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Update from Stephen Diaz

It’s been a while since I left NZ and my birthday on Tuesday really highlighted how grateful I am for each and every one of you (I know there are definitely more, this email is for them too). I will treasure my last few weeks in NZ for the rest of my life. All the benefit concerts and the time I got to spend with you was so special. Thank you for all of your encouragement and your belief in me. I feel like the luckiest boy in the world. There have been many moments in Europe where I realise how lucky we are as young singers in NZ with all the opportunities we can take hold of in our beautiful country. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Just before I left New Zealand I made some really important progress with Frances in our final lessons. We took my sound lower into my body which is the step I needed to take towards a more reliable, stable way of singing. This progress has been complimented and developed through the lessons and coaching I’ve received since being in Europe. My voice has really changed quite a bit since I last sang for you, it’s anchor is lower and stronger. The composer (Fabrizio Cassol) approached me one day after rehearsal and asked if I’d like to join him after rehearsal or on a weekend, just to make some sounds together. We’ve met a few times where he sits with his saxophone improvising while I repeat his improvisations with my voice (Pitch, Rhythm and Volume). His intention was to get me to sing in a more relaxed fashion, without allowing my technical thought to replace emotional expression on my face and in my body. He asked me to focus on the lower harmonics of his sound when I tried to reproduce it and to move around on the bench in a fluid motion if ever I felt like any tension was creeping in. After a few sessions I’ve become more comfortable with reaching notes or navigating the geography of the melody without it affecting my outward physical nature on stage. We both enjoy these sessions and we will continue to have them. I’ll let you know how it’s going in my next update. Ghent has been FREEZING. I’ve never experienced cold like this in my life. I know it’s not the worst yet, but its cold. I’m still enjoying it though. I love the little city. It makes me happy. I live in an apartment with two of the singers. They played the Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the version some of you may have seen at the Arts Festival in 2015. Our city is quite small and I really enjoy riding my bike everywhere. We have one of the most beautiful christmas markets. It’s set in the centre of the city, between the three large cathedrals and the surrounding alley ways. The stalls are housed in little log cabins and the food is delicious. I experienced snow falling for the first time. It was exciting, even though it only stayed for a couple of days. It made the city and the markets even more magical. Riding my bike back home after the first fall was interesting. I made it with no broken bones and I managed to help a man whose car got stuck in the middle of the road, blocking all of us trying to get home after work. Antonio has been with me most of the time but he’s also spending some time in Spain with his family and bonding with his new niece. I asked him If I could send his greetings and he said “yes please, I miss them”. We both miss you. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to make a little trip home towards the end of the year. I’ll let you know as soon as we do. We have a ten minute walk to work every morning, where we start with a warm up with one of the company dancers. He also assisted with choreography and staging. We had a really intensive rehearsal period for the show. For three months we were working from 10am - 6pm at the ballet studios, staging the show on the set which is modelled after the holocaust memorial in Berlin. Fabrizio and the director (Alain Platel) have really saturated the performance with the way death is processed by different cultures. There are moments of morning and sorrow as is common in western tradition and then there are bursts of celebration as we see in african or tribal tradition. The show also includes a video of a special lady who chose to be euthanised. There’s been significant growth emotionally and expressively through this process for all of the performers. Alain has really pushed us to find a special part of ourselves to bring to the stage. When ever he required something more of us, he asked us to forget that there would be anyone watching us and to focus on our true relationships with the people we are working with and our personal feelings about whats occurring on stage. He stopped us from creating a character for the show and led us to being ourselves fully and authentically. The performance has become a moment of reflection and therapy for suit feels like the audience just happen to be observing a moment in our lives. One of the challenges for me was that I knew that my grandmother wasn’t doing very well and that when I saw her in December during the holidays, it would be the last time. Before we ended rehearsal I i found myself preparing for the moment she would no longer be here, by imagining the moment she joins me on stage after she passed. I went home for 10 days over the festive period and the whole family was there, apart from my brother and one of my cousins. We spent some special time at my grandmothers bedside making music, telling stories, laughing, reminiscing and celebrating. It was so wonderful to reconnect with my family. My grandmother passed a week after I got back to Europe (3 weeks before her 91st birthday, she had a great innings), fortunately most of the family was still there on holiday and she had a beautiful farewell. On the 7th of January we travelled to Berlin and Spent 10 days rehearsing at the Berliner Festspiele, before the premiere on the 18th of January. Berlin was an interesting experience. It was cold and dry. Super dry. I couldn’t even use the aircon in the apartment because of the dryness. I ended up getting hay fever but cut it short steaming with Manuka and Albas oils. Lemon honey and ginger tea worked a treat as well. I will definitely be investing in a ‘humidiflyer’ soon for some easy hydration. The show was so well received, we had full houses and standing ovations for a few minutes each of the three nights we performed there. I was also fortunate enough to meet up with some kiwi singers while I was in Berlin. I hope that I get to meet many more throughout the tour. I’ve added some photos of my journey so far.

As I mentioned before, the process of creating this show has had a huge effect on me emotionally. Sometimes the effect becomes a bit taxing. While sitting on a plane after a rehearsal period, I decided that I needed an outlet for it. I started to write a journal and its turned out to be an important tool for me. I don’t write in it everyday, but when I’m overwhelmed with emotion and in need of perspective. My birthday morning was one of those days. I was reflecting on the last year of my life and it inspired me to write. I don’t often share this writing, but I’d like to share this entry with you. Part of it is connected to other passages in my journal, so it may seem a bit obscure. You are part of the ‘they’ I write about and I thank you again for being one of ’them'.

Tears I cry. I’ve never listened to my tears before, I hadn’t realised that they were for me first, before anyone else may be allowed receive them. They’re my souls indication that it is full and in need of release. I feel this warmth in the center of my face as the tears burst through. Tears swollen with the feelings my soul has been harboring for some time. Tears of gratitude are lingering on my eyelids before being released into the world. I send thoughts of thankfulness to every soul for filling my soul with encouragement, determination, joy and love throughout this journey. The souls who are the they, guiding me to discover and embrace my fire. I am allowed. I am liberated. Merci.

Best wishes for 2018 and all my love, Stephen

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