Saturday, December 17, 2011

Be Jolly

Today I wake up in south Texas, basically Mexico, to the sound of Fox News blaring on the other side of the wall my bedroom shares with my Dad's flatscreen TV.  It has been a whirlwind week of all-nighters, packing, working, and wrapping things up in New York in preparation for the holidays.  I've been to see three movies and multiple friends and survived a night of the worst bar pick-up lines ever ("Have you ever solved a Rubicks cube?").  I've worn 4-inch heels to LaGuardia airport at 3:30am to catch my flight.  I've lucked out and used my empty row on the airplane to stretch out horizontally for the entire trip.  And I've just started to relax.  Shuffling groggily into the living room, I have just enough time to put on the tea kettle and yawn at the Republican debate recap on the tube when my Dad says, "I thought this morning we could talk about what you can do to fix your auditions so that you start getting what you want out of them."

Ah, Dad.  No one else can quite pull off the confront-you-with-heavy-business-before-you've-even-brushed-your-teeth-in-the-morning conversations like you.  No one can reheat bean soup for breakfast with a shot of ketchup because George Burns said it's good like you.  No one can hone in on what I'm trying to avoid but shouldn't the way you do.  No one can actually comprehend and talk about show business without being in it like you.  I love you, Dad.

As they say in The Godfather, "This is the business we have chosen."  It's not that I want to un-choose my path in life.  It's that every year right around Christmas I like to slow down, step back, reassess, and rethink my business.  I like to step away for a week or two, drink a lot of eggnog, and watch westerns.  I like to pretend that there's no work to do or music to face.  I like to recap my year, pat myself on the back, and not think about it.  But my Dad never really lets me stop, and for that I am very grateful because, ultimately, I don't want to stop.  My Dad has a gift for helping me combine my rest and recuperation with reinforcement, whether I like it or not.  "What can you do to book your auditions?" he asks, relentless, over our breakfast of ketchup soup.  George Burns was right.  Reheated soup is great with a shot of ketchup.  Who knew?

There are several things we come up with.  Have vision and clarity.  Know who you are.  Do your own thing.  Have a point of view.  Do something dazzling.  Make a big choice.  Walk in the room with positive energy.  Be genuine.  But my favorite thing we come to is simple.  It's something my Dad has been telling me since day 1 of my life: "Just be Jeanne Joe."  And have fun!

The truth is in life, in art, in acting, in business, the most valuable resource a person has is their own self.  It's what makes great performers amazing: they are who they are, and they work from there, and no one else can do what they do.  This is so simple, and sometimes so hard to remember in the midst of trudging up the mountain of your goals.  It's so easy to get derailed, discouraged, diverted into thinking patterns or behaviors that diminish and dilute your chutzpah.  It's so easy for me to forget to enjoy myself as I go about this crazy adventure of being an actress.  But that's what matters most!  AND it's what will make it all work, in the end.  These two words are the key...  

enjoy yourself.

Last night we're watching The Aviator and Dad turns to me and says, "Do you think you can do what Cate Blanchett does?" It's funny that he picks her as the measure to hold myself up against, as she is one of my all-time acting heroes.  When she performed Streetcar Named Desire at BAM a couple years ago, I shelled out almost an entire week's income for tickets to the special benefit show with a cast/member mixer gala.  After trying on, tearing off, accessorizing, and re-imagining multiple outfits, I took a day off work and wore my Gucci shoes (yes, I have a pair of Gucci shoes, don't ask how I got them - no one was hurt and that's what's important).  At the gala over the intoxicating post-show buzz and live New Orleans jazz, my date Shirin Tinati dared me to go talk to Ms. Blanchett.  Yes, it's true, Cate Blanchett was only ten feet away from us surrounded by bodyguards and BAM big-wigs, glowing with a super-human radiance that defies description.  All I had to do was put one Gucci heel in front of the other, look her in the eye, and form words.

Ahh!  I couldn't do it!  That's how in love with her I am.  Even her skin seems more expressive than ordinary skin.  Do I think I can do what she does?  How could Dad know to ask me that?  It's a moment of truth.  It's a soul-searching look in the mirror of my mind.  I think for a minute and reply, "I don't know if I can do what she does, but I can do what I do."

Dad smacked his hands together.  "Great answer."

The best way to refresh and revitalize my career and my self over this break is to remember this simple truth: I can do what I do.  Enjoy.  Myself.  Be me.  Have fun.  This is the business I have chosen, and I am thankful for a full and fun year.  When the going gets tough, I am thankful I have my Dad and my own inner voice to remind me of the simple truths.  Why focus on what I haven't done yet?  I get to do plenty of cool things, like this video I'll post below by Kings in the Back Row.

So, gentle reader, I share all of this with you today because I was in need of a pep talk and perhaps this will encourage you as well.  Whether your dream is to act, write, work, parent, love, farm, or drive a truck, your greatest asset (and sometimes your only one) is yourself.   What can I do to book my auditions?  Be myself.  What can I do to achieve my goals?  Be myself.  What can I do to enjoy my life?  Be myself.  It's that simple.  Yay for Christmas!  Yay for Dads!  Yay for reminders of what I knew all along.  Yay for us, gentle reader, as we take the time this holiday season (and beyond) to enjoy ourselves.  Let's get out there and get jolly!


Departures - KBR LAB from Kings in the Back Row on Vimeo.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Adventureland

My big brother is a cool dude.  Like many little sisters, I've always looked to him as being sort of a superhero.  He's helped me through tough times like breakups, going as far as to send me flowers once a week for a month during one real doozy.  Once he used up his annual vacation time from work to fly up to my mother's house in the woods to help her after a big surgery.  But you'd never really know he was such a serious do-gooder, as he's always quite nonchalant.  He's more likely to be caught introducing Star Wars to people who didn't even know they needed it in their lives.  He got me hooked on Avenged Sevenfold, and for years has lied through his teeth about where he got the giant scar on his shoulder (I was there when it happened, and I KNOW that it wasn't an epic shark battle).  He's funny and sweet and even through the significant distance of our twelve year age gap and different zip codes, I've always counted him among my best friends.

And last week, I got to be there as he got married.  As a starving artist, I've often had to trade off certain life events.  Weddings, birthdays, funerals - sometimes it's just impossible to make it work when you're in New York and lots of your besties are on the west coast.  This one, though, I could not miss.  I returned to my childhood land of Orange County, California for a week, and then on National Metal Day (yep) my brother got married.  I cried, he cried, Grandpa cried.  As Captain Jack Sparrow once said, "I love weddings!  Drinks all around!"

One of my favorite memories of our wedding celebration was a trip we took to Disneyland on the eve of the wedding day.  Insane planning?  Meh.  If you know me, you know I'm a terrible planner and spend most of my life shooting from the hip and scrambling busily from crisis to crisis.  Imagine a whole family of these people, and you'll have an accurate picture of the troop that decided on Wednesday to go to Disneyland Thursday before the wedding on Friday.  Goodness.  And the first place we hit up was Adventureland.  They pump something into the air to make it smell epically exotic (magic?!), and I swear you can hear bongo music in the background (magic?!), and they light torches and have a shop that sells overpriced Indiana Jones hats and it's easy to pretend I'm in Casablanca.  Going there with my new step-nephew was great because he is 7 and everything is an adventure to him.  Before we left for the day, he drew symbols on napkins for each of us and handed them out, saying, "Here, this is your superpower."  Totally awesome.

