Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Transforming Theatre

When theatres closed down because of the coronavirus, so many people were suddenly out of a job: actors, directors, stage managers, costumers, dressers, lighting designers, set designers, painters, technicians, sound designers, prop masters, conductors, musicians... the list goes on. A massive crew brings a production to life, and I know so many people who've been hurt by this shutdown. 

But shutting down is essential because people are dying from this virus. I have so many friends who've lost loved ones to this virus: parents, mentors, students, teachers, friends and family. We had two neighbors pass away from the virus. One was a nursing assistant who died because the hospitals didn’t have enough PPE in the beginning. 

This is an unprecedented time, and as an artist I wondered how I could help. I checked in on friends and neighbors. I shared info about what was going on in New York City, and I shared what I knew of how to protect against the virus. My sister-in-law’s friend was living in Shanghai as a teacher, and she immediately told us about masking up. I’m pretty sure she saved our lives.

There was so much trauma. I felt like I lost my voice, but then people in Italy sang, so I sang.

A friend told me New Yorkers were singing, “Lean On Me” to essential workers, so I opened my window and sang.

Then a production company I’d worked with Off Broadway, 16th Note Productions, contacted me about doing a video of a song from the new musical, “Starcrossed,” and I was so thankful to put on some makeup and get into character and sing!

I started filming more episodes for my webseries, Laura Loves NY. In addition to my usual running around the city, documenting life in NYC, I filmed and edited 4 Zoom interviews: rising star Deb Snyder, hilarious puppeteer-comedian Wayne Henry, herb writer and soap makers, Tina Sams and Maryanne Schwartz; and Constance Cooks who's been hosting wonderful weekly cooking shows on Instagram.

I did a Zoom reading of Steel Magnolias with my former castmates. We had done the show in NY a few years ago.

That was my first foray into Zoom theatre, and it seemed to work. People still resonated with the characters and the story. We all laughed and cried.

So when I was asked to audition for Mixing It Up Productions’ Zoom presentation of the new play, “The Broken Closet,” I had a sense of what worked. I put the pdf of my script on screen and looked into camera, so it seemed as if I was talking directly to the other characters. I positioned the lights I had for self-tape auditions around my laptop so I was well-lit. And I did my usual actor work of breaking down the beats of the scene, focusing on what my character wanted.And you know what? It worked! I booked the gig!

Rehearsals were fascinating. Our director, Kristen Penner, helped us with the pacing, because for those who have Zoomed before, you know that hearing and talking to your fellow Zoom participants can be wonky. So imagine trying to do a dramatic scene where you have to break down and cry. Or fall in love. It can be done. Just like any theatrical experience, as an actor, I commit myself to the character living her life in the story of the play. There's just this extra technical experience of doing it all on Zoom.

“The Broken Closet” was about a family grieving the loss of a young woman - a daughter, a sister - who’d died from a heroin addiction. With all the stress of COVID, I wondered how the play would be received, but it seemed to resonate with folks, and we all felt the catharsis of tears.

Then I was asked to audition for and booked “The Cribbage Game,” which dealt with 3 middle aged folks finding the next chapter of their lives at a beach bar in Mexico. It was a beautiful piece, and I enjoyed playing Claire, a breast cancer survivor who goes from uptight spinster to a woman blossoming with love.

These plays have truly been a gift, and I’m so thankful for the playwrights who have continued to write about people trying to connect during challenging times. And I’m thankful to the producers who are putting theatre out there in new and innovative ways.

Theatre will always last because audiences want to be transported by a story that’s happening in real time right before their eyes. Theatre is a shared experience, and it truly can transform us all.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Laura Loves NY Celebrates 75 Episodes

Two years ago, I was trying to figure out how to create content. I was studying with Bonnie Gillespie, indie casting direct and writer of Self-Management for Actors, and one of Bonnie's big messages is: "Make your own content." And at the time, so many of the actors and creatives I admired were saying the same thing: "Make your own work," so I started thinking about how I could do that.

I've always loved documenting events and experiences. Working Off Broadway, I'd take pix backstage or of the stage before the show. 

Running around from my support job to auditions to classes, I'd see something beautiful and artsy and take a pic. And friends who couldn't make it to the city would often say, "I'd love to see a day in the life of YOUR life!" So I started filming some of the spots I loved. And then I wanted to interview some of the cool people I've worked with and find out what they love about NY too. Voila! "Laura Loves NY" was born!

