house, from dance parties in the living room to dance class every Saturday morning and after-school piano lessons each Monday.

Alas, those hours spent in jazz/tap/ballet and hip-hop class, and the continuous rehearsing of the “Peanuts” theme song on the piano, feature only my young daughters in starring roles. Mom and Dad are merely spectators.

Many of us grown-ups long to get out from behind the minivan steering wheel or out of our theater seat to participate in the performing arts — to have some fun and perhaps also to bask in the spotlight for 15 minutes (or even just 15 seconds) of fame.

I just finished performing in a local run of Les Misérables, and though it was a magical experience, it was tough to balance my stage life and real life. And beyond the time factor, some who long for the spotlight have stage fright or the fear of failure.

Between sixth and eighth grade, judgment kicks in, and that’s when people stop following their impulses, and that includes creativity and risk-taking,” says Law Tarello, founder of Search Engine Improvisation Training Center, who is also a teaching artist with Rochester School District and an adjunct lecturer at The College at Brockport. “As adults, we need to embrace the freedom to fail, whether you are a performing onstage without a net or a pro football player fumbling a ball.”

Plus, arts are good for your well-being. Scientific studies have found links between singing in a choir and increased social and physical health. A study by researchers at Gothenburg University in Sweden, published over the summer in Frontiers in Neuroscience, looked at high school choir members singing in unison. The teens’ heart rates slowed and then gradually synchronized to the music’s tempo. The finding led the researchers to conclude that, like yoga, the controlled breathing used in choral singing has long-term beneficial effects on heart health and blood pressure.

So, may we interest you in a little appetizer of arts performance, a taste of audience participation or perhaps singing with a chorus that performs just once or a few times a year?

The good news is that from singing Handel’s “Messiah” to being a movie extra and shouting out improv-line suggestions, Rochester has plenty of opportunities that allow you to join in the fun.

Sing a chorus or two

For unto us a child is born!” The tradition of the sing-in “Messiah” dates back to the early 19th century, soon after Handel debuted his famed oratorio in 1742.

Start warming up, because tonight at 7:30 you can literally sing the “Hallelujah” chorus with a few hundred of your friends.

The Brockport College-Community Chorus, accompanied by the Brockport Symphony Orchestra, is holding its annual sing-along at Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 152 Main St., Brockport. On the program is Part I of Handel’s masterwork, along with the “Hallelujah” chorus; you’re invited to bring your own score. Tickets are $5 at the door. For information, call (585) 395-2787.

(We’d be remiss in not noting that “The Messiah” makes another appearance tonight. The Rochester Chamber Orchestra leads a full-scale performance of the work at 7 p.m. at Hochstein Performance Hall, 50 N. Plymouth Ave. Call (585) 334-7120.)

Rochester has a great tradition of sing-alongs.

One of the popular annual series is Eastman Summer Sings, when singers of all ages and abilities are invited to take part in choral music reading sessions held on successive weeks in July at Kilbourn Hall. This coming summer will mark the 20th year led by William Weinert, professor of conducting and director of choral activities at the Eastman School of Music.

Another is a “sing-around” held almost every Tuesday by the Golden Link Folk Singing Society from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at 12 Corners Presbyterian Church, 1200 S. Winton Road, Brighton.

Since the group was founded in 1971, singers and musicians have gathered at Golden Link sing-arounds, one of the longest-running sing-arounds in the country.

Each week there is a theme as well as a volunteer leader, who goes “around” the room and each attendee can sing a song, request a song, or pass. Acoustic instruments, from dulcimers to harmonicas to banjos, spontaneously accompany the songs.

Group singing and song-sharing are emphasized in the folk tradition, but beyond that we are generally folks who like to make music together,” says Valerie Coushaine, vice president of the society’s board and organizer of the sing-arounds. “We don’t expect to quit our day jobs, but we just all love music and it’s ever-changing, every week.”

She began attending the sing-arounds three years ago after she became an empty-nester and could finally focus on her own interests and hobbies, but also to overcome stage fright. What she encountered was a warm, welcoming group, and her fears of performing live are now behind her.

And it’s a wide variety of music, since folk is a big umbrella these days,” she said. “It’s traditional and contemporary folks as well as country blues. Even my favorite Grateful Dead songs I know by heart are folk songs.”

This month, the themes are “Holiday Sing-around” this Tuesday and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” on Dec. 17. Go to goldenlink.org.

Join a chorus or two

If you want that heart to join the beats of a group, Rochester has an abundance of choruses of every type.

The Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus is entering its 32nd year, with weekly rehearsals from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 N. Fitzhugh St. The chorus is different from many others because you can sing along with them at a rehearsal if you can’t join long term. Artistic director Robert Strauss will conduct a “voice placement” meeting to determine your range and interests and you can join right in.