But anyway, I bring up Adventureland because I think it is a serviceable metaphor.  I think Adventureland is a good word for my brother's new marriage, and what their life will be like, and what mine is like as I get to experience and observe and share my life with others.  Flying out for this wedding was an adventure, as was stopping in Chicago on the way back (but that's another story).  The wedding was an adventure, but the marriage itself will be a totally different adventure.  My brother and his new wife have already been hit with some traumas; a death in the family, a chronic illness diagnosis in the family, a layoff in the family, and a week-long visit from me and my mom.  Not a fairy tale, exactly.  But ultimately it's better than a fairy tale - because it's real.  It's better than a fairy tale because they're sticking with each other in the absence of the fairy tale.  It's an adventure.

He doesn't know he's gonna make it
Sometimes I forget what an adventure looks like from the perspective of the person IN the action - I mean, I know Indiana Jones isn't going to get killed because he's the main character and the movie is NAMED after him, but HE doesn't know that!  All he knows is Nazis are trying to kill him again, and they probably will have snakes.  I know the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland doesn't actually take me into an ancient tomb with fire-pits and skeletons shooting invisible poisonous blow-darts at me, but a child might not know that.  My new step-nephew was definitely surprised by the blow-darts.  We never really know what we're in for.

Being there for my brother's huge life event is so fun for me largely because I know the main character.  Like watching Indiana Jones, I just know my brother is going to be the winner in his story.  Being involved even peripherally is terrific not only because I love a good love story (who doesn't?!?) - but because it's exciting to watch the adventure unfold.  It's not formulaic or predictable.  My brother and his bride are grown-ups.  They're real.  They're dealing with stuff, and yet they're willing to step in the ring themselves.  They're champs. 

Disney's Adventureland has a map and a layout and the rides are on tracks, but real Adventureland is unpredictable.  Sometimes it's good and other times, holy moley batman, it sucks.  I'm not meaning to imply that marriage sucks.  What I mean is, marriage is for life, and life is tricky.  That's why watching people like my brother and his wife love each other well is so awesome.  It's like watching Indiana Jones beat up the bad guys again and again, surprising even himself with his success.  But he keeps doing it.  Why?  Because he's freaking Indiana Jones, that's why.

They don't know they're gonna make it
I often talk big about adventure and glory and fun and positivity in life, and other mumbo jumbo meant to encourage myself as much as other people - but the reality is life gets difficult and scary real fast.  I've missed things I didn't want to miss, and stuck around places where I didn't want to be, because I told myself that was the price I had to pay to pursue my dreams.  Adventure, when you're in the thick of it, is always teetering on the edge of disaster.  That's what our lives do, and our character and choices are sometimes our only compass.  Watching someone like my brother dive in has been pretty inspiring.

After all, Indiana Jones wouldn't give up.  My brother won't.  And neither can I.  No giving up! Adventureland, homicidal blowdart-shooting skeletons, starving artist-ness and all.  I know, I know - it's kind of a hokey metaphor and I am sure that if my brother reads this he will roll his eyes and ask me why I didn't use a better metaphor like football or something...but there it is.




Thursday, October 27, 2011

Forks in the Road and Alternate Lives

Last week, in a quiet and unscheduled moment, I logged into facebook and spied on my friends' lives.  Don't know how this goes for you, but generally for me this is a pleasant time.  You know?  I mean, I browse some music or comedy videos, see what my San Francisco people are doing, notice whether someone has a purple cow in some weird farm thing people seem to like...all in good fun and suspended internet reality.

Well normally it's all fun and games, but once in a while I'll see something on facebook that grabs me in the gut and lurches me out of my virtual opiate.  Something personal.  Something real.  Recently, that thing was a good high school friend's album of engagement photos.

I am of the age where close friends of mine are now settling down, buying houses, making families, planting roots - but I am still at the starving artist stage where I'm living paycheck to paycheck, sharing a bunkbed, and mucking up the romantic waters like it's my job.  Actually, if that is a job and you know of someone who would pay me for that and let it be my job, that would be great...

This particular friend and her fiance have stuck through high school, college, and adulthood together.  They've put each other through various vocational training programs and personal milestones, and been too stubborn to leave each other alone for roughly 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week.  How do I know this stalker-ish piece of information, you might ask?  I know because they got together about the same time my ex and I got together.

Our anniversaries were the same month, same year.  We went to the same proms together as couples (seperate make-out cars though, of course).  We worked at the same swimming pool, all of us.  We took classes at the same community college.  The boys were surfing buddies.  We even played apples and oranges together in the same college dorm when I was visiting over my spring break.

Subconsciously over time my relationship kind of tracked itself in tandem with theirs - even when I moved to New York.  When they moved in together, my ex started talking about moving in together, and I started to realize that I didn't much care for the idea.  Then when my relationship exploded in flames before folding itself to a heavy, tiny, universe-swallowing silence that I carry in my heart at all times, I watched in a daze as they sidestepped calamity and kept being together.  They just didn't stop being together!  Why not?!?!  I mean, we stopped being together.  Didn't that mean that the rest of the world had to derail too?  Didn't that mean that everything had to crash and burn? 

Often, I am ashamed to admit, I felt bitterly jealous of them throughout my post-breakup depression.  Why did they make it?  Why were they still together when we clearly loved each other more than they did?  (I mean, who thinks something like that?)  Why did they get a lifetime when I got only 5 years?  Why did they get to win?  (As if this was a competition!!)  Little twisted, right?  Probably a definite sign that I needed to be taken out of the "race"...goodness gracious. 

This is all somewhat funny to me today, as I click through their beautiful engagement photos and smile to myself at the computer (a non-creepy, non-stalker smile, by the way).  I smile seeing the contentment and comfort in their faces, and I smile recognizing the familiar natural backdrops of my hometown's gorgous outdoors in their photoshoot.  They are together and in love in the same redwoods and beaches that were there for me 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago.  They are hand in hand, looking forward at life from a shared vantage point.  I smile, seeing the life that I decided against.  I smile, knowing I could never do what they are doing.  I smile, wishing them all the best.

Yet, my emotions can't help reacting and noticing that I am not where my friends are.  In fact, my emotions are throwing a very unladylike hissy fit.  I've even been walking through the rain today humming U2's "With or Without You" to myself angstily.  "Look what could have been," my feelings say.  "I want that!!  Look what you gave up, you big dope."  (Feelings can be kinda rude.  I always hesitate to invite them to dinner parties.)

So, ok, yeah Feelings, whatever.  You have a point, I lost that - maybe.  Assuming we could have made a happy couple.  Which is doubtful.  Sometimes two plus two just equals orange.  And the TRUTH is, I lost that life because I chose a different life.  I chose to say goodbye, and walked away.  If my heart clenches a little bit and my eyes sting, and if a part of my brain is wishing uselessly for impossible things, what can be done?  Feelings, feelings, feelings... 

Feelings are only one part of me.  It's true that sometimes they seem to overwhelm and take over every other part, but that's a perception and not reality.  I can acknowledge feelings, note them, feel them: but I don't have to be their slave.  I can look around at my current vantage point, my current life, and give thanks.  Here's what I see; no redwoods, but the Chrysler building is to my left and the statue of Liberty at my feet.  No rugged beaches and salt stinging sunsets, but I'm surfing a new matrix of experiences and opportunities and living the dream as an actress in New York City.  No high school sweetheart, but I do have the love of my life (Jesus) and my home is filled with lovely people who build beauty and truth into my world.  My family is behind me and offering their love and support, enjoying the fact that one of their own gets to pursue her dreams.  City lights mesmerize me at night, and the grace of God spreads itself like a safety net under my harrowing existence.  
I have a lot to be thankful for.  And if my life is not what I imagined 8 years, 2 months, and 1 week ago, that's probably because life is a surprise.  My imagination is still growing.  My heart is still growing. 

