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Extra Extra (busy)

9 May

I make no apologies.

Open up my Russel Stovers box of assorted dramatical experiences happening lately and this summer — and that doesn’t even include my personal life (ba-dum-chink). You already know this is my favorite time of year…wearing dresses without tights, standing outside talking to people in the warm twilight until the sun goes down, smell of fresh cut grass, trading Malbec for Riesling…season of endless possibilities.

First of all, my new job’s going great! Thanks for asking. Hard to believe I’m already at the 90 day mark.

The first exciting tidbit is that my second play was chosen to be produced at the Onion Man Harvest Festival. This is the first season that OMP has their own space, so there’s a lot of plays this year. Three sessions to be precise. I went to the first table read and we had a great discussion. I think the director and actors are going to do it stellar justice. So what is it about, you say? My first play was a sort of allegorical comedy. I went for something completely different this year and wrote a 10-minute psychological-supernatural chiller. You’ll have to come check it out in July to find out more!

And while you’re there, you’ll see my first EVAH directorial debut! That’s right, this year I’m cutting my teeth on a short dramatic piece with the unlikely title of SodaPop. It’s a great starter project because not only is it only ten minutes with a cast of two, but also many elements of directing that seem intimidating — like technical design — are already decided because it’s part of a showcase. Despite the brevity, there’s some rul meaty material to dive into acting-wise, and I’m working with a couple actors I know and admire so I’m pretty psyched. I’ll also be performing in one piece in the final August session. So I basically have fingers in all the pies this year.

A slightly bigger (but not as broad) undertaking is that I’m choreographing Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at OnStage Atlanta. I wanted to be a part of that show from the second I knew they were doing it, and honestly I’m much more excited about choreographing than I would have been if I were in it. I saw the original Broadway production in my final semester in college, back when I thought I would someday move to NYC (well – never say never.) I loved it big time, and like a certain smells are wont to do, it picks me up and throws me down Hulk Smash-style in good memories. Plus OnStage is super close to my house, which is more than I can say for anyplace else I go. I’m beyond excited about this so please mark your calendars – we open July 7!

This year I’ve been taking a master class with Ryan Heffington at Dance 101. He’s an LA-based choreographer that works mostly with musicians. I’ve never had another teacher quite like him. The classes weren’t as technically difficult as I was expecting, but he emphasized full expression through movement all the way from a shout to a whisper. It’s easy to forget why you dance, but he made it easy to remember. The last class we did an amazing exercise where we partered up and danced just for that other person, making eye contact and everything. I was partnered with a guy who was one of the best dancers in the class, but he was a bit thrown off with me watching him. When it was my turn I actually did better than I had during a couple of other runs. Part of me has always been a sucker for an audience I guess. Everybody watches each other at every class of course, but it’s a totally different experience with that audience of one. It was a lot like an acting class!

Speaking of classes…next week on Cushion Cut I’m going to talk training: comparing two utterly different acting classes I took earlier this year, my Promethian vocal lessons, and a workshop on something I’ve been dying to get into since circa OBC Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Audiobook Narration.

Single-phrased reviews for just a few of the super cool shows I’ve seen around town lately: The Light in the Piazza at Theatrical Outfit (beautiful music, need to rethink the set sightlines), Dreamgirls at The Lyric (the performances will steamroll you, even if you care nothing about the plot), and Sugar at CenterStage North (high energy confection, but the music is only so-so and the piano drowned out the un-mic’ed singers).

(P.S. Did you guys watch the second season of Turn?? AMAZEBALLS).

 

 

 

Review: A Little Princess at Theatrical Outfit

4 Dec

It must first be noted that I attended this production in previews, which is essentially like judging a book by an unproofed advance copy. That’s an important caveat to express, as there were major issues with the sound throughout the show–something to do with the balance of tracks and microphones. At one point in the second act the audience’s ears were nearly blown out for a good 10 seconds of transition music. Other times, particularly when the singers dropped into a low register, it was completely inaudible. Only a trained techie could say for sure. One thing that is certain though, is that virtually no one could be heard and understood.

This review attempts to look beneath these technical issues, which one hopes will be ironed out by opening tonight, to the meat below.

