If she’s not lecturing at Northwestern as Head of Musical Theater (Vocal Studies), then she’s in downtown Chicago coaching the cast of one of the latest musicals (this time it’s Book of Mormon), or she’s traveling to New York to teach vocal students… all while juggling time with her husband and daughter. This balanced babe seems to have it all under control, and she is filling us in on how she does it. Meet Melissa Foster.
BB: How did you end up turning your passion into a career as educator and lecturer?
I’ve always loved the performing arts. I caught the singing bug at the age of 4, when my Mother took me to see the national tour of Annie at the Auditorium Theatre. My mom loves to tell the story of my going out to the driveway after we got home from the matinee. I had decided it was my stage, and I spent the afternoon belting out “The Sun’ll come ouuuuuuut TOMORROW” for all of the neighbors. That’s pretty much been me ever since.
But family has also been extremely important to me. My parents still live in the suburbs of Chicago, and my brothers and sister live in the city as well. I always knew that I wanted a family, and that being an involved parent was important to me.
Finally, I love Northwestern University, it is my alma mater, and a truly magnificent institution. My undergraduates are extremely intelligent, amazingly talented, and relentlessly driven. Many of my students are currently featured in musicals on Broadway and/or in National Tours. Being offered the opportunity to become the Head of Musical Theatre Vocal Studies offers me a chance not only to teach at the highest level, but also allows me to keep both my nuclear and extended family a priority in Chicago, which is just plain awesome. I feel so lucky that my work is also my passion, and that somehow, I’ve managed to keep everything that I love as equal parts of the pie of life.
BB: You are also a professional vocalist, consultant and private vocal teacher. With such a busy life how do you keep the stress level to a minimum and find the time to stay fit?
Ha- I’m not going to lie, life is chaotic at times! Yesterday I spent the morning with my daughter, then drove to Northwestern to meet with students. After that I drove downtown to coach cast members from the Book of Mormon while the show is in town, and then drove back up to Northwestern for the opening of our Spring Musical and opening night gala. I had an entire wardrobe change 3 times and ate all of the meals either walking somewhere or quickly when parked in my car. Days like this aren’t out of the ordinary.
I fly to NYC to teach a studio there every 6-8 weeks. I have students all over the globe, but thanks to skype and drop box, its easy to stay connected.
I have found that early morning runs have been a lifesaver to both my health and my sanity. I run outside several mornings a week, rain or shine. I’ve even grown to love running in Chicago winters- its kind of funny; the colder it is, the prouder I feel about lacing up. I’ve also built in a minimum of 3 sets of something- be it push ups, chair squats, crunches, lunges, it can vary but I have to do 3 sets per day, some days I need to split them up- if I find that I have 2 min between classes, that might be just enough time for 20 push ups. My office is on the 5th floor of a historic building- that means no elevator. Running up and down those stairs multiple times a day to get place to place helps. It all adds up. It all creates breathers. And, anchored with my runs, it works. I belong to a gym, and I do love to go, but with the addition of a child, I found it was too easy to have that put at the bottom of a list. Building in fitness in a constant drip through the day is working right now.
BB: Any advice for women who want to pursue a career in the music field?
Start young, and don’t give up! Be true to what you love- and also listen to what you are good at. Don’t let finances be a deterrent- if you want to study and train, you can find a way to do it. And finally, have faith in yourself, you will be your biggest critic, so also remember to be your biggest fan.
BB: What’s your favorite way to unwind after a long day?
I love the nights when my husband Matt and I are both home. He’s an artist as well, so neither of us have a typical 9-5 schedule. If we are both home, he’ll cook a delicious meal (How lucky am I that my husband is not only my rock, and my better half, but also is an amazing cook). He’s health conscious as well, and so it will always be something yummy and veggie/protein focused. Since we’re both artists we can talk about our days and often offer each other helpful advice as well as an ear. It’s amazing to come back to center with dinner, amazing conversation- oh and don’t forget a glass of Cabernet or Red Zinfandel. We are wine enthusiasts as well and collect from vineyards. Follow that with the latest episode of Scandal, and you’ve just described my idea of perfection.
BB: Any other tips for our readers on how you maintain a Balanced Babe lifestyle?
This is going to sound silly, but I couldn’t exist without kale. I eat it every day. There are so many ways to eat it, it goes into everything, and it helps me feel clean and energetic. I’m constantly on the run, so I’ll eat a lot of soups while catching up on work- its an amazing way to pack in some vegetables, and its easy to eat, sometimes even drink while on the run. I can’t exist without sparkling water, I drink a LOT of it. I’ve mentioned the early morning runs. My daughter is part of a Co-Op preschool- it’s been an awesome way to stay involved in her day even when I’m away, as my husband and I (and all of the parents at the school) take active roles in the school’s functioning (my husband is the “edible education coordinator”, and I work in the classroom with the teachers and students once a month as the room mom). It’s great to know what Vivian is doing every day, and to be able to talk to her about her day just like I talk to her Daddy. My husband is amazing and a great partner with which to travel through the crazy days. I’ve talked about keeping my family (and my husband’s family) close and as an active part of my life. I think that perhaps the most important component to a balanced life is human relationships. So I can’t stress enough the importance of my friends. I have so many wonderful people in my life. They are all balanced busy people too, but we make the time to stay connected. I bounce Mom ideas and have playdates with some, I watch Game of Thrones and have tea parties with others, I spend the day texting random thoughts 24/7 with another, I go on power walks with others, I talk the industry and go to musicals and events with others, and I laugh with and depend on all of them.
BB: Any future plans you’d like to share with us?
I would say to slow down, but this isn’t fiction. :o)