Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2008 Highlights

One of my favorite columnists, casting director Bonnie Gillespie, recently posed this question to her readers: What did you learn in 2008? The responses were all so wonderful and educational, and that's one of the reasons I love that column so much. There's this great sense of community and shared knowledge.

For me, there were so many great strides and a sense of expansion last year. As I assess it all, I have this feeling of "putting things in order" as I get ready for the New Year.

I think the big lesson for me this year was simply to embrace all aspects of myself. Something a friend had told me years ago was to "Embrace the 3 B's: BIG, BOLD, and BEAUTIFUL!" In the theatre, this is such a great mantra, because so many of the characters I have played fully call for the 3 B's.

I got to stretch my wings and play Judy Garland, making an angelic appearance from heaven for the musical revue, Hell's Belles. For weeks, I watched clips of her interviews and performances. It was an incredible gift to immerse myself in Judy, and another gift to have a director who kept urging me to go bigger with my embodiment of her. When you're playing someone that "big," you can't be small. And that was another amazing thing! Judy and I were the same height: 4'11". Just a funky coincidence.

The 3 B's definitely applied to Judy, and it was wonderful to see and hear the audiences' reaction to my portrayal of her.

The 3 B's also applied to Barbara Webster, the tempestuous southern belle in the Off Broadway revival of Charles MacArthur's 1940's play, Johnny on a Spot. I had worked with director Dan Wackerman on the staged reading of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with Emily Skinner, and when he called me in for Johnny On A Spot, I felt like Jean Harlow. Sassy, sexy... a real firecracker! Getting to play Barbara was such a blast!

Another thing I learned this year is commitment. This was especially true with getting engaged to my sweetheart of many years. We took a very important and absolutely joyous step. And boy, did he give me a sparkly! Wow!

Commitment is also required in one's art. I especially learned this in comedy since great comedy works when the artists are fully committed to the situation, no matter how outlandish it might be. You can see this in the masters like Chaplin, and it was SO apparent in the movie Tropic Thunder. It worked and worked well.

When I booked the modern farce, Kaboom, I had no idea how far I'd stretch! Boy, was it awesome! The script was constantly being retooled, and there was tons of memorization, not to mention mastering the intensely focused energy of a fast-paced farce. Director BT McNicholl was phenomenal with keeping rehearsals positive and focused. He also really helped me understand the speed of such a comedy, and it's a pity we only got to perform 5 shows, because by the 5th show, the entire cast had really found the groove of the piece and it was a delight!

Playing Kandy in Kaboom was like being on a sugar high, and I actually felt a similar energy with Barbara in Johnny On a Spot. These two characters demanded that I put my foot on the gas and go! :)

To be challenged like that, and to hear the reward of the audiences' laughter and applause - both of these characters got "exit applause" on their major exits - was such a blast!

So what did I learn? To get out of my own way - NO LIMITATIONS - and to trust myself.

These are great gifts to take into 2009. It's going to be sublime!

Happy New Year!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Show Must Go On

On Friday I reteamed with my Hell's Belles writer, Bryan D. Leys and some of my HB castmates, Deborah Radloff and Omri Schein, for a recording of the new musical Argentina Rumpus. We were joined by the delightful Richard Binder who played my dear Mr. Freud in the staged reading of Vienna.

Now this would've seemed like an ideal reunion if it weren't for the fact that I caught the flu and nearly lost my voice. I was so distressed - I took every remedy possible but still couldn't kick the bug. Fortunately, Chip, the sound engineer, said that a lot of recording artists had been sick as well, and he gave me something to gargle with that seemed to help with the rest of the recording. So though I felt lower than low, I was pleased that the sound on the playback was pretty decent. They say you can sing through anything, and apparently, I did!

It made me think of the many times I've been sick and still had to "go on." When I was 14, I studied voice with Wynne Hammond, called "Winnie" by those closest to her. She had a bunch of wild stories about singing in the chorus for many films in the late 30s and 40s, her claim to fame being one of the chorus for The Wizard of Oz. She also had some amazing "close calls," losing various lead roles because of impending motherhood, which starlets just didn't do (publicly) back then, so she retired from Hollywood and became a music teacher in Palm Springs with her husband.

When I met her, her husband had passed away and she was teaching privately in Hemet. I joined her troupe, The Wynne Hammond Singers and toured about Southern CA with her and a bunch of young girls my age. We performed for all sorts of groups like women's luncheons in Palm Springs, cultural centers, what-have-you. And of course, Christmas was always big on the list! We'd travel all over the place, singing jazzy carols, and Winnie was great about making sure we all had solos. She even took me to San Bernadino and helped me get my first professional paid gig as an orphan in Annie at the Civic Light Opera.