The problem is, there’s just not a whole lot of meat on this bone. A Little Princess is a much-beloved and much-adapted tale, despite its premise being somewhat obsolete (girl abandoned at finishing school, goes from riches to rags and back again with help of mysterious benefactor). Though the details of the plot wear many faces, the story’s essential charm is irresistible.

Theatrical Outfit’s production certainly strives to capture and capitalize on that magic, and in some places succeeds. It’s rare that anyone remembers the lighting design but you will in this instance. It’s like a shower of cinnamon sugar, and completely controls the mood, especially in conjunction with a sprawling backdrop painting of an amorphous London/African sky.  The set design and decoration manages to achieve that perfect blend of functional and atmospheric, and the transitions, facilitated by the cast, were smooth as silk.

Two partial winners were the two Cs: choreography and costumes. Designer Elizabeth Rasmusson’s renderings were on display in the upstairs lobby for comparison to the final product. The rags were the highlight here. Most of the “fancier” dresses, including those worn by the school mistresses, were almost overwhelming in the space, historically accurate though they may be. And the little girls’ uniforms and pinafores–although likely also quite accurate in a historical sense–were vastly unfortunate in the stage sense, hanging like bags on all of them and nearly swallowing the tiniest ones alive like possessed pillowcases. The African costumes; I can’t vouch for historical accuracy, but their brilliance in contrast to the drabber Western garb functioned as a much needed delineation between London and Africa.

Ricardo Aponte’s choreography, while perhaps slightly ambitious for the space, was really interesting and beautiful, particularly the larger African pieces like the opening number and “Timbuktu.” The ensemble had some really strong dancers and I was quite stirred by the duet in Act II, even though it felt somewhat gratuitous. Also gratuitous were the random ballet sequences in “Almost Christmas” and elsewhere. It’s hard to make dancing out of place in a musical, but somehow it was. Perhaps it was due to the stark drop in technical artistry between the ensemble and the principles. Of course, many of them were children and can hardly be expected to have attained a level of mastery. But some of it was just plain awkward.

Also awkward were several, several moments of staging, with odd choices ranging from walking away during moments of high emotion when you desperately wanted to see the characters connect, and tons of back-to-audience blocking better suited to a theatre in the round, which Theatrical Outfit truly isn’t.

It’s hard to comment on the singing due the sound problems–I suspect, judging from the program bios, that these folks can carry a tune–but I was blown away by absolutely no one, including the lead. Which is a pity since it wouldn’t be too far off to call the entire production a star vehicle for Emerson Steele. Laughton Royce Berry brought it home in a major way with “Captain Crewe,” but I couldn’t tell you what the song was about if my life depended on it. Christy Baggett can act the hell out of a vocal piece, but almost sounded like she was singing out of her range. Bryant Smith as Captain Crewe was a real disappointment on both acting and signing fronts, considering his lofty credentials (including Jean Valjean at Aurora). I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt due to the sound, and also the lack of juice in that particular role.

By far the best all-around performance was Brenna McConnell as Becky. Not only did she pretty much nail the difficult working class accent, but she was literally the only person on stage that managed to make the audience LOL. She positively exuded energy and magnetism, even in the opening scene where she was charged with simply sitting on a bed and silently watching a good 7-minute number. She drew my eye almost as much as the action. Especially impressive considering the girl is in sixth grade, when most of us are as interesting as a bag of cement. Plus, she thanked her three best friends by name in her bio. #stayclassy

None of the other girls held a candle to McConnell’s flame. Olivia Windley as the awkward Ermengard sounded as if she’d just had her braces tightened and was completely unintelligible, which one hopes wasn’t a directorial choice. Kelly Lamor Wilson had a compelling stage presence but her Lavinia was pure bully with no layers. Molly Coyne as the good cop school teacher likewise lacked nuance in striving for loveable stupidity, although her voice was lovely. Jeanette Illidge was mesmerizing, with an absolutely regal bearing and (I’m pretty sure, at least) a powerhouse voice, but unfortunately her character Aljana wasn’t fully realized–definitely a fault of the book, not of the actress.