When we say goodbye to someone or something we love, it's easy to see only the overwhelming "ouch," and we survive that ouch only to have to feel it time and again as we move on and stumble over little reminders of what we left behind.  When I look over the last 3 years since my life took this unexpected turn, sure, I see some pain and loss that I didn't want.  But there is a lot of good stuff that probably wouldn't have happened otherwise.  I had to learn to live with myself and my choices, and figure out how to still be a person after the "impossible" happened.  I had to learn to let go and forgive - and also to forgive myself for doing things I never thought I would do.  And now there are film festivals, faith builders, MFA degrees, plays, travels, new loves, and a hard-earned but precious new honesty about myself.  There are late nights in jazz clubs, holidays in Texas, agents and new business bank accounts for a theater piece that I am co-creating and co-producing.  

I see these things as a direct result of the Unexpected, the Unwelcomed change in my life plan.  These things are all core curriculum requirements of learning compassion.  And these things, weighed on the scales, balance to a positive gain.  So I say once again, because every time I think of it I probably need to do it again; goodbye, alternative life.  Goodbye.  I love you...but, the road and I are going this way...

It's the gypsy life for me.  As the chihuahua says in Oliver and Company, "If this is torture, chain me to the wall!!"

Monday, October 10, 2011

"The Body Stories"





Today I am honored to tell you about my upcoming theater project The Body Stories - an original production I am creating together with fellow Actors Studio Drama School MFA alum and fearless truth-teller Larissa Dzegar.  While together at school, Larissa, myself, and a gaggle of bold performing artists discovered a uniting passion for physical storytelling that has developed into this collaboration.  We're taking our secret obsession public in a performance on January 22, 2012 in New York City and we couldn't be more excited to share our work with you! 

We all have complicated relationships with our bodies - I myself am no exception, and that is my inspiration for creating The Body Stories.  Here's a bit of my story: bodies always confused me.  Puberty hit me way too early.  I was wearing a D-cup bra by age 10 and routinely experiencing the humiliation of sexual harassment.  Much of my time was spent being embarrassed and uncomfortable and ashamed of my body.  My habits, posture, and clothes were designed to hide my body.  I didn't know how to handle the attention I was getting, or how to connect my body with my personality and the world around me.  It all got even more complicated when I couldn't figure out how to reconcile my religious culture with the realities of my physical life and desires.  I wore an abstinence pledge ring but spent the night at my boyfriend's house.  I advocated healthiness but starved myself down 30 pounds.  My body often felt like the enemy.  Why was it was so hard to live in my body?  What did my body wanted from me, or I from it?   These questions haunted me throughout my teens and early twenties.  My person was torn in two, afraid to let one part of me know what another part was doing. 

It's only over my years working as a professional artist in New York City that I've re-thought my body and yearned to explore these questions about bodies as a theater piece.  I am emboldened by the discovery that I am not alone in my struggles.  My body's journey is culminating in this project, where my body - along with the bodies of a team of incredibly brave and talented performers - gets a taste of freedom, connection, and liberation.  My body, finally, gets to tell its side of the story!

The Body Stories
is a blessing and a triumph for me, and I firmly believe that this project can inspire hope, acceptance, compassion, and healthy body awareness in others.  I have never felt this strongly about a theater piece before, and know that this will be a life-changing production for me - and not just for me.  We all have bodies.  That's why The Body Stories is truly for everyone.

Myself, Larissa, and our team are willing to work for no pay but I'm sure you can imagine that even an efficient production in New York City requires funds for rehearsal and performance space.   Our goal is to raise $1500 by November 1st, 2011.  We are now requesting the contribution of our friends and families in making this project possible. Your support will breathe life and possibility into our show, and any monetary amount that you can invest is a lifeline for us.

Please visit our indigogo fundraiser website to make a donation and learn more about The Body Stories.
http://www.indiegogo.com/The-Body-Stories
http://www.indiegogo.com/project/badge/44520?a=255333You are our catalysts.  Any contribution you can give will fuel our endless gratitude and make possible the production of what is the most important show I have ever been a part of.  Your generous support makes our work possible.

To learn more about The Body Stories, or to find out other ways you can get involved, please contact us!  Your body also has a story...if you'd like to share it with us, don't hesitate to reach out!  We are open and curious to learn and grow, confident that this is simply one rendition of an ongoing project.  We welcome any of your questions or comments.

Thank you very much for your attention and consideration.  And thank you for being a part of our story.



Saturday, October 1, 2011

Mountains and Molehills

Happy October everyone!  Looking forward to a month of breakthroughs, wind-swept change, shifting colors and deeper textures. 

This post will be a bit more personal and, well, spiritual than my usual fare. Over lunch with my adopted life-sister and friend Lillivette this week, she posed a question that I have been somewhat afraid to ask myself: "Do you feel sometimes like you're two different people - the church you and the real-life you?  Depending on who you're with - church or non-church friends?"

Dammit, Lillivette!  This has literally been irking me for several years.  It's not that I feel like I'm living a double life, I'm just dreadfully inconsistent.  I don't like to bring up God and what he's done for me with people who don't share my experience because a) it probably would sound crazy to them, b) they probably don't give a flying rat's you know what and c) how do I know I'm not crazy anyway?

Sometimes I don't go to church for months at a time, substituting it with late Saturday night martinis and hangovers.  Sometimes I feel like my church-me is just some psychosematic astral projection that I made up in a fitful sleep because I was supposed to.  Sometimes I feel like my spiritual life must be a dirty secret, really, since I am so hesitant to talk about it.  Sometimes I feel like it's all made up anyway.  SHEESH.  As a hot mess myself, how can I dare to be my church self and non-church self at the same time? 

When I take a second to listen to this torrent of dizzy foggy thoughts, I see it for what it is: monkey-brain, that incoherent and useless ramble of prehistoric nonsense.  Of course I'm going to be imperfect, torn, scared, and sometimes downright cowardly about important things.  Especially about important things.  In choosing to align my life with a belief system not centered on myself and what I want at any given moment, of course I am setting myself up to fail in some ways.  The point is not to be an ideal representative of God, but to be truthful and human enough to try to share Him and love him back.

The real problem I face is not that I am two different people depending on who I am with; it's that I am the same person.  If with my church friends I struggle to join in belief, I am the one who has to live with that and deal with my character.  If with my non-church friends I struggle to remember and live up to my beliefs, I am the one who has to deal with my character.  And my character always will effect the other people in my life.  I always take myself with me, whatever the situation.  My Dad always says, "You are the common denominator."

Believing in God is hard for me sometimes.  I think about it a lot, and question it a lot, and need it a lot, and I'm always wondering what it means.  So, I share these thoughts with all of you simply because I think (and hope) that perhaps I am not the only one who struggles to be open or who struggles with forging a character in line with their values.  I share, too, because I think I am probably not the only one I know who believes in God but also struggles to believe.  I just think it's time to stop making it so complicated for myself, to simplify, to stand up, and share.  (Even as I write this I'm thinking, oh my god, am I really going to publish this?  Oh my god.) 

"God, I believe: help my unbelief."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Autumn in New York

As a small departure from my usual topic of showbiz life, I'd like to dedicate this entry to the one who makes my showbiz life possible - and impossible.  The one who drew me out of the Redwoods and into the thick of the jungle.  The one who always bites me back, chews me up, spits me out and keeps me coming back for more.  The one who I go home to every night, and wake up with every morning.  The one who I can't seem to live without, with whom I've had some of my highest highs and lowest lows and made secrets and made love.  The one who I love even when she doesn't love me. 