Well, of course, it happens, you get sick and you still have to sing. I was in some competition of some sort and sick as a dog, but Winnie nursed me through and made me this special lemon juice drink that seemed to help me get through the performance.

I couldn't help thinking of her - and of all the artists - who've had to perform through illness. Gene Kelly famously performed Singing in the Rain with a major fever. Barbra Streisand was supposedly sick during the recording of her first Christmas album. You just do what you have to do and you do the best you can.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It pays to show up

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

This has always been one of my favorite quotes, and it's so true! Today I had rehearsal for a demo recording of a new musical, and one of the actresses didn't show up, so the writer asked if I could pick up the part. Well, sure! How fun! And how versatile! I get to play "the crazy nun" (what IS it with me and nuns?) and the femme fatale. VERY cool!

I look back at the work I've been doing the past few years and so much about it has been "showing up." If I didn't go to the Equity audition for the New York Musical Theatre Festival, I wouldn't have got the callback for The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun. And if I didn't do NUN (I was up for another show as well), I would've missed getting the NYMF Award and getting to do the Bound for Broadway concert last December!

If it hadn't been for Bound for Broadway, I wouldn't have met director John Znidarsic, who brought me in for Hell's Belles, which gave me the opportunity to play Judy Garland and Janis Joplin, AND introduced me to so many wonderful people and possibilities.

(The Hell's Belles cast: me, Elaina Cope, Omri Schein, Deborah Radloff, Alicia Sable)

One of the Off Broadway shows I did this summer was because a friend from Hell's Belles recommended me to the director for a staged reading of another show. Heck! The gig today was for the Hell's Belles writer, who's working on a new show called Argentina Rumpus.

So, boy, does it pay to show up! I've been going non-stop since last December and feel so fortunate! All this good stuff is a reminder to keep going, to keep working on my craft, and to keep hitting those auditions. It's all part of the process of making dreams come true. :)

Make your dreams come true!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Harvey Holidays

"Oh, oh, oh
Woke up today
Feeling the way I always do
Oh, oh, oh
Hungry for something that I can't eat
Then I hear that beat
The rhythm of town
Starts calling me down
It's like a message from High above
Oh, oh, oh
Pulling me out
To the smiles and the streets that I love..."

("Good Morning Baltimore" by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman)

That's the opening song from the musical, Hairspray, and I totally feel that way almost every day in Manhattan. There's a music and beat to this city that simply captures my heart.

This weekend my guy and I did our traditional holiday run around town. Rob's sister comes up every year from PA to celebrate Rob's birthday and to catch some of the New York holiday spirit. We always join the crowd at the Rockefeller Christmas Tree...
...and Lani likes to do some big-city-shopping, so we hit all sorts of shops including "the mall" at Columbus Circle. They do a really neat light show with stars.

This year was extra special because we decided to catch Hairspray on Broadway. It's closing January 4th and some of the original cast members have come back to take the show out in style, including Harvey Fierstein (pictured below with Lani and Rob).
I saw Harvey this summer in the musical, A Catered Affair, which was more like a play with music. It was almost operatic in its beauty, drama and high emotions. It also marked my friend, Kristine Zbornik's Broadway debut. She and I worked together in The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun. Then after the show, my sweetheart, Rob, proposed to me! So needless to say, it's been a good year!

We greatly enjoyed seeing Harvey and the gang in Hairspray on Broadway. Rob and I are both fans of John Waters' original film, and Rob's little sister reminds us greatly of the forward-thinking, trend-setting Tracy, so we had to have her join us at the show. It was a great treat for all of us, and I hope you can catch this musical before it closes on January 4th.

I can't think of a better way to end 2008 and ring in the New Year than by singing and dancing to "You Can't Stop the Beat!"

Rock on!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Remembering Bettie

There will be a lot of people paying tribute to Bettie Page today. She was a mystery from the 50s, but I "discovered" her while I was in the acting troupe for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. One of my castmates was wearing a Rocketeer t-shirt, the like of which I've never seen since. It was a picture of the Rocketeer saving this beautiful, sassy brunette, whom I came to know as Bettie Page.
"Page's career began one day in October 1950 when she took a respite from her job as a secretary in a New York office for a walk along the beach at Coney Island. An amateur photographer named Jerry Tibbs admired the 27-year-old's firm, curvy body and asked her to pose."