Steele as the title character was certainly watchable, and made strong choices, even though I didn’t agree with all of them–most particularly her coldness to Lottie when she was made a servant. It completely undermines the idea of Sarah as a princess under even the most dire and dark circumstances, which is the crux of the story’s power. Sarah spent very little stage time as a pauper in fact, which, especially if you’re familiar the Hodgson-Burnett novel, is akin to taking a dangerous number of bricks out the Jenga tower. Again, this adaptation by Crawley and Lippa is likely to blame. But Steele’s hunched over, somewhat plaintive physicality was a real detriment to anyone affecting to be a princess, even a make-believe one. Fifteen is a perfectly suitable age to play 13 on stage, even though she is rather tall–but the impression she gave was that of trying to play even younger by somehow shrinking herself. Steele was compelling in the school scenes, but the bond between Sarah and her father, which is crucial to the emotional heart of the story–was shaky at best. They acted like actors in their scenes together, which is really the most accurate and devastating thing that can be said. Certainly a more riveting performance than could be coaxed out of most 15-year olds, but not quite the bar level I was expecting for someone with multiple Broadway credits and a solo show.

Overall, I would recommend this production to young audiences and the people who love them, and perhaps devotees of the story who are interested in any and all takes on it. Do wait a few performances to give them time to iron out the technical difficulties, see if you can score discount tickets, and enjoy this holiday confection. The rest of us–wait till it comes to video.

A Little Princess runs December 3 – 27, 2015 at the Balzar Theatre. Tickets at Theatrical Outfit

An Adult Shops the Junior Section, Part Deux

18 Oct

For the second installation in our series, let’s focus on…..

WHAT to shop for in the Junior Department

Very trendy items – a great way to experiment with a look for less if you’re worried it might look odd on you or go out next season.

I personally am itching to try a fur vest. (Vest: H&M)

Formal wear – because it tends to be cheaper, and admit it: you’re probably only going to wear it the one time.

Accessories – for example, hats, scarves, costume jewelry, funky sunglasses or belts (but not bags; those are worth investing in since you carry it every day).

This baby is only $8 (Belt: Dots)

Ridiculous shoes – again, trendy or special event shoes that you’ll only wear a few times are the name of the game, since inexpensive shoes are not known for their comfort or durability.

I’ve been oscillating over the sneaker wedge trend…do or don’t? do or don’t? (sneaker wedges: Steve Madden)

Jackets and blazers – I find they fit me better than adult sizes.

Coats – some people will disagree with me here, but I think that if you like to get a new one every winter, or like funky colors and cuts, it’s a good bet. I got a beautiful–(and warm!–teal coat from Modcloth last winter) but again, pay attention to the fabric, fit, and lining.

Pretty sophisticated, non? (Wool asymmetrical coat: Guess @ Macy’s)

And a few items to avoid purchasing from the junior section: Aside from the evrrday bag that I already mentioned: jeans, underpinnings, basics that you’ll wear over and over like fitted tees (those are better off very well made and perfectly fitted).

Jeans: Rag & Bone, Slug Tee: Madewell, Bag: Michael Kors

(Boyfriend Jeans: Rag & Bone, Slug Tee: Madewell, Shoulder Bag: Michael Kors)

Stay tuned for some real-life examples!

Music Midtown

5 Aug
Music Midtown

Paul s Boutique gray top
$30 – pauls-boutique.com

Boots booties
modcloth.com

Charlotte Russe vegan purse
charlotterusse.com

Rolling Out the Red Carpet: My Premiere

6 Jun

I’m pretty sure–I didn’t actually check–that I had this blog three years ago when I filmed a small part in a film shot here in Georgia. Now, this was a real Georgia movie, folks. Not one of your celebrity-spotting, Hollywood tax break on-location, SAG-legit shoots. Oh no. Everyone working on this film, from the crew to the actors to the agent that booked them, were down-home folk that like to pretend they are all of these things.

But I’m not ripping on this movie for the simple reason that it’s one of the few film projects I’ve ever worked on that was actually completed–WITH receipt of my copy (the only compensation I’m generally offered). Not only was the movie finished, but there was a world premier at The Strand in Marietta complete with – yes indeed – a red carpet.

