Monday, May 25, 2009

A Glimpse of Greatness

My sweetheart and I tend to stay in the city over Memorial Day Weekend. We've always enjoyed the quiet feeling that pervades the city when everyone rushes out to go to the beach. And it's been such a beautiful weekend! So we've spent a great deal of it, strolling about.

This morning, on our way to the gym, we passed the Eugene O'Neill Theatre where 33 Variations had played, and I was sad to see the show had closed. Apparently, it was a limited run, and boy, am I glad I got to see it last weekend before it closed!

Seeing that closing notice posted on the theatre doors reminded me what a fleeting treasure theatrical performances are. With film, we're able to view and review something a million times until we're spent on it. But with theatre, it's often a one-shot deal, and yet there is something so visceral about live theatre, so tangible. It is such a connected experience between the performers and the audience, and that experience is often kept alive in our memories.

I'm still amazed by folks I've met who've seen a show I've done and give such generous accounts of their experience. A casting director I met recently saw The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun that I did a few years ago, and an actress I met at Actors Equity saw me in Johnny On A Spot, which I did last Fall, and both ladies were full of very kind compliments.

I love how people are moved by theatre! And sure, I remember my first big theatrical experience. It was Beatlemania. My parents took me to see it in LA when I was a kid, and I was absolutely mesmerized. I cried and cried when it was over. And interestingly enough, with 33 Variations, that too had me sobbing at the end. It was such a wonderful production!

Jane Fonda played a musicologist, searching for clues as to why Beethoven (played with great ferocity by Zach Grenier) wrote 33 Variations on a simple waltz by Anton Diabelli (played by the delightful Don Amendolia). Some of these variations are considered to be Beethoven's last pieces of work, and the playwright/director Moises Kaufman wove together this story of a woman coming to terms with her illness of Lou Gehrig's disease while also juggling a distant relationship with her daughter (the tenacious Samantha Manthis), who unexpectedly find's love with her mother's nurse (Colin Hanks' Broadway debut, and boy was he wonderful). Intertwined with this modern tale is a fictional account of Beethoven's last years, coming to terms with his deafness and the new discoveries it gave him as a composer. "And, even though they're separated by 200 years, these two people share an obsession that might, even just for a moment, make time stand still."

Indeed it did! There was a moment where Jane Fonda's character, Katherine, is having x-rays and you can see the pain this woman is going through, yet she leans back, and there is Beethoven, her solace and her inspiration to keep going.

The characters come together in the final scene, meeting in Katherine's mind, and it was such incredible work! The acting, the writing, the directing, the scenic and lighting design and the music (beautifully played by pianist Diane Walsh)! The cast was rounded out by the fabulous Susan Kellermann, whom I loved in Queen Latifah's film, Last Holiday, and Erik Steele as Beethoven's right hand man, Anton Schnidler.

The whole production reminded why I love theatre so much and why I want to do work like this, to work with incredible artists who tell stories of such depth and beauty. It was first-rate, and I'm glad I caught it because it was gone. It will definitely live in my memory forever.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Drive

I've been thinking about this since last week when I saw Speed Racer. It really was a fun movie, and at the heart of it, a movie about family and what brings people together.

I never was a Speed Racer fan. It was before my time, and even when I'd hear older boys talking about it, I just didn't get it, but the Wachowski Brothers' film really got me. The graphics were breathtaking and the actors weren't eclipsed by it, which can happen in some graphic-heavy films. The whole film was an effective, united effort, and everyone and everything in it was quite wonderful!

Some of the writing was really beautiful too. Susan Sarandon's speech as the mother, saying that watching her son race was like watching a master artist paint made me think of watching my little brother play the drum-set for the first time. He was 16, but had been playing since he was 12 while I was away at college and art school, and I was astounded watching him. It was just like watching a master painter at work.

And Racer X, the mysterious mentor figure in the film, gives great encouragement to Speed Racer, asking him what drives him. "We drive because we have to," he says. And it made me think of my friend, Tina, who started her own herbal magazine 7 years ago, and who I always encouraged to write, just as she encouraged me to act.

Whenever we had rough days, we'd always ask each other, "Well, what else would you do?" And we both agreed and still agree we HAVE to do our art, because it satisfies us like nothing else can.