Yup - I am talking about NEW YORK CITY, people.  Bright lights, dark depths, infamy and independence, this one is for you.  New York and I have been together for 7 years.  We've just had our anniversary, and I'm celebrating by enjoying the beauty of this place during my favorite time of year.

Ah, the glory of a New York City September; the cooling air delivers sweeter smells including rain and coffee, and pumpkin-flavored everything appears on menus from starbucks to fancy french bistros with baskets hanging from the ceiling.  It's the perfect time of year for a sunset stroll on the Highline, an al fresco bottle of wine on a broad avenue near Washington Square, or a hot toddy party on the rooftop.

If you're like me and on a shoestring budget, it can start to feel like many of the pleasure of living in a place like New York are out of reach.  But that doesn't have to be true!  In honor of this, the most glamorous and crisp and romantic season in the city I love to call my home, I've compiled an ode in list form of some of my favorite Autumn in New York things.  Most are friendly to my shoestring budget, and a good example of how my concrete mistress spoils me even when I have nothing in my pocket:

Taxi Rides in the Rain - I know I might be alone on this one.  Blame it on my childhood in the Pacific Northwest, where the rain was a constant companion and friend, and where long car rides to the other end of California taught me to make myself comfy in cars no matter what.  But really, what's cozier than leaning back, listening to the windshield washers, and watching the city get washed before your eyes?  I love taxi rides.  At this point in my life in New York, it's a rare treat.  And with the autumn chill creeping in, there's an added layer of comfort to having the bubble of the taxi around you as you dodge through and observe the city.
Soup: make it, buy it, cup it, bowl it, drink it, slurp it, spill it.  Soup weather makes me so happy!  Try one of my new favorite recipes for yourself and I bet it will make you happy too.  Or, do my real favorite autumn soup thing and go to any of the ramen houses in the east village.  A ginormous bowl costs only around $6!

Boots: No need to buy new ones!  I don't care if they're from last season or five years ago, boots are the most fun footwear that exists offering both tremendous grounding and kick-ass awesomeness.  (That may be a hyperbole, but it is the truth of how I feel in this moment as I'm about to dust off my ol' Fryes and stomp around in rugged style.  Whenever I'm feeling greedy, I like to visit the Frye Company's website and drool over the sheer timeless perfection of their designs).  Whether going for classy or superhero, boots run the gamut of emotional and fashionable usefulness.  Getting to wear them again makes me want to pose for any camera that will click for me as I stomp by. 

Bryant Park Fall Festival:  It's free and happening right now!  Yesterday on my lunch break I caught the tail end of an act of Figaro performed by Operamission.  Mink and diamonds optional.

San Genarro Festival: Ok, so, I don't know if I can actually go to this ever again, but the last few years have been pretty spectacular if only for the spectacle of squeezing through a mishmash of New Yorkers, tourists, carnies, and Italian restauranteurs packing themselves into a tiny corner of Little Italy and eating everything in sight.  This is where I learned about the existence of fried oreos (thanks Ashley Love) and also where I created this life rule for myself: I will never get a tattoo on my thigh and wear a mini skirt when I am 60 pounds overweight.  Actually I take that back.  I will go back this year.  I need to buy one of those diamond-encrusted t-shirts that says "Italian Stallion," and maybe one of those sweatpant suits with diamond-encrusted letters spelling "Mafia" on the butt.

As those changing winds blow through town and stir up the metaphorphosis of fall, hope you enjoy New York as much as I do!  She's not always affectionate, but she's easy to love.  Who knows if I'll get another autumn here - those winds of change can be unpredictable.  But I'm gonna enjoy the socks off of this one!

If all of this has gotten you in the mood for lovin' on autumn in NYC, press play and enjoy! Cheers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Fashion is the Fashion

Models cluttering the executive floor reception area.  Phones ringing off the hooks.  Dressers bags, ink cartridges, TONS of catered food, broken air conditioners, rapidly setup work stations, Mexican Japanese Italian French visiting CEOs, designers, coordinators, facilities departments, IT crashes, burnt out lightbulbs, celebrity guests, and booties to cover your street shoes. 

Don't think they have it in my size
These are just a few of the things I experienced last week behind the scenes at Calvin Klein's Spring 2012 Collection Show in New York City's Fashion Week.  I was delighted to find myself in the midst of the Fashion World's peak seasonal event - it's a world in which I am a stranger and sojourner, an outsider treated to a rare insider glimpse.  My mission was to gain some insights into a different kind of artform while doing a good job and not knocking over any celebrities on my way. I was moderately successful ;)

The show itself was an elegant a masterclass in production, with each detail carefully thought through with precision and cohesiveness.  The carpets, benches, walls, and seat cushions were white, the ambient music sounded white - all carefully and painstakingly crafted to transport the attendees into an alternate, perfect universe.  A universe of white.  A universe of clean.  A universe of perfect taste.  And a universe that lasted a whopping 9 minutes and struck me as being totally bizarre and a bit unwelcoming.

I was amazed at the brevity and simplicity of an event that has consumed an entire corporation for months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of preparation, work, and design. Reviews have hailed this latest collection as one of Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa's most feminine and balanced.  Some of the fabrics cost $700 a yard, and flow with an ease that rivals nudity.  Watching the parade, I noticed fellow viewers furiously notating their blackberries with reviews and judgments.  I tried to focus on the clothes.  I mean, that is why we were all there.  But as a total High Fashion World greenhorn, I was helplessly distracted by the ambiance and the models as they zombied across the runway with blank faces, jutting hips, and motionless arms.  When the models turned the corner on the square catwalk, I almost laughed out loud: they practically disappear from the side and can no doubt dodge the raindrops.

There have been so many conversations about body image that it gets exhausting to participate, and I acknowledge that there are women who are naturally tall and thin and modelesque without starving themselves.  My mother is one - as a teenager I'd borrow her clothes and feel obese for being a good 7 inches shorter and still wearing the same pantsize.  And I was heartened to see the models backstage eating sushi and fruit in between the two shows.  So I don't mean to go down that rabbit hole.  What struck me about my high fashion experience was not just the extreme thinness and alternative reality aspects, but rather the effect it had on me.  It was hard to picture myself in the fantasy they created.  These clothes aren't designed for me.  It didn't attract me in person, this hard white world. I felt like I had stepped into an alternative universe alright - but one a little more like the Twilight Zone than heaven.

Maybe I am a bit jealous, like the kid sister who can't play with the big kids.  Sure, I always wanted to be 7 feet tall and weigh 100 pounds.  Don't ask me why.  It makes no sense.  And I bet I'm not alone.  Yet I found myself wondering, where does this strange buried fantasy of mine come from?  Do I want to look like that just because it's so foreign and alternative to what I actually look like?  Is it JUST about escape?  That is, after all, one of the main (and most enjoyable) aspects of theater as well as fashion shows - to step into another world, another life, another character...someone else's shoes...someone else's body...someone else's dream...

And so I will leave you all with this thought from one of my favorite stylish ladies, Sophia Loren: "Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

You're Worth It: Thoughts on Professionalism

Dilemmas can be opportunities.
Conversations about worth, value, and dilemmas have been popping up all over the place in my life lately - from acting to family to church stuff. A good friend of mine had a particularly blistering example. Let's call her Amelia. Amelia was offered a job with a Shakespearean educational touring company doing Midsummer Night's Dream, one of her favorite plays. The contract was 4 months long, which meant four months of travel in her homestate near her family and 4 months of full-time theater work - two HUGE forces of attraction that any homesick, starving New York City artist is almost powerless to resist. However, Amelia's decision was clouded by a con list. The problem was that Amelia had worked for this touring company twice before on two seperate tours and was a model employee each time - obviously, since they wanted her back for a third round even without auditioning her. And therein lay the dilemma, which poured some gall down Amelia's throat: this company was not only refusing to give her a raise, but in fact had cut her pay down to $100 less per week than her previous years' rate.