Looking back on the career that followed (which included nude and fetish photographs), she told Playboy in 1998: "I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It's just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous."

Nudity didn't bother her, she said, explaining: "God approves of nudity. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they were naked as jaybirds."

I think this interview shows her sense of spirit which seemed to be apparent in all of her modeling work. The film, The Notorious Bettie Page, also gives an interesting glimpse into this sweet girl who became an iconic legend.

There's something about Bettie that provokes a reaction. She inspired countless generations and was more than a mere icon from the '50s. She set pop culture on fire and has continued to do so decade after decade.

I don't believe she was photographed in her later years. Once she stopped modeling and tried to find herself, she only allowed interviews years later, and even then preferred no pictures.

"Please remember me as I was. I hope that you understand. I am content now. I enjoy my privacy and my simple life. I have no regrets." - Bettie Page

Thursday, December 11, 2008

When Robbie met Laura

One of my first paid acting gigs was working in the professional acting company for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. It was the first and only year they came to Los Angeles to hire some of their actors, because the directors for that season were from LA. I'd just finished doing Educating Rita at the Palace West Playhouse, so I was all geared up for more British lit. Besides, Shakespeare was a fave. I'd done a few scenes as Miranda from The Tempest and Kate from The Taming of the Shrew in acting class, so I was excited to learn more.

Training at the Faire was intense. We were taught Shakespeare and improvisation from some of the best coaches in New York, stage combat from certified fight trainers from LA, and Elizabethan customs, manners and history from the PA dramaturges. It was a lot like college, but with the bonus of getting paid to do what I loved.

Many of the friends I made there have become life-long companions, including the love of my life, Robbie. He was cast as the comic villain, Cardinal Synne, and I played a little thief named Polly. We both sang, so we were cast in the musical shows as well - Madrigals and Bawdy Ballads - and we became fast friends.

One of my favorite movies at that time was When Harry Met Sally, and over the years this film has made me think of aspects of Rob and me, because we're friends who fell in love. As Harry says in the movie, "When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."

December always feels like our month, because we consider the first week our anniversary. And today is his birthday! Happy Birthday, honey! Thank you for sharing this life-ride with me! Each moment is magical!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Unconventional Christmas Tales and Homemade Holiday Gifts

I've always taken "the road less traveled," and I'm always delighted when I meet others along the way. For example, I love the holidays and will indulge in all the traditional holiday fare, but I also LOVE the quirky and unconventional stuff that is inspired by this time of year.

Right now I'm reading LAMB: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. It's wonderfully funny, irreverent, and yes, spiritual and beautiful. Really thought-provoking stuff in the midst of absurd humor.

I'm also reading the play, Well, by Lisa Kron and it's such a neat insight into health, family, community, Judaism, and a solo performer as she tries to navigate her first play with other actors involved. I highly recommend it, though it does come with several warnings such as "returning to parent's house may result in sudden bouts of immaturity." An excellent piece!

In the film/TV realm, I greatly enjoyed Fred Claus last night as I wrote our holiday cards. Vince Vaughn is such a master comedian and I loved the rest of the cast! Paul Giamatti is a lovely St. Nick, and I was thrilled to see some of my favorite British actors like Miranda Richardson (you HAVE to see her as Queen Elizabeth in the Black Adder series) and Rachel Weisz.

Speaking of the UK, a new favorite in our household is "The Hogfather," based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld books which mix magic, scifi, ancient lore and good ol' British humor into a wonderful cauldron of fun! It's what happens when the Hogather, a Father Christmas-like character, goes missing, so Death takes over the holiday in an effort to keep the spirit alive. It's great fun, a little macabre, and quite philosophical as well.
Last but not least, I must point to one of my favorite sites, The Essential Herbal and the daily homemade gift ideas Tina is posting. These are some AWESOME gift ideas - from simmering potpourris, to eye-pillows and sachets, incense, oils, cooking recipes. Sounds simple but it is SUMPTUOUS stuff!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Very Motivational

Almost 3 years ago, I took a class called The Musical Theatre Forum and it was one of those life-changing experiences. It's taught by VP Boyle who is the consummate "man of many hats" since he juggles work as a director, casting director, actor, singer, writer, producer and one of the best audition coaches in this country.
VP recently published a book called Audition Freedom, and apparently yours truly is in a story within the pages. :)

Last year at this time, he coached me on my rendition of Janis Joplin for the musical, Hell's Belles. We had such a blast finding my whiskey growl! :) This morning VP sent me this amazingly motivational clip called "Motivational... Period!" I just had to share it here because it really is amazing what we can accomplish when we aren't hampered by perceived limitations.

