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. has the scoop. :)