 Amelia was torn. Amelia was bound to the fiery torture device of Dilemma and could not break free. She had long conversations with her boyfriend, her actor friends, her relatives. Like most actors, Amelia's brain was wired to JUMP at the chance of any work - especially paid work - and be excited to have the chance to act...but there was something about this deal that screamed, "WARNING: SHORT END OF THE STICK!!! DO NOT BITE"

So where's the solution to Amelia's problem? Where can she go for help? The only answer is, inside. She can go inside herself and decide for herself what her value and worth are as an artist and as a professional.

Way back in my undergraduate days I took an economics class that taught me about opportunity cost, among other things. (We also learned a subcorollary to opportunity cost, the universal principle of TANSTAAFL: There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.) Opportunity cost does not just pertain to the dry world of spreadsheets and quarterly reports. Every decision we make in our lives has an opportunity cost. Which is to say, whenever we make a decision and choose an option, we are excluding other options. When you go out to dinner at a Thai restaurant and choose to have the Pad Thai, you are effectively choosing not to have the Lad Naar, Fried Rice, or Coconut Soup. When you buy a monthly metro pass for the subway, you are choosing not to take a taxi, bicycle, or limo. For my poor angsty friend Amelia to take this contract, she would be passing up the great gaping unknown potential that could come out of 4 months of auditions in New York. She'd be missing Equity (union) auditions. She'd be missing classes and better paying dayjobs. Not to mention, this job was not offering her any free lunches.

If we don't value ourselves, who will?


On top of opportunity cost, Amelia would be taking a definite hit in the solar plexus. She was hurt that her employers would offer her such a bad financial package after two successful seasons when them. This raised issues of company integrity, loyalty, satisfaction and respect. But let's not lay all the blame at the hands of The Man. Amelia, you and I all have the power of decision and an even greater power: the power of our own worth.

So my question for myself today is: what is the opportunity cost of setting our self-value too low? As a professional in any field in this economy, we know what it means to feel the pressure of desperation and need. "We want to just have an income. Any income. Income at all. Please!!!!" Even so, if we take last year's job at a paycut, does that help our pocketbooks, careers, or souls?

There comes a point in every career where a person decides it's time to move on. But how do you know when that time is right for you? This is particularly tricky as an actor, in a field where every person's career is so individually different. Another friend of mine just bought into the Unions even though he has no union credits - just because he is tired of doing non-union jobs and feels that this is the right time for him to move on. I, on the other hand, hesitate to pass up non-union work. It's such an individual journey.

But when I think of my friend Amelia, I feel a fire burning in my belly at the unfairness of her dilemma. The bottom line is, if we never stick up for ourselves we'll never get paid what we're worth. If we don't ask hard questions and make hard calls, we'll never step up that proverbial ladder of success to the next rung. A professor of mine in graduate school always used to say, "You are the one who has to to establish your worth." We all used to stare at her suspiciously, thinking, "Yeah right lady. Like I have that power. How do you establish your own worth in this business?"  Now, after pounding the pavement for a year and a half, I think I understand a little better what she was getting at.  There's a difference between being a diva and being a professional, just as there is a difference between being a greenhorn and knowing what you're worth.  Sticking up for yourself professionally doesn't make you a jerk, it makes you a professional. It can be a beautiful, classy move to make, a thing of integrity and steel.

Wouldn't it be nice to have cue cards for all decisions?
As an actor, that can be a scary gray area. Does it mean turning down a job that doesn't pay enough - even if your immediate alternative is no job? Does it mean saying no to doing nudity in a film or pilot that some part of you feels might be your big break? All of us have to face these questions individually and listen to our own gut reactions. My Dad always says that it takes 5 minutes to be honest with yourself. Lately, as I face dilemmas of wage and time commitments and professional recognition, I find myself listening to my gut more and more to guide me in the right direction. It's  worth it to recognize my own worth. Besides, if I am not willing to take the risk and value myself as a professional, how can I ask others to do so?

*images thanks to poundingheartbeat.com, photobucket.com, and allarminda.com

Monday, August 15, 2011

Trailers for Theater?!?! Heck yes!

So here at the Theater at Monmouth, we have some pretty skillful people who like to make promotional videos (I'm talking about you, Steph Garrett and Janet McWilliams!).  Here, take a second to see the gorgeous compilations they have created for the shows that I have been privileged to be a part of this summer:

First is King Lear - arguably Shakespeare's masterpiece tragedy, a king that gives away his crown and loses his mind, and finds himself again much too late.



Next, we have the video for Much Ado About Nothing - a Shakespearean love story with two of the sassiest, wittiest lovers of all time...Margaret and Borachio!  Just kidding.  Our production is set in post-WWII Italy and features lots of kissing and dancing.


And last but not least, clips from Blythe Spirit - a Noel Coward comedy about ghosts and marriage, dry as a martini and delicious as a cucumber sandwich.  We all get to do some pretty ridiculous antics and have loads of fun.



What a crazy fun summer!  It's been a privilege working with such a talented, professional company.  We've done deep tragedy and pratfalls, British accents, swing dancing, and slow motion stage combat.  Thank you all ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Amadama, and Other New Things

Some firsts for me this summer in Maine:


  • Haddock chowder (yum!)
  • driving an automatic without knowing where I'm going
  • getting into a splashing fight in a lake with a 10 year old I've never met before
  • knee-boarding on a lake behind a boat (arm workout!)
  • drinking Mount Gay and tonic - thank you, Paul Bernardo
  • setting some lyrics I wrote to actual music - thank you, Ambien Mitchell
  • wearing a corset on stage
  • participating in an after-show audience talk back - as a part of the cast
  • lobster rolls!
  • pumpkin woopie pies (or "mumpkin woopies")
  • being trusted with a really awesome package at a theater where no one knew me...thank you TAM!
  • finally admitting to myself that not only am I horrible at playing all games, be they monopoly or croquet or foosball, but I am a horrible loser.  Sigh.
  • being really happy that I was wrong and misjudged some people initially
  • trying Amadama bread - molasses and oat, homemade by Caroline's grandma's secret recipe - mmm!
  • doing summer repertory theater!
  • holding a baby rabbit (oh so squishy!)
  • NOT getting into trouble with the cops for being in a closed park at midnight - thanks, green eyes ;)
  • having male roommates (not so weird after all! xoxo Clenton and Menich)
  • being in Maine!
  • seeing Acadia National Park - a lifelong goal, I am so glad it happened and can't wait to go back
  • doing changeovers from one set to another in between shows
  • listening to Mumford and Sons - love them!
  • joining the Equity Membership Candidacy program
  • crying over some really nice cards I got on opening night
  • realizing that it's not just ok that everything changes in life, it's awesome!
  • you know what universe, I'm ok with the fact that I spend all of my money on food and wine
  • eating fiddleheads, which are neither fiddles nor heads but instead a fern-like vegetable
  • having worlds collide (people from different parts of my life meeting each other) and it being not awkward at all and in fact delightful
  • realizing that my moods can effect other people and they deserve the best and most thoughtful treatment no matter how cranky I happen to be for no reason, and that taking ownership of my behavior is part of being an adult
  • having lobster cooked at home
  • having men cook lobster for me at home
  • having men cook lots of really tasty meals for me
  • learning that even if I can function alright without adequate sleep for a little while, I CANNOT function without adequate food.  I'll never be able to starve myself, and I am perfectly happy about that.
  • hearing the call of a loon...they sound super jacked...
  • watching an established artistic director retire with grace and humor
  • getting to be the comic relief in a comedy that's already freaking hilarious
  • getting to wear a CHAIN MAIL CROWN regularly (thanks Helen!)
  • playing a window screen as if it was a musical instrument, with positive results
  • learning some pretty dirty jokes and some pretty silly ones - thanks Xei and Max and David
  • being ok with moving on to the next phase of my life, whatever that proves to be
I can't believe we only have 9 days left in the summer company of the Theater at Monmouth, the Official Shakespeare Theater of Maine's 2011 season...it's been mon-umental!  (Get it?)  As New York City looms ever nearer in my horizons and I prepare to get back to the grind, my heart is filled with gratitude for having spent my summer among such fantastic, enjoyable, talented, and professional people.  It's been a turning point for me and I can't wait to see what's up next!