And from The Pursuit of Happyness: "Don't ever let somebody tell you... you can't do something... You want something. Go get it. Period."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Too Much to Blog About!

Do you ever experience things throughout your day, and tuck it away, thinking, I'll blog about that later? And then wham! A week goes by! Well, heck! The holidays especially tend to be that way. I still feel like it's Halloween! There have been so many marvelous treats! Or maybe it's just that wonderful sense of generosity that is the undercurrent of this time of year. Whatever it is, I love it!

Thanksgiving was lovely and I hope yours was as well. I spent it with my sweetie in the Big Apple with our NY crew.

(L-R: my honey, Rob, Michael, Carl and Ataman)

I also made lots of calls to my family on the West Coast, so I was there in spirit.

Then Rob and I went shopping this weekend, running around from The Lower East Side to The Village. I had to laugh because we crossed Delancey Street twice, and I was reminded of my favorite movie as a kid, "Crossing Delancey." It's a wonderful story by Susan Sandler who also wrote the play, and it's about a young woman trying to find herself and love in Manhattan.

There's a side story in the film that one of her suitors tells her. He's Sam, the Pickle Man, and he talks about how his grandfather never crossed Delancey (thus referring to how sectionalized New Yorkers can get - we don't do it on purpose, we just get comfortable). But one day his hat is blown across the street and he is forced to chase it, thus Crossing Delancey. Of course, this changes his life, as I believe he meets his true love when he buys a new hat. And this is only the side-story! But it's about making changes that are good for ourselves, trying on a "new hat" and I really love that.

Interestingly enough, I've been making some changes myself recently. I got a sassy haircut that makes me feel like a million bucks and booked a photo session with Ben Strothmann, who had taken such wonderful pictures for The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun. Ben and I found each other on Facebook and I discovered that in the midst of his own acting work, he also does headshot photography. He's photographed a gazillion Broadway stars like Laura Bell Bundy, Sierra Boggess, Donna McKechnie, Cheyenne Jackson, and so many more marvelous artists!

I've been wanting to get new pics for a while since some of the casting folks I've met recently have said they felt there was more to me than meets the eye where my headshots were concerned, so when I noticed Ben was doing headshot sessions, I jumped at the chance to work with him.

He works with an incredible makeup artist named Alexis Velez, who has such a great understanding of the industry and that "you want to look like yourself but yourself at your best."I certainly felt fabulous after my makeup session with her. She didn't pile it on - I felt like I was hardly wearing anything aside from a sense of pizazz - and the result was WONDERFUL!

Then Ben started taking pictures. I have never had SO MUCH FUN while getting my headshots taken. I couldn't stop laughing! It was like being with an old friend - we just chatted away. And he would show me the pics on his digicam, so I could see how things were developing, and it was SO COOL! I cannot recommend him enough! He is so amazingly affordable which is so rare, and he's even doing a $99 hour-long special right now, which is a steal considering how talented he is! Seriously I feel like I won the lottery with Ben! So if you need new pics, definitely contact him! :)

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Wind at my Back

There was an interesting moment this morning when it felt as if the wind was behind me, gently pushing me along, and I was reminded of that expression, "the wind at your back."

I googled the phrase and found a cool article on The Sweet Spot about marketing during a recession. Really interesting stuff, because as an actor, you also have to be savvy about marketing your career.

Bonnie Gillespie writes about this all the time on The Actors Voice, knowing your product and your market. It's one of those essential ingredients to understanding the business of show business, and I've become more and more aware of it as I've been getting clearer on my type and the type of work I want to do. Clarity is good! :)

Anyway, that feeling of the wind at my back, and all of these little signs that have sprung up today - like hearing from new people associated with my biz in different and interesting ways - it just makes me feel like I'm on the right path. And the wind is blowing me gently on my way.

Very cool.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Giving thanks

Can you believe next week is Thanksgiving?

Now that the winter winds have blown into Manhattan and the stores are playing Christmas music, "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas." And I don't mind that Christmas seems to be coming upon us so quickly. I love it. I love all the lights on the trees that line the streets. The ones in front of the Time Warner building across from Central Park are this bright silver blue, which is so pretty. And with the sun disappearing at 5 PM, we need some sparkle in our lives.

But first - Thanksgiving.
I love this time of year. Even though it's cold outside, hearts are warm with thoughts of family and friends. There is the sense of enjoying the harvest, and being grateful for it all!