I've interviewed Broadway and Off Broadway folks, TV actors, international filmmakers, composers, writers, herbalists, comedians, entrepreneurs, a marathon runner, and a puppeteer...

I've done some solo segments where I share a little history about a place or park in the city.

When quarantine hit, I wasn't sure how I'd keep my show going, but thanks to Zoom, I can still do my interviews and include fun photos and videos of NY. I recently interviewed Hollywood actress, Deb Snyder, because I'd met her in an online masterclass and she'd share some of her stories in NY. I'd been waiting to have her on my show once she revisited the city, but with the coronavirus holding all that up, I figured we could accomplish a lot on Zoom, and we did! I released her episode last week.

I'm currently editing an interview with "Constance Cooks," a gal who does cooking shows on Instagram while focusing on local food sources in NY.

I gather all the footage and film exterior shots on my iphone when I can. Then I edit everything, adding music, photos and doing Voice Over segments to help tell the stories. This has turned into a passion, to be sure! 

Hope to see you on my next adventure!

Friday, July 17, 2020

Laura Loves NY interview with Deb Snyder

You've probably seen Deb all over TV. She was recently in "Big Little Lies" and on the Christmas commercial for Bombas socks. She's also got a commercial for McDonald's coming up.

I met Deb in Bonnie Gillespie's masterclass, and we immediately clicked. She's been incredibly supportive of my webseries, Laura Loves NY, and I'd always say, "If you ever get to NY, I'd love to interview you!"

When the coronavirus hit, and we all were quarantined, I started to think, "Why not interview Deb now?" Her history with NY is rich with adventures in theatre and film, and I wanted to share her insights. So I called her up and said, "What do you think of doing a Zoom interview?" And like the true improv performer she is, Deb was all in!

We spent 90 minutes talking about theatre and film and TV and LIFE, and I wish I could share every minute of it with you, but in trying to be considerate of time, I edited down our interview to 20 minutes. There's so much great advice for actors, which I might share at another time, but the big lessons I learned from her bookings is that improv seemed to help every time! She also really knows the craft and has her masters degree in acting.

Watching her work in Ang Lee's film, "Pushing Hands," her starring role as the disgruntled wife and daughter-in-law could not have been easy, and in less sensitive hands, that character would've been reviled.

I love how Deb brings so many colors and layers to even her guest star roles. Her story of working on "Big Little Lies" is such a treat and a huge lesson in how to be flexible and play on set while rolling with the punches that come with editing.

"It's a journey, baby," she says. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 26, 2020

50 Years of Pride

It was only 50 years ago that the first Pride March took place. It's been nearly 57 years since Martin Luther King Jr. spoke  his famous words, "I have a dream" at the March on Washington. And it's been 100 years since women won the right to vote. That doesn't sound like a long time, does it?

There's so much change going on in our country, and I look back at moments like that: the first Pride march, the civil rights march on Washington, the Suffragette movement, and I am inspired by all those amazing folks who've blazed trails before us.

Since the Pride Parade isn't happening this year, I wanted to share with you the magic of last year's World Pride. It was seriously amazing! The entire island of Manhattan was filled with cheers and rainbows.

I'm under 5 feet, so there's only so much I could see of the parade, but it didn't matter. I was surrounded by love. Happy Pride!

Friday, May 01, 2020

The Healing Path

Since November 2018, I have been on a very focused healing journey.

I was diagnosed with a dangerous parasite in my intestines which is usually caused by traveling overseas, but somehow I got it here in the states. The GI doc put me on intense antibiotics which my body had a lot of trouble with. First was ciprofloxacin and then levofloxacin, which is apparently so dangerous that it can cause tendon rupture, permanent nerve damage and exasperate autoimmune diseases. Over 60,000 people have reported being "floxed." It is incredibly dangerous, but I had no idea, because the doctor told me, "Just don't go running, because you could get tendonitis." I'd already had tendonitis when I twisted my ankle in March 2018 but I didn't think much of it. Well, THINK AGAIN.

I started getting tremors. My body would shake, and I'd feel electrical pulses across my face. Finally, I knew I needed to stop taking the drug when I'd have a thought and try to articulate it, but my tongue couldn't match my thoughts. It all came out jarbled, which was scary as hell.

I called the GI doc but he said to "power through it." Luckily my husband said to call our primary physician, and he said to stop the drug immediately. "There's always an alternative," our primary doc said.