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Binge

Binging can be sexy, can't it?
"Life itself is a binge." - Julia Childs

Last night we celebrated life with what can only be called a binge.  After a leisurely unplanned outing to Gardiner, Maine (complete with a trip to the A1 Diner, a bout of library hugging and a rural motorcycle ride in the mist), a cluster of TAM company members feasted at a farmhouse with steaks, seafood, fruits and vegetables on the grill.  We drank several bottles of wine and over the course of 4 or 5 hours never once stopped eating, strumming guitars and singing.  It was a glorious night for me for many reasons, but especially because it was the very first time any of my lyrics have been put to music and performed.  Thanks to Ambien Mitchell for her collaboration, organization, patience and genius!  We binged on food.  We binged on good company.  We binged on creative synergy.  We decided that my song and a song of hers should be spliced together in a medley of gloriousness, and that is how "About Your Shirt: The Laundry Song" was born.  Creating and sharing are perhaps the two most important things you can do in life - but also, sometimes, the most costly and scary.  My Dad (who you may notice I quote incessantly) always says, "Generosity is very expensive."

Don't burn out!
Art takes energy.  Perhaps that is why so many artists burn out or try to rev themselves up with various addictions and self destructive behaviors.  My mind keeps fixating on Amy Winehouse today, with a mix of sadness that her life was cut so short and a deep admiration for the music she was able to create in her brief stint on this planet.  I often wonder if it's inevitable for great artists to suffer and/or crash and burn.  Surely not, as there are plenty of examples of great artists that live happy, moderate, long lives - right?  How about Paul Newman, or Betty White? 

Yet, there is a definite majority that do not live long and prosper.  Hence the existence of the Forever 27s - that uncanny, ever-growing group of brilliant musicians that have died tragically and unexpectedly at the too young age of 27 years old.  To my thinking at least, Winehouse is now a member of that group.  I love her music.  I admire her artistry.  She was a one of a kind original.  I worry about a world in which souls that are so eager to share themselves wind up crushed and extinguished. 

In all the myths of the creation of the world, one of my favorites is the story that my step-father has sort of invented for himself; God, in the act of making life, matter, space, time, and creatures, poured himself out and in to everything he made until there was no more God separate from his creation, because God WAS literally in his creation: he used himself as the prime ingredient and spent himself entirely to create something new.  As if God was the seed, and creation was the sprouting plant.  Once there's a thriving plant, there is no more seed.

I don't actually buy this origins story, as I am firm in my conviction that the act of creation needn't destroy its source.  But there is something beautiful about looking at creation as an act of sacrifice.  The creative mind is constantly pouring itself into what it makes and living fully only in what it makes, sometimes to the point of ceasing to live outside of its own art.  This may be an unhealthy extreme for a human being, but I can't help but be drawn to such wacky passion.  "Damn the torpedoes!  Give it your all.  Reckless abandon," and all that jazz.  Like Billy Joel would say, "Only the good die young."  I always had a somewhat twisted fantasy of dying at 24.  I figured by then I'd have created brilliant art, lived fast and furious, and duck out leaving everyone wanting more.  Genius, I reasoned, burns at both ends.  Wouldn't it be more awesome to go down in flames than to sputter out for lack of spark?  That's how I used to think, caught up in the glamor of the creative binge.  It's true that the wild binge of life sometimes creates more life, but there is a line where it turns destructive.

One of my favorite artists on the outer fringe: Dali
In our intense 3-hour acting classes the first year of grad school, we'd all end up weeping on the floor in a puddle of our own tears and undone psyches every day.  Our teacher would proudly survey us, commending our artistic bravery, and say, "Make sure you take care of yourselves today."  We'd look at each other dully, not really knowing what that meant or whether this was art or just plain crazy.  My friend Evin and I chose to deal by ritualistically wolfing down Chipotle tacos and a pint of ice cream (each) - an addiction only marginally healthier than drugs, alcohol, or hookups.  But I get it.  I get the need to self medicate.  I get the itch that can't be scratched, the thirst that can't be quenched. 

We humans definitely do need to take care of ourselves, especially if we're spending ourselves.  Those of us who use our selves as the materials to create, who blur the lines between their art/work and their lives, may suffer needlessly and perish unnecessarily if we loose our equilibrium...but gosh darn it, those chaotic, feverish artists living on the outer fringe of sanity without a tow line sure do create beautiful things.  Why is that?!?!  Does art spring from life, or vice versa, or nada? 

Fuels my spirit...
Life is a binge: brief, sensory, unexpected, and over too soon.  Unfortunately we can't have binges every day due to time, health and budget constraings.  But whether you're creating art, families, budgets, joy, dinner plans, change, things, theater, chaos, or anything else right now, take care of yourself.  (Sometimes binging IS the best way to take care.)  My time here in Maine has been a bit of a binge, from 9-5 rehearsals, performances, long long nights full of wine and conversation, and reckless new friendships.  It fuels my spirit to go on motorcycle rides, eat 78,000 calorie meals, and do pratfalls onstage.  But all those things expend energy, and I - like all mortals - need to remember to recharge, maintain and protect myself too.  And to monitor my addictions, keeping them in the realm of positive things.  Like glitter.  Or hugs.


So binge carefully my friends, and don't spend yourselves too soon.  We all have our addictions, and we wouldn't be human without them - and perhaps the most intoxicating, dangerous and enlivening addiction of all is our addiction to each other.  As we create and share, let's share wisely; our souls don't grow back like lizard's tails.  We're all we've got.

Up next: King Lear opens this Friday at the Theater at Monmouth!  Talk about feeding your soul.  What a powerful story.  Can't wait to dive in...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Gunshy

Last week, Larissa Dzegar of "Thoughts Simply Arise" honored me with a guest writing spot.  In case you missed it, I'm now publishing it here at home.  This one is close to my heart; it was very personal and timely, a joy to write and a joy to share on Larissa's blog.  This is what it says:

When reigning Artistic Director David Greenham invited me to spend my summer with Maine's Shakespeare Theater, I wasn't sure who was wooing who.  Clearly I was enamored immediately with the theater and desperate to be likable enough to warrant an invitation to join the company.  When I received an email for a phone interview my heart went pitterpat and I said okay, Joe, this is game time.  Put on the charm for this one.  Get a job.  You can do it.