I look back at this year of great change and am so thankful to the people who've helped to transform my life and my world: my sweetheart (now fiance), my "soul siblings" (friends who are like family) and family who are like friends (my brother is the coolest dude there is), teachers, guides, directors, casting directors, writers, producers, costumers, actors, artists, totally awesome techies, the co-workers at my day job who make me laugh and are so supportive of my acting work, doctors, dentists, masseuses, anyone who's taken time to make a compassionate connection. It's been a wild ride and I thank you all for sharing it with me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A rainy afternoon with Charles Busch

You know how everyone says they like to curl up with a good book on a rainy day? It's because no one can bring such vivid color to a gray day like a favorite author.

Well, today, that writer for me was Charles Busch. He's a brilliant playwright and performer whom I first encountered via the classic "camp" movie, Psycho Beach Party. That style of "old Hollywood" meets the hipsters of today with a blast of one fabulous drag queen poured into several fabulous gowns... what more could you ask for? ;)

Today I got to read for a role in his new play, The Third Story. It was such a fun romp! To get to play with that style - that sense of high drama mixed with crazy comedy (sounds like a fun cocktail, doesn't it?) - was such a pleasure to embrace! To enter the "worlds" he creates, and to get to perform his work - even for 2 minutes - is such a treat! :)

The interesting side note is that I've been working on some pictures from his play, Die Mommie Die! for my friend, Brian Swasey's website. I'm a designer on the side, and Brian was Assistant Director for the recent Off Broadway production, Die Mommie Die! which Charles wrote and starred in. Brian was also my director for the Off-Off Broadway revival of the musical Lucky Stiff, so I just find this whole thing rather cool and serendipitous.
Here's to adding some humor, color and glamor to your day! :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Food for the soul

One of my favorite lessons that an acting coach gave me was to "work, play, and rest." Some people might think that the work actors do is really just play, but it's actually A LOT of work. There's research, keeping in shape (physically, artistically, emotionally), memorization, studying voice, movement, music if you're a singer, there's a lot of cultivation that has to happen on a daily basis. And that's not even going into the business aspect of show business, which includes updating pictures, resumes, electronic submissions, job searches, auditions, postcards, letters, promotions, web-updates, marketing, all that stuff.

Then comes the PLAY part, freeing up the body, mind and spirit to let the art flow, and that's the fun part, though one of my favorite writers argues that ALL of it can be fun, and I agree. I love the work that goes into the play. :)

Coming off of doing 3 shows since July, I'm in the cultivation process of working on monologues, taking classes, going to the gym, hitting auditions.... I'm also taking time to just SAVOR the city.
I went to Central Park on Saturday and though it was rainy, I loved it so much that I vowed to return the next day, camera in hand. And boy, am I glad I did! Isn't it beautiful? I walked about with the tourists and other New Yorkers who'd come to enjoy Autumn in Bloom. It was such a revitalization for my spirit, a harvest for the soul.

So I hope you too are getting to stop and smell the roses in the midst of your work and play.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Into the Light

I read this term yesterday in conjunction with the Suffragettes, and I heard it mentioned again last night and this morning with this historic election: Hope that we will be guided out of these dark times "Into the Light."

"To all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright - tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

"That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

"This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can."
- Barack Obama, 44th President-elect of the United States

Blessed be!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Casting the Vote

At 5:35 this morning, my sweetie got me up to vote. God bless him, he's an early riser, and the time change is especially hard on his internal time clock. But in this case it was a benefit, because by the time we got to Fordham Law School, there was already a line!

What a difference 4 years can make! 4 years ago, there were maybe 10 people up with us at the crack of dawn to vote. But today the line stretched down the street! I LOVE that people want their voices heard!

We were close enough to the front that by the time we got in, I could see that the first person to cast today's vote (in our area of Manhattan) was an elderly woman, and I tell you, I wanted to salute her.

It wasn't even 100 years ago that women were awarded the right to vote. They had been considered insane because they wanted the same freedom as men. Who exactly was insane in that scenario, eh?

On March 3, 1913, Lawyer Inez Milholland Boissevain led the National American Woman Suffrage Association parade in Washington, D.C., under a banner that read “Into the Light.” It was a hard battle and the women who fought for our right to vote were treated horrifically.

The Nineteenth Amendment was finally passed by Congress June 4, 1919 (ratified August 18, 1920).

Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

So get out there and vote, everyone!

One voice can make a difference, inspiring countless others.

