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! :)