On the phone, I was so stinking charming I believe I even chatted with Dave (who is himself charming and hilarious, with bone-dry sarcasm and a lifetime of theater experience to pepper his conversation) about house additions and contracting companies - which I know next to nothing about.  And then he offered me a job, and our roles seemed to reverse.  He said humbly, courtingly, "Are you SURE you want to step out of your life for 10 weeks and come to Maine?"  I remember how smiley my voice was.  It drew my roommate out of the kitchen to make sure I was alright (normally my voice is not exactly smiley).  "David," I said, "I would love to step out of my life for 10 weeks."

Calamity isn't gunshy
It's one thing to talk big.  I can talk big about a lot of things.  I can talk big about dropping everything for 10 weeks and build myself up to be some kind of gun-slinging desperado.  I can talk big about being a gypsy, eating three plates of pasta in one sitting, heartbreaking, moving on, adulthood, professionalism, double entendres, flirting; but when the rubber meets the road I find myself shrinking a little from my bold words, distracted and worried by ghostly whispers and flashbacks.  Last time this didn't end so well...I know where this is going....I was kidding...no you're right I wasn't kidding..were you kidding?...damnYup, this is happening.

Gunshy.  Listen to this song and you'll know what I mean:


www.ourstage.com

I've stepped out of my life for 10 weeks and into...still my life.  As my father likes to say, "You always take yourself with you."  Usually I'm pretty good with the confidence and risk taking, but sometimes I feel less like a sexy beast and more like a hot mess.  Leaps of faith can be hard to make and wisdom is hard to come by.

How do you know what - and who - to let in?  As artists I know there's an eagerness to be open, to live dangerously and fully and impulsively and I am ALL ABOUT THAT - for about 3 weeks.  Then I start feeling feelings and I'm afraid to pull the trigger.  How does one do all that, and still have a home inside oneself to rest in - a home that goes with you wherever you lay your head?
say yes?

I remember in my second year of graduate school I had the "Say Yes to Everything and Everyone" phase, where I let so many people and things into my heart I could no longer hear my own voice in my head.  After about 6 months I was dizzy and heartsick, but not very sorry.  It took me about a year to be sorry.  Now, sometimes I miss the extreme peak experiences I had back then.  Life out of grad school is a little more about surviving, which sometimes isn't as fun...but I'm a little hesitant to toss myself to the winds.  There's an element of maturity that wants to control and monitor a person, a performance, a self.  My pendulum doesn't seem to know how to fall to center: I'm always a freakish uber-marionette or a wanton will o' the wisp.  Was my mother right?  Are all things really moderation?

Honestly, I kind of hope not.  Ultimately, what do I got to lose by taking a chance?  It's just one small human heart.  As Beatrice says in Much Ado About Nothing, "Poor fool (heart), it keeps to the windy side of care."

with the skeletons
Every day is starting again.  Some days that's exciting to me - when I know my lines, when I know how I feel, when I know what I want to do - or when I don't know what I want to do and can't wait to figure it out as I go.  Sometimes the idea of starting again makes me not want to wake up, preferring my dream people and dream lives.  Sometimes when I hear a foreign voice say, "Let me in," I am running to the door or the window or the skylight and throwing back the shutters, shivering in sun, damning the torpedoes and racing full speed ahead.  Other times when that voice comes along suddenly I'm hiding in the closet with the skeletons, afraid to meet those green eyes or blue eyes or brown eyes or whatever color pleases God eyes.  Afraid to be unprofessional.  Afraid to be professional.
It's just one small human heart

Gunshy. 

What if...what if this time...

Today, I'm a bit embarrassed to report, I'm hiding in the closet.  You can come in too though.  We can share my flashlight and listen to this beautiful song again, and try to muster the courage to open the door.



For the record, since this was written several weeks ago and published last week, I DID manage to get up, open the door, and toss myself into some adventures.  More on that later...  :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

GypsyJoe Goes for a Gypsy Jaunt

     Or, "Ode to Larissa"
Yup, this is Larissa.  Isn't she RIDICULOUS??
Larissa Dzegar is the host, creative director, CEO and spark behind the diverse and heartfelt blog "Thoughts Simply Arise." Among her many hats, she is a producing artist and performer of many bold and beautiful theater projects in New York City.  In her spare time she also manages to be an extremely talented baker, yogini and all around good egg.  A couple of weeks ago she caught me off guard with a startling, exciting and humbling idea.  "Hey Jeanne Joe", she said, "Wanna write a guest post for my super amazing shiny successful beautiful intelligent sassy and pertinent blog?  It can be about anything you want because for some crazy reason I trust you to come up with something that's not wildly inappropriate.  The world is your oyster."   
Ok those were not her exact words, but that is what I heard.  And what I said was, "Hellz yes!"  And what I came up with was an article called "Gunshy."   Today she has done me the tremendous honor of posting said article. You should go read it.  Right now.  And while you're over there at Larissa's blog, browse her many beautifully written articles, fall in love with her and become a fan.  
Thank you Larissa for letting GypsyJoe travel with you on your journey. You're an incredible artist, inspiring instigator, and generous woman. It is a decided pleasure to know you and collaborate with you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Course of True Love Gathers No Moss

"Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked." - Blythe Spirit, Act 1 Scene 2

This blog title is taken from one of my all time favorite films: The Philadelphia Story.  In it, a drunken Jimmy Stewart is trying to be charming at a high society party in which he is very uncomfortable and fumbles his quotations, mashing up two tired and trite proverbs into one that I think is way better than the originals.  The course of true love gathers no moss.  Freaking profound.  True love is a gypsy, and it doesn't wait for time to pass or moss to grow.  For now, my true love has taken me to Maine to do Shakespeare Theater.

A funny thing happens when I know I'm in a place for a specific, brief amount of time.  Relationships accelerate, their curves and crannies compounding to fit the full range of my humanity into x amount of days, complete with soulmates and nemeses.  Time is rich.  Even the quality of the light seems more like light, the night seems more nightish.  I sleep less.  I swear more.  I fall in love with everyone's talent like a floozy, and then get my heart broken like a child.

Some of my TAM peeps
God bless seasonal theater: the constant flutter and haze of feeling unprepared and lazy all at the same time.  It's like being paid to go to summer camp.  (I hated summer camp as a kid, but after 7 years in New York City, I am more than ready for the Equity/Shakespeare/Adult version.)  What is weirder than summer camp?  Unionized, adult Shakespearean summer camp.  We have brown bag lunches with our names on them, long days, warm nights, and the power of consent.  The canoes here aren't really built for one.

One of the plays I'm in is Blythe Spirit by Noel Coward, in which I get the scrumptious slapstick role of the maid.  It's a romantic comedy about ghosts, kind of, that is both comforting and disturbing.  It has us all joking a lot about death (you know, like you do) and busting out a lot of joy.  As if the mood weren't bizarre enough, the apartments I'm living in are across from a cemetery.  We are all somewhat bemused about it.  There's a metaphor in there somewhere, not sure where...(yup, was a literature major)...

Not to be macabre, but I've kind of gotten an immense kick out of the intense temporality of this particular theater contract, which is bleeding over into a new kick out of the temporality of life the universe and everything.  We are all here with no pretenses about the fact that most of us are not neighbors after August, and that after our 10 weeks we'll all split to different roads.  It's kind of a rush to be so honest, like taking a shot of adrenaline in the arm: it might kill you later, but it will make you feel great for a while.