Monday, November 03, 2008

To Lift the Spirits

This weekend we were surrounded by friends and family, sharing Halloween over a hearth here in Manhattan, then traveling to PA to share love and hugs with my in-laws, mourning the loss of Billy Koch, an uncle-brother-father-husband-grandfather... a character straight out of Characterville.(pictured: Mary and Billy Koch)

As we drove through the Autumn leaves of PA, engulfed in fiery golden hues, Robbie and I filled the car with music and found ourselves lifting our spirits by lifting our voices in song. Music can definitely heal the spirit!

Sunday I watched the NY City Marathon while working out at the gym. I've been to the race before and its incredible, but there was something amazing about doing my own workout while watching the first 3 women to win the race, all of us pressing on, moving towards our goals...

It was really cool to see Kara Goucher from Queens clock the fastest time for an American ever, finishing 3rd in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 53 seconds. Her story was amazing! And actually, I have to give kudos to all the women and men who simply ran the marathon. That is a major feat!

This is such an incredibly historic time. With the election tomorrow, I wanted to share this piece with you from Maya Angelou. May it serve as inspiration!

"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. You will be changed, events will change you, but you have to decide not to be reduced....You have to continue to prepare yourself, continue to build yourself, continue to elevate yourself and be a benefit, be a blessing rather than a curse, and things will get better.

"You need to know that you can go somewhere. You're not just like grass growing on the street. You're like trees, you have roots, and they've done wonderful things, and you need to know that, and by knowing that, you see how outfitted you are for these times. And that you really owe it to those who went before so that you can add to them for those who are yet to come.

"You need to know that you are in a continuum, and if you understand that, you realize that you are worthwhile." - Maya Angelou

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Arrrr, matey! Me n me first mate here, we be wishing you all a Happy Halloween!

It's been a crazy few weeks, juggling classes and auditions and daily life. As the leaves turn gold and the wind blows cold, I simply thrill to the sense of change that's in the air. Keeping positive, learning as I go. The light in the darkness. We have to keep hopeful, positive and buoyant.

I'll be hanging with my buds in midtown. My friends, Carl and Michael always host a lovely Halloween gathering by their hearth. Yes, they have an actual working fireplace in the their apartment! And it's such a treat to be in the warmth of their company on these chilly nights.

May your Halloween night be an absolute delight! And may this time of harvesting be plentiful for all!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Taking the Plunge

The last 24 hours have been pretty incredible. I just feel like I'm vibrating!

First off, last night I went to see The 39 Steps with my friend, Wayne Henry (Pepi Pisano from Johnny on a Spot), and it was BRILLIANT! Truly, anyone who wants to see high quality work on Broadway should head over to the Cort Theatre, because this show is exceptional!

4 actors bring about 150 characters (so billed) to life in Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece about an average fellow in London who gets mixed up with a beautiful spy and begins a wild goose-chase to clear his name of... murder. Hitchcock even gets his famous cameo in one of the chase scenes! Hysterical!

What's incredible about this piece is that it's basically a trunk show. There's no set - just bare brick walls - which reminded me of the show I did this summer Off Broadway at Cherry Lane, Kaboom - and the props are minimal. But what is there is brilliant! There's great use of the red velvet curtains that open and close the show, and there are simple pieces of furniture like a moving door that gives you a sense of being in a cavernous mansion.

The show is brilliantly brought to life by the stellar cast who are all tip-top with crystal clear characters, various dialects and precise physicalizations. Plus the lights and sound and the music (gorgeous!) all create the proper mood. Very Hitchcock! Great style! Mmmm!
(L-R: Sam Robards, Arnie Burton, Cliff Saunders, and Jennifer Ferrin)

One of my favorite scenes was when the hero makes a daring escape on a train, which consisted of a few trunks, but the cast made every part of that train real - from the individual cars, doors, windows, tight squeezes... to the great chase on "the roof." Really exceptional!
And I said to my friend, Wayne, "This is why I love theatre! You have to commit 100%. You can't do any of this half-baked!"

(me and Wayne backstage on the last show of Johnny on a Spot)

And that brings me to Part 2 of "Taking the Plunge."

After last night's show, I went home and worked on my scene from The Dark at the Top of the Stairs for today's master class in film directing at Columbia University. The director for the scene was a 2nd year grad student named Sally Liu, and she had found my name in the casting files for Columbia and asked if I could do this scene for her. We only had 2 days to work on this scene, so it was intense work, especially for this highly emotional scene where 2 sisters are coming to each other with their troubles. Just getting 10 pages of text memorized in 2 days was a challenge, but I was excited to take it.