I did not however walk that carpet. Because, silly me, I got there when the invitation said to arrive. Patrick and I sat around for no less than an hour and 45 minutes being dubiously “entertained” by an amateur improv troupe, some scantily clad Indians, a hula-hoop act, and a family of for-realz hillbillys. After awkwardly admitting I’ve forgotten both my character’s name and what the movie is about chatting with a curious man nearby, being not-recognized by my scene partner with whom I spent a 12-hour day of filming, and slowly nursing the single beer I could afford at the prices they were charging, I was really looking forward to the movie starting.

I know my stage peeps will feel me when talk about the special brand of excruciating that is watching oneself on film (I can only assume you get used to it if you do it more often, but maybe I’m wrong and everybody hates it). It’s rather astounding how many thoughts can flicker through one’s mind in just three short scenes. Among them:

Heh. I wore that dress to work the other day.

If I look that fat on camera a month after my wedding, how fat would I look now?

At least my boobs look awesome. Take that, skinny chicks in the swimsuit scene.

DEAR GOD do I really sound that Southern/ditzy when I talk?

At least you can hear me.

Maybe my hair actually did look OK short.

How is it possible to have both too many freckles AND too much blush?!

Dang it, they cut my line!

TOO MUCH BLUSH.

And so on. I don’t know how people who had, like, more than two minutes of screen time were able to deal. Despite the pain, it was still a bummer that I only had three scenes (a 4th that I remember shooting must have been cut) and like, two lines. It’s a weird dichotomy of hating to watch myself, yet wishing I was on screen more. I guess it’s just the actor’s compulsion towards face time. The same thing that forces me to the front row in dance class, even in styles at which I suck. Scowl, Hip hop.

Anyway. The movie itself could be described as sci-fi thriller. What is it about? Hm. I can only offer the analogy of a fat man’s plate at Ryan’s Buffet. Buffalo wings, macaroni and cheese, snow crab legs, fried okra, spagetti and meatballs, shrimp dumplings, coleslaw, and a couple greasy rolls, ending with swirl soft-serve topped with gummi bears. In other words, a delicious, stomach-churning mess. If you’re interested in seeing it, hit me up for my copy, since it’s not likely to be making it to a big screen near you. You’ll probably want to prep with more than one beer though.

Bite-sized Performing

18 May

This weekend, I’m taking part in one of my very favorite theatrical activities: a staged reading. I love doing these because they are:

A.) Labor non-intensive. Little or no rehearsal, usually a one-time thing so it doesn’t take up the whole weekend, much less multiple weekends. No costumes or makeup, or even blocking (generally).

B.) Suited to my particular talents. I don’t claim to be good at a lot of things–in fact, I stink at pretty much all skills considered highly valuable by modern American society. So I don’t think I’m bragging when I say that I am really, really good at reading aloud (my ideal career would be to record audio books!).

C.) Quintessentially creative. Most staged readings are done in order to bring a new work off the page and into the mouths of real people, which is arguably the most important function of dramatic literature. Silently reading a play is very different from hearing it aloud, even sans production elements, and in certain cases it’s absolutely essential to understanding it (Chekhov comes to mind).
     I love being part of the process of bringing new work to life. Staged readings are generally done when a play is still in its most embryonic form. It’s invaluable to the author to hear their words, both to catch continuinity issues and to hear alternative interpretations (as anyone who’s had a high school lit class debate can attest, no two people will interpret the same book in the same way).
    Additionally, working with a play at the early stage makes me feel integral to the act of storytelling–which is, as I’ve said before on this blog–what draws me to the creative arts. It’s like planting a little seed and watching it grow!

So that’s my theatre-geeky Saturday night plans. With perhaps a little late-night Downton Abbey catch-up later. It’s an exciting life I lead, no?

Geekdom: No Place for Hate

3 May

I will be seeing The Avengers this weekend. Since my husband is Patrick it’s not like I had a choice, but I think it will be enjoyable. With prepurchased tickets at one of those dinner-and-a-flick places, even reserved seating (yes, it’s at thing), it’s shaping up to be quite an ordeal event.