Kenneback River
Ultimately, I think that is a commonality between life and theater: it's all temporary.  The short duration of a play - a mere two hours - is perhaps what gives it the power to burn so brightly and exist so boldly.  I plan on living so fully these next weeks that it's probably illegal.  That's okay though, the cops here seem pretty friendly to us.  There's something about having an end in sight that gives me a lot of freedom to be open and free, the same way it's sometimes easier to talk to a stranger than to a close friend.  There's a release from consequences, and a total surrender to the moment.

On the wall of Toad Hall

Like true love, life and death, the course of time itself gathers no moss.  As my Dad likes to say, this is not a dress rehearsal.  Time stretches and vanishes and leaves explosions of inspiration in its wake.  During our greatest adventures, we're still across the street from the graveyard.  Time.  Our frail mystic ships are wrecked on it; our loves and hearts are all stranded together in time and we are all swimming together in the soup.  This summer and these roles are temporary.  I myself am temporary.  I am so glad that I get to go along for the ride.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chemistry

"Otto and Ludmilla" on location in Time Square
It's what every love story wants and needs.  You know that electric, effortless reaction that no one can control - the deep, under-the-skin changes that may not be visible at first but that alter all reality and substance forever.

When it happens, it's the best.  For me, this week's shoot of romance "Otto and Ludmilla" was a laboratory for chemistry, with an incredibly fun and professional crew (who spontaneously burst into beat-boxing dance parties and sprinting contests, among other things), a moving and beautiful script, a collaborative director with a vision, and a deliciously talented co-star who made me feel incredibly safe and comfortable on a journey into scary places on and off camera...wasn't too shabby to look at, either ;)

cast and crew of "Otto and Ludmilla" on location in Brooklyn
From the first audition, I wanted to do this project.  I've heard stories of actors finding scripts, having a guttural reaction to them, and pining in restless passion until they get to do them.  This was kind of like that for me: from the moment I met this project, I felt it in my bones.  I'm so happy and thankful that it worked out.  It's a story of heartache, longing, crossroads and indecision that really resonated with me and, I hope, will resonate just as strongly with everyone who sees it.

It was SO AWESOME TO DO, to stand in the shoes of two characters who, as director/writer John C. Williams describes, repel and snap back together like magnets.  They are opposite poles of one current, fluxing and locking and sizzling and cooling.  What they have can only be called a "thing."
John C. Williams blocking "Otto and Ludmilla" with DP Eric Balgley

To me, one of the great draws was the challenge of role-reversals.  Actor Brandon Johnson and I worked in tandem, taking turns hurting and being hurt by each other as star-crossed lovers Otto and Ludmilla, or Lotto and Otmilla, or...whatever.  It's amazing how the connotations and relationship shifted depending on the gender of the person saying the same words.  Needy or romantic?  Jackass or conflicted?  Whether a person has experienced this type of deja-vu, cyclical, addictive, intense relationship or not, these characters nakedly reveal the loneliness, lovableness and hunger for contact that I think everyone can relate to.  And I'm already missing them.
myself and co-star Brandon Johnson in "Otto and Ludmilla"

Dear Otto and Ludmilla people, you're grand.  I can still feel the heat.  Don't know if you felt it, but for me, there was real chemistry happening.  You know, chemistry: the science of matter and the changes it undergoes.  On this project, I felt changes.  I felt expansion.  I felt gratitude.

photos by our amazing producer Patricia Henry


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Bewitched, Bothered and Befuddled

Tonight, my strategy for battling fatigue and frustration is listening to Regina Spektor in a pretty dress and drinking tea. I've already watched one Canadian chick flick ("Sabah" - quite good, really) and am trying to talk myself into going outside and walking to the east village to have champagne with my scene partner, the fabulous Vin Kridakorn, with whom I auditioned for The Actors Studio today. How did it go? How do we feel about it? We're asking you, because we don't really know.

However, the east village feels very far away right now. My forearms and shins are covered in bruises from two heavenly days of filming martial arts stunts for a book trailer: "Original Sin," produced by Escape Goat Pictures. Tomorrow is the first day in almost three months that I haven't had to be somewhere/leave for somewhere at 5 or 6am, and all that's on the books is one appointment with one student and one hour or so of recording some voice over for the trailer. Do I get a day of summer?!?!?

(Escape Goat Pictures at work in the rain)

Guys I am so thankful for all the opportunities I've had lately. Getting to do the action sequence for "Original Sin" was a dream come true and, I hope, an excellent beginning to a career of heroic roles full of danger, intrigue, and spy moves. Escape Goat Pictures ran an impressive set, with only 3 guys doing EVERYTHING from setup to tear down to 2-camera filming to choreography to makeup to sound. They filmed the entire thing in 3 days, and will finish the entire project after only 2 days of post/edit. Um, amazing. It really does inspire me to see how much people are capable of accomplishing when they set themselves to it.

However, tonight I don't have any desire to set myself at anything. Except maybe a jug of ice cream. Or a handsome Scotsman (see picture). Or, even better, a bottle of scotch. OR - a bottle of scotch WITH a handsome Scotsman.

(handsome Scotsman Gerard Butler could probably motivate me to go outside)

There's something about long-anticipated, much-desired auditions that really takes it out of me. I was actually nervous today - something that rarely happens anymore. Maybe it was because I knew Ellen Burstyn was one of the judges (!!!!!!). Maybe it was because I've spent the last 4 years working towards this particular audition. Maybe it was because suddenly, 20 minutes til "go," my tear ducts stopped functioning and my inner well of feelings/experiences to draw on seemed to run dry. My friend Marco Agnolucci summed it up pretty well when he said that at today's audition, he felt like he had regressed about 6 years in his acting skills. Me too, and all I can figure is that it was nerves. What is it about auditioning? Today I left feeling less like I was ascending into the clouds of artistry and more like I was scaling a barbed wire fence naked. Ouch.

In a way that's what's so beautiful about acting. It's never the same thing twice. The preparation that worked perfectly last night literally might not give you anything this morning, and the part you auditioned for might not be the part you get. What you thought might be your big break might be a flop - or it might be your big break. You never know! It's so weird! It's so unpredictable and exciting. The main thing is to be yourself and enjoy it, and once in a while to do some kung fu stunts.

(on set for "Original Sin")

So why, every so often, do I get into an audition room and feel like my body is suddenly being operated by a somewhat dimwitted space alien who does not have my best interests at heart? I feel like a bewitched, besotted teenager under the power of her crush; like a hot and bothered country girl at a hootenanny who just lost the dancing contest; like a befuddled old professor who suddenly can't make out the words on the pages of his favorite book. Once in a while, the familiar landscape of my artists' body and emotions feels like a foreign object on which I am a sojourner and passenger instead of the possessor or captain. Thank god that what we do is a craft and not just a mystery - not that it isn't mysterious. But I am glad there are some brass tacks, blueprints, and maps to cling to in those off-kilter moments: breath, connection, need, script, character, listening. Keeping it simple is sometimes really hard, isn't it? Human beings are pretty unfathomable creatures.

In sum, I'd like to say to all you artists out there: you're pretty awesome. What we do is a roller coaster, but SOMEONE'S GOT TO DO IT. We are blessed with the task of actualizing and acting out the impossible, not just for ourselves but for everyone. Some days it is glorious beyond glory. Some days we feel used and abused and bruised. Some days I feel a bit foolish. When you find yourself questioning where the love is in your difficult day, remember the joy, passion, bravery and adventure of it all. Every step forward is, in fact, a step forward - and every audition, whether you get it or not, is positive progress. At least that's what I'm telling myself tonight.

Here's to you, artists! Here's to sticking your chin out, half hoping you get punched, half hoping you get kissed. As my Dad says, you can't expect a golden ring every time.

It can't have been all that bad - look at us smiling after...