We presented the scene to the class this morning, and the professor, Emmy Award winner, John Erman, gave us amazing adjustments. He had us improvise the scene and actually flipflopped the characters a bit, which made me discover the softer side of my big blousey character. He also was very kind and complimentary and encouraging and showed the director how she could achieve what she wanted with the scene by trying a few different things like improvisation. He also mentioned how important it is for a director to dig deep, to help an actor "plunge into the pit" of an emotion. It was brilliant work! I learned so much! And I feel so honored that I have worked consistently with directors this year who have helped me to "take the plunge," to be big and bold in my work and to trust my instincts, to just go for it!

Like the hero says in The 39 Steps, When you are thrust into a situation, you often can amaze yourself with your own inventiveness, or something of the sort. :)

So here's to the next step! And the next!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's next?

This question is always asked of an actor and it always blows me away. You can be in the midst of a nice run for a play or a musical and people will still ask, "What's next?" I guess it's human nature to look ahead, and I myself am usually in that mode, wondering what's around the corner, but I guess because I've been so busy, juggling 3 different plays since July, I feel like I've just come from a fabulously full feast, and I'm still savoring it all. Yum! :)

Of course, I'm not one to idle, and I've got a bunch of auditions and acting classes already lined up for this month into the next. A lot of scenework from scripts for TV, film and theatre are being sent my way, so I'm getting to delve into all that, learning, growing, stretching as an actor, and I just love it!

I'm also catching up with my friends and family, laughing and listening and sharing stories and adventures.

When I can, I'm going to dive back into book 5 of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. HBO's True Blood series is based on these books, and I'm enjoying both of these vampire tales. Fitting for this time of year.

I can also finally jump into my friend, Tina's book, Under The Sun: The First Five Years of the Essential Herbal, which is gonna come in handy this Fall and Winter. Heck! It's great for any time of year! There are so many fantastic recipes and natural remedies, and the personal stories are a treat unto themselves!

I'm also cultivating my monologues, new and old, reading and rereading works from my favorite playwrights: Theresa Rebeck, David Hare, Beth Henley, and Don Nigro. Until I can study with her, Karen Kohlhaas' monologue audition book is a godsend in this department! I can't recommend it enough!

Musically, I'm opening my ears to all kinds of music, listening to songs that catch me, knowing I'll be working on my songbook for musical theatre auditions too.

Plus I'm still busy booking gigs! I was called in to do voice over work for TransCanada, and had a ball playing the bitchy office worker who always stirs things up.

It wasn't too far a cry from my character in Johnny On A Spot, and I actually got the audition based on a recommendation from one of my Johnny castmates, Robert O'Gorman (pictured above from left to right: Ellen Zolezzi, Robert, me, and Mark Manley).

Robert has an incredible voice - deep and gravelly and imbued with humor. He also booked the voice-over gig (of course), and we had fun catching each other as we took turns in the recording booth.

I just got a call to do a scene from The Dark at the Top of the Stairs for John Erman's master class in film directing at Columbia University, so I'll be diving into William Inge's emotionally provocative piece. I've been meaning to read more of Inge's works anyway (with a yen to read Picnic), so this'll be great fun!

Before my evenings get booked up, I have plans to see more theatre. August Osage County, The 39 Steps, and Billy Elliot (which my Kaboom director is working on), are on my list, to name a few.

And I'm jumping into a sitcom/comedy class next week.

So what's next? PLENTY! :)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Still in a Whirl

These past 3 months have been incredible, because I have been working fulltime as an actor. It really is a milestone, because so often artists find themselves "between gigs," but since July I've been fortunate to be going from one show to the next, and this is the first time I've been rehearsing for one show while in the midst of performing another.

It has been such a wonderfully wild ride, and there have been so many cherries on this cake... like getting to work with Broadway greats like Ray Wills from The Producers and being directed by the amazing BT McNicholl, who's currently resident director for Billy Elliott on Broadway. Just working with these phenomenal folks really helped me step up my game for Kaboom, Michael Small's new comedy that premiered Off Broadway at the exquisite Cherry Lane Theatre. It was such a blast to work on a new comedy that gave me such room to play and grow with a zany character like Kandy (above left).