He called the GI doc, and they decided on Bactrim, which had just as many warnings, but was the lesser of two evils. It seemed to be ok, but when I finished taking it, I got hives two weeks later, which was a delayed allergic reaction to the drug.

Coming off of both antibiotics, I was still having shakes and I was severely dehydrated. I was drinking like a fish! But my body wasn't retaining the water, and I was so weak. My husband took me to the hospital, and a wonderful woman, Dr. Hercules, hooked me up to an IV which my body sucked up quickly. She said to get on Pedialite right away, so I did.

I felt like I was going insane because my body was so shaky from the antibiotics and I was functioning at 75% of my usual energy. Anyone who knows me knows I move at a hummingbird's pace, but now I was a tortoise. Obviously, my body was trying to tell me to slow down to heal.

I saw so many doctors afterwards! A neurologist checked my brain because I was having what I can only describe as "gaps," and that whole "I'm thinking this but can't say it" was scary as hell. I saw an allergist who confirmed that yes, my symptoms proved I was allergic to both floxacins and sulfas and to list that on any medical paperwork.

I read everything I could about reactions to floxacins or Bactrim, and learned I had been "floxed." This article pretty much saved my life: https://www.hormonesmatter.com/question-doctor-lessons-learned-floxed-cipro/

But the best help came in the form of a recommendation to work with functional medicine practitioner, Victoria Albina. This pic completely shows her energy and enthusiasm for her clients. It's also one of my favorite things she says, "Because Science!"

Victoria offers a free 20 minute consultation, so you can gauge if it's a fit for you, and working with her was totally a fit for me. I loved meeting her in person, but she in this time of the coronavirus, I would recommend Zooming with her. Her energy, her presence, immediately comes through.

She is considered out-of-network, but her staff is incredibly helpful with documentation to help you get re-imbursed from your insurance.

Victoria helped me do a strong examination of diet, eliminating all the foods that exasperate the gut (sugar, gluten, alcohol, anything fried) and including healthy fats (coconut oil is my new favorite thing) and more veggies than you can possibly imagine. I also fell in love with squash and learned to listen to my body when it called out for it.

I recognized that my body had been craving coconut and licorice for YEARS, but I'd grab a mounds bar or Twizzlers. Not anymore. Now I know to go for the coconut oil or coconut shavings and yogi licorice tea.

Victoria also prescribed a ton of herbal supplements, including the best vitamins I've ever tried (!) and a kickers probiotic called Megaspore which has totally helped with those weird mental gaps. These supplements have all been helping me to "feel normal" again, and I cannot thank Victoria enough. Truly, she saved my life.

If you wanna catch her vibe, Victoria has an incredible weekly podcast which covers health and mental health, breath work and meditation.

Meditation has been incredibly helpful, as the writer in this post mentions, and I've found Sound Baths to be AMAZINGLY helpful in my healing process.

If you follow Run Child Run on Facebook or Instagram, they do a lot of cool Sound Baths in Brooklyn. I caught a rehearsal for one of them last winter and filmed it for an episode of my webseries, Laura Loves NY:

I have definitely been using these tools in the midst of COVID-19. Staying at home in our little apartment in NY, you gotta use everything at your disposal. And listen to your body.

If you listen strongly enough to your body, it'll tell you what it needs.

I hope you are all.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A Musical Work in Progress

Working on the development of a new musical is a fascinating process. I've been working with 16th Note Productions for a few years. I played a cat lady from Minnesota for "Pageant Princess" which we performed Off Broadway...

... and I've done readings and recordings for the role of Dr. Carol, a deeply caring therapist working through her own trauma while trying to help several lost souls in "Pieces." 

Their latest project is #Starcrossed, a musical in the world of Romeo and Juliet "which sings the love song of Tybalt and Mercutio." I play Lady Capulet, whom could out-maneuver Lady MacBeth on the ambition spectrum. 

We did a reading for producers on Sunday, all of us gathered around a table at The Actors Fund, reading and singing from the script. It made me think of what it must've been like for Anais Mitchell as she worked on Hadestown in Vermont in 2006. Great musicals start small even when the vision is big, and it takes time to grow a project, to write more, make edits, explore, explore, explore! As an actor-singer, it's such an honor to be in the midst of such good growth.

I have to thank the writers, composers and stars, Kristen Penner and Lorelei Mackenzie for giving me such amazing characters to play.

I never knew I had such a villain as Lady C in me, but last Sunday I found the peaks and valleys of her rage, her lust for power, her blind ambition and mad drive. I now know why villains laugh. It's too delicious!