So when I got off the elevator yesterday, going to an audition, and the maintenance man in my building said, "I wish I was like you....When you get old, you lose The Drive..." I looked at him, he who seemed so young for his 50 years of age, and I said, "Hang in there, man. No matter what, you gotta grab each moment."

And he said, "That you do!"

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cool Connections and Callbacks

You know, I didn't want to get up this morning. I was in class late last night, working on Shakespeare with Deloss Brown, which of course was invigorating and got all my senses a-whirling, so I didn't go to sleep til about midnight. Thus, when the alarm went off this morning to get me up early for audition sign-ups for the New York Stage and Film 2009 Season, I was a little groggy. But it's my biz, and I love the line-up of plays and musicals for the season, so I had to go.

The great speech from Henry V kept me going:

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more..."

It's that never give up attitude, ya know?

And I'm SO glad I went!

Robert Marra, the director who brought me in for final call-backs for the Off Broadway revival of Snoopy, was there as an unexpected guest of the general manager. It was great to see him, and he was all waves and smiles, very encouraging, and it was a joy to get to show him my work outside of Snoopy, mainly rocking the house with a sexy pop rock song. It was a BLAST!

Then when I got back to my computer, there was an email from a lovely casting director whom I met a few years ago at callbacks for Wine Lovers, The Musical. I decided to submit for a new project she's working on for The Midtown International Theatre Festival, and lo and behold she called me in! I'm so excited about this opportunity! And it just amazes me to think that I almost didn't send my info out to her. Well, I've certainly learned to release my limitations and make a commitment to myself.

Again, a Shakespeare play I'm working on is brought to mind:

"Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt. Go to..."
- Measure for Measure

So no matter what, show up, do your mailings, and invest in yourself and your craft. Ya gotta keep on trying!

And keep your fingers crossed! ;)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

In honor of my Mama

My beautiful friend, Tina, recently wrote this lovely post about her mother, and of course, it made me think of mine.

I got to see my Mama at the beginning of the month when I went to CA to see my little bro perform with Hippie Cream. And the cherry on the cake was that mom decided to come to the show too!

The gig was at an old hippie commune in LA. It was actually an old USC frat house that had a history of being a hippie commune in 1969, and Hippie Cream was invited to play at their 40th anniversary/reunion. So there we were - my Mom, me, my brother and the band, surrounded by hippies, old and new.

The old-timers were a really groovy group, I must say. Lots of silver hair and an absolute effervescence in spirit! And the newer group of hippies were more like goth kids mixed with hipster punk. It was such an interesting group and made me think how we are all unified in our search to express ourselves.

My Mom was 17 in '69 so she was more of a woman in the disco era, but she fit right in at the Hippie Cream gig and got along great with everyone.

I was so proud of her for coming along. It was a late gig and she didn't get home til 2 AM, but boy, was it cool that she was there to see her son drum! And I loved getting to hang out with her in this very groovy kind of way.

She actually is probably one of the reasons Sean and I are so artistic. She and Dad would play the Beatles endlessly - even into the 80s - so Sean and I grew up with some very cool music in our ears.

She also was the first one to encourage me to "live out loud" and she was so supportive with all the things I wanted to do as a child: ballet, gymnastics, acting and singing.

She volunteered to be a seamstress for my school plays, creating costumes and such, and I'll never forget going thrift store shopping with her at the age of 10, finding this gorgeous old prom dress that she turned into Cinderella's ball gown for my 5th grade play. I was Cinderella, and you can bet I felt so incredibly special, knowing my Mom was my very own fairy godmother, having created this beautiful dress for me.

We've always been friends as well as mother and daughter, and it was incredibly hard on both of us when I left CA to come to NY. Heck! It still is hard! But I feel like she's with me every day, sharing the highs and lows of my acting career and daily life.

She's come to NY a few times, and she especially came to see me as The Singing Nun. I tell ya, she just beamed with pride, and she was talking to everyone after the show, briefly becoming a mini Mama Rose. :) But it all came from a good place.

And it still does. It all comes from love.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Shopping and The Tonys

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I just got back from 2 auditions (The Glass Menagerie and Seattle Rep), and they both felt really good, so that is also cause for celebration! Ole!