To see the chorus in action, next up is the “Come Wassail Away” holiday concert at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Hochstein Performance Hall. Promised is a show that intertwines a comedic lighthearted play with music and dance. Go to thergmc.org

There’s also the Greece Choral Society, which joins the Greece Symphony and ROC City Singers for a 7 p.m. concert next Sunday at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 3003 Dewey Ave.

People can also join (sometimes auditions are required) the Rochester Oratorio Society (which performs with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra in January); the Concentus Women’s Chorus (whose holiday concert is at 3 p.m. next Sunday at Asbury First United Methodist Church, 1050 East Ave.); and Madrigalia (which has a concert at 3 p.m. today at Bethany Presbyterian Church, 3000 Dewey Ave.).

If singing is not your thing, many towns have bands and orchestras as well.

Get some class

Not every community has an Eastman School of Music and a Hochstein School of Music & Dance. And as we count our lucky stars that we have top-notch performances by and at these two institutions, this also means we have top-notch instructors and classes.

The Eastman Community Music School has dozens of courses that are offered jointly for youngsters and adults, such as “Basic Conducting” and “Theatre for Singers.” The school’s adult-only New Horizon Ensembles include vintage jazz, beginning band, and brass, clarinet, and saxophone.

Hochstein offers adult classes like “Piano Kindergarten for Grown-Ups!” and “Developing the Adult Actor-Singer,” as well as in instrument improvisation.

In addition, several town rec programs and smaller arts organizations offer a handful of adult performance courses. RAPA, for example, offers adult ballet classes plus acting classes and stage-dance classes for those ages 14 and older. (See story on Page 4C.)

Laugh out loud

The following line is heard during most every comedy improv show: “OK, to get started, we are going to need a suggestion from the audience.”

Being the audience member who shouts out a suggested occupation or setting can be plenty fun. But if you want to be the one on the stage, exercising your fast-thinking improv skills and wowing the audience with your quick wit, there are many options in a community rich with talented improv groups.

While you may try your luck at being the audience member randomly called onstage to be part of a skit, it may be more fun to grab the improv bull by the horns and take a class or sit in on a workshop.

The Village Idiots offer free workshops every Sunday from 6 to 7 p.m. at its theater on the second floor of Village Gate Square, 274 N. Goodman St. At 9:30 p.m. most Fridays and 7:30 p.m. most Saturdays, the group presents Improv Comedy Battles, where the improvisers compete for the audience’s affection. Tickets are $5; go to improvvip.com.

Search Engine Improvisational Training Center presents and teaches improv. More than 300 adults have taken classes since SEI formed in 2010; 60 remain regular performers. The classes’ popularity continues.

One thing that is unique to improvisational theater is people see themselves in it,” says SEI founder Tarello. “If I go watch a ballet, I’m blown away the whole time, but I don’t say, ‘I can do that.’ There is that line in the audience that this is where I am and that is where they are. But with improv, audience members see a reflection of themselves and want to give it a try.”

Also, improv appeals to people who have stage fright, because you’re part of a team and not alone on the stage. Plus, you’re allowed to mess up and, in most cases, the audition laughs along with you.

SEI performances and classes are at The Space, 1199 East Main St. Auditions for new teams are coming up in January (all are accepted; the audition is just a formality). Go to searchengineimprov.com or call (585) 209-0734.

Get ready for your close-up

The trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had some very identifiable scenes of Rochester from its shoot here in May. And the production company’s call for extras to be in the chase scenes was a hot ticket.

While Rochester doesn’t have a blockbuster like Spider-Man filming every week, the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film & Video Office often does have opportunities for people who want to get involved. Student film projects also are regularly being made, and performers are needed for leading and supporting roles.

Students ofRIT’s School of Film & Animation are seeking actors of all ages to help with their short-film productions, including non-professionals, as well as behind-the-camera talents in makeup, special effects, and musical scoring and composition. Go to fvasa.cias.rit.edu/casting.php.

Grab the spotlight

The many community and semi-professional theater organizations in town are members of collaborative group TheatreROCs. TheatreRocs.org has information about upcoming auditions for plays, musicals, or play readings.

But, if you’re more interested in a one-night-stand role, how about a whodunit murder mystery, where the audience helps solve the crime?

The next participatory show of The Mystery Company of the Finger Lakes,now based at RAPA’s East End Theatre, is Murder: A Love Story, a Casablanca, a spoof that will be onstage from Feb. 6 to 14.

Or book the group for a tailor-made show for your next corporate or club event. Go to mysterycompany.net.