Then there was Johnny on a Spot, which closed this past weekend. What a tantalizing treat to dive into a period piece like this one where there were 25 fully fleshed-out characters! You could tell Charles MacArthur loved the vibe of the newspaper men of his day, because there were only 3 women in this show, and even then, us gals were hearty! There was Ellen Zolezzi (left) who played the loving yet wise-cracking secretary, Margery Beddow (center) who played the ballsy madame with a heart of gold, and me, the steel magnolia who would give Scarlet O'Hara a run for her money!
The fellows were all wonderful! Mark Manley (above) played my Uncle Willy and I loved how we incorporated pieces of our characters' personalities to show the family resemblence. No one could throw a temper tantrum like my Barbara, but Mark sure gave it a go with his dotingly befuddled but just as much a foot-stamping uncle.
Kevin Kolack was a sweetpea and played a newspaper reporter as well as the super trooper who would haul me off at the beginning of Act 3. As I said, my character was a trouble-maker and quite the hellcat, but the audiences seemed to love her, and if they were really into it, they'd even give us exit applause as Kevin hauled me offstage.

I made such great friends with all the cast and crew and will sure miss them.

The coolest thing about this past weekend is that my Dad flew out from CA on a surprise trip. He made it to the theatre just in time to catch the final performance of Johnny and he also got to see the staged reading of SIN which I did the very next day.
Sin was a little mind-blowing because I got to perform with one of my childhood acting heroes, F. Murray Abraham. I had seen Mr. Abraham in the film Amadeus when I was a kid, and I was so moved by his wicked yet devoted performance as Salieri. It was beyond a dream come true to be acting onstage with him. I played "the only demon cursed with a sensitive soul" and he played Satan. Yeah, pretty cool. :)

And the rest of the cast which was nothing to sneeze at! There was the beautiful Marilyn Chris, the hysterical Alvin Epstein, Paul Hecht and Mary Rose Synek, all of us directed by Robert Kalfin, who helmed the original production of Yentl, one of my favorite stories...

I just feel so fortunate to have worked with all of these incredible people and to have been able to share these joyous performances with my family (on both coasts) and my friends. My cup runneth over! And I am ever so thankful!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Theatre Stories

It's the closing week for Johnny On A Spot and everyone's been very sentimental. A lot of Broadway shows are closing or have closed as well (Xanadu, Legally Blonde) and I imagine those casts are feeling just as sentimental.

Last night, some of our cast members were talking about their first Broadway experiences, whether they were shows they had seen or participated in, and I just marvelled at the universal experience theatre inspires in others - that sense of joy and awe.

Dale Carman told me about seeing Funny Girl at the Winter Garden, and how he and his partner arrived late, so they made their way through the dark, feeling along the walls of the theatre until they found their seats, and then they were absolutely dazzled by the rich red lights when the show started. I imagined how Dale must've felt seeing Barbra Streisand on the stage, a young woman ready to take the world by storm.

Margery Beddow (pictured above with Dale) remembered seeing Barbra sing at at a club. I think she said it was called "Bon Soir." And she said that even then Barbra spoke of herself as an actress who sang. "And when she sang... wow!"

Margery herself has an incredible history of performing on many a Broadway stage, and her list of credits is a mile long! I loved hearing about when she came to Manhattan as a ballerina and had a nice career in that field before joining Bob Fosse as one of his dancers and assistants. To hear her talk about her audition with Bob is just so darned cool! She wrote a book about it, called Bob Fosse's Broadway, and Wayne Henry, who is hilarious as Pepi Pisano in "Johnny" brought the book in for Margery to sign. We all goggled over the pictures of her and Fosse and Gwen Verdon. Just incredible! Margie said Gwen taught her the role of Lola for a regional production of Damn Yankees, and Margie also understudied Gwen on Broadway in Redhead. Truly, they look like sisters!

I'm just beyond thrilled that I've been able to work with these incredible people, and of course it makes me think of my first Broadway experience. I was a kid when my parents took me to see CATS and then The Phantom of The Opera. And now I'm working with all these Broadway people! So cool!

Things are coming together in such a fascinating way... I feel like how I felt when I was waiting in the wings with Christopher Fitzgerald (who's now playing Igor in Young Frankenstein). We were at the NY Musical Theatre Festival gala and were both award recipients of the NYMF Award of Excellence. It was such a magical moment, getting ready to take the stage...

All these moments seem to be building up to something. They're all incredible pieces of the puzzle!

Next up:
I'm doing a staged reading with F. Murray Abraham whose work I've admired since I saw his Academy Award winning performance for Amadeus. I'm reprising my role in this 2nd staged reading Mark Altman's play, Sin, sharing the stage with Marilyn Chris, Alvin Epstein, Paul Hecht and Mary Rose Synek. Robert Kalfin directs. Playbill.com has the scoop. :)