Every time I audition, I learn so much - about myself, the character, the process. It's definitely fascinating! And I've entered a neat realm where it feels like the directors and casting directors are really looking at me. It's like they're trying to figure out where I'd fit, how they'd cast me, and this reminds me of my recent shopping spree with my Mom last week.

Mom and I hit everything from thrift stores to major brand stores, and we had a blast doing it. We'd load up on clothes and shoes that caught our eyes, and then we'd go try them on.

Now, this makes me think of the first phase of auditions, except that we, the actors, are the clothes, and the casting people are seeing if they want to try us on. Bonnie Gillespie likened this to a wine bar, but more along the lines of what kind of advice to "drink in," which is a really cool reminder that we're all in the same boat here, meaning it's not "us vs. them" or vice versa. Every aspect of show business is a group effort - even one person shows!

And this takes me to The Tonys.

Who knows how many tryouts there were for the shows that have been nominated? Or any of the shows on Broadway! I can imagine the lengthy process it's taken some of these folks to get to where they are.

The gang from Title of Show were part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, just like I was with The Tragic and Horrible Life of the Singing Nun, and we actually all intermingled at the NYMF Awards. They performed and I was a recipient, and now Hunter Bell is up for the Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical. Very cool!

I actually know two other people who are nominated or associated with nominated shows this year, and I guess that shouldn't surprise me because the same thing happened last year! I'd either worked with or been in classes with people in last year's Tony Awards too!

This year, Billy Elliot, the musical about the little British boy who is sent to boxing class but just wants to dance, has swept the nominations, earning 15 nods!BT McNicholl, my director for last summer's comedy KABOOM at Cherry Lane, is the Resident Director for Billy Elliot, and he was actually working on Billy at the same time as KABOOM, which had to be an intense stretch, but what a fun ride!

BT was always the epitome of professionalism and high energy, and I would work with him again in a heartbeat.

My other Tony-nom-blast-from-the-past is Christopher Sieber, who is nominated for his hilarious turn as Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical. I went to AMDA with Chris, and though we were in different sessions, I do remember him from when our groups would intermingle. He was very funny, charismatic and talented even then!

I believe he stayed on for a second year at AMDA, but I was offered the role of Rita in a regional production of Educating Rita, so I missed my second year for that role, but boy, it was worth it.

It's thrilling when someone you've worked with gets kudos for their work. And it's always encouraging to see one of your classmates making their dreams come true.

I know that every time I put myself out there, I'm making it happen too.

Congratulations to all of the nominees! :)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Back to Work

There's a really cool phrase in reference to art, and I don't know how long it's been around, but I really dig it. It's called "The Work," and it's usually in reference to good work, though in truth, I believe any commitment to one's craft is a good thing, and so the work that results from the effort one puts into one's craft must have benefit.

And it's is really cool when you hear someone say they liked your work. That happened today at my audition for Alan Ayckbourn's comedy, How the Other Half Loves, to be produced in CT. The artistic director was very generous with praise about my work, and I LOVE the work! :) Whether its performing a piece for an audition, class, or a show, I'm learning and growing, and I love it!

I actually just got back from vacation in CA last week, where I got to see my family and share the artistic ride with my little brother. He's a drummer for the band Hippie Cream, and they're a really groovy group of guys who make music that bounces around between lots of genres. Sean likes to say they're like The Muppets on acid, guest-starring Paul Simon.

They played for a hippie commune's 40th Anniversary at USC and man, that was wild! They made me think of early Oingo Boingo mixed with Johnny Cash and the Monkees. They also got comparisons to Frank Zappa, but truly Hippie Cream has their own sound, and they are FUN!

And you know, that's what I think good artists bring to their work: fun! I mean, you don't dedicate your life to something if you don't get any joy out of it! There can be frustrations and challenges, sure, but it's part of the ride, and it's all how you look at it.

Whether it's acting, music, painting, film, sculpture, writing, I don't know any artist who goes into their work without passion. And like a garden, one must tend to it daily.

So when I got back from vacation, I got back to work. Heck! Even while I was on vacation, I was working, reading scripts, finishing up postcards, and brainstorming ideas for shorts on YouTube. Talking with my brother always gets my artistic fire burning brightly. And inspiration abounds!

So now I'm back in New York, and I'm back to work! :)