This movie has been a twinkle in the hubs’s eye for a long time, and he loves his comics. Seriously: he’s been emphatically punching the air at even the most subtle reference to the Avengers for the past five years. So I’ve gone online and schooled myself on the movie and the Marvel universe so I could conversate with him on this, his favorite thing ever. In my mind, supportive wifely investments such as these earn me a few loving jabs at his total nerdiness. During the most recent of these conversations (during which he was practically glowing with pleasure at my hard-won larnin’, I might add) he ribbed me about liking the Twilight franchise in the same way.

My first instinct was to shut that down with a sharp denial, which I did. (I mean, does having read the books and seen the movies really constitute super-fandom? Another discussion for another time, perhaps). But that got me thinking. Why was I irked, almost offended by the insinuation? Tumblr (and by extension, Pinterest and Facebook) is filled with memes hating on Bella et al (specifically) and vampire lit (generally). If their prevelence is any indication, people devote a lot of time and energy to advertising their hatred.

It’s a known fact that everything that has lovers has haters. With pop culture, it seems that the more popular something is (especially if it mainstreams), the more it will be reviled later. I still remember vividly the middle school dance at which the hapless DJ put on “I Saw the Sign”–a sure crowd pleaser two months ago–only to have the whole student body exit the cafeteria in disgust. In that moment, I felt a rush of excitement at displaying with my peers our disdain for this newly-has-been megahit. The thrill was at least equal, maybe superior, to my love of the song only a few months before.

But the love-to-hate rush is not limited to 8th graders. Just today I was on Amazon trying to figure out what’s up with this book Fifty Shades of Gray, which is so popular Dr. Oz devoted his show to it…and it had at least as many one-star reviews as five. One poster of a particularly detailed and lengthy review claimed to “hate writing negative reviews,” when clearly he enjoyed it immensely.

I call this the hater effect. For whatever reason, it feels so good to hate things that other [lesser?] people like. The HE is a negative emotion that’s nearly universal; I mean, not even schadenfreude can claim to have founded a subculture (I’m looking at you, hipsters). The hipster backlash itself is an prime example of the HE; no one is more likely to scoff at hipsters than a hipster.

It seems like the more you like something (i.e. geek out about it) the more you open yourself to criticism. Another example: I was at a party once talking to my friend about another girl’s outfit (nice things–we liked it!). But we had to kind of roll our eyes because this girl, when my friend called her up for a pre-party wardrobe consult, refused to divulge her party outfit. It was immediately obvious why at the party: the outfit was very similar to one famously worn by a celebrity. Thinking back, why she was too ashamed to admit liking the outfit enough to copy it is mysterious. After all, she was rockin’ it just as hotly as the original celeb.  

Very little is sacred. The formula for escaping the HE is to either be cult enough to duck the main of mainstream (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog) or to become a veritable masthead of our generation–(ahem, Harry Potter**). I even saw a Post Secret pridefully “confessing” that s/he refused to read, among other pop lit titles, The Hunger Games simply because they were popular. (Interesting to note: this same person admitted on the other side of the card that Harry Potter didn’t count!). Recall that Post Secret is an anonymous art project where submitters confess secrets they have never been able to share with anyone else. It seems like the shame hit this submitter on multiple levels.

But why should we be ashamed of the things we like, just because other people–maybe a lot of other people–like them? Could not our distaste and vitriol be more usefully directed–say, at child molestors and people who talk in the theatre (ha! see how I did that)? Is it not braver, and maybe even more admirable, to cut the righteous indignation and baldly admit to liking something it’s no longer “cool” to like? Although I still emphatically disavow that Twilight is something I’m “geeky” about (The Little Mermaid…OK, let’s talk.), should it really be offensive to be accused of such? Would it have been commendable of me to tell Patrick that yes, in spite of lackluster writing and the fact that it’s intended for teenagers, I rather enjoyed reading Twilight, thank you very much? Honestly, I said to my loving husband, I only wish I had written it. We’d be millionaires now.

Food for thought, dear reader.

**Although even HP has been maligned by some for supporting witchcraft and homosexuality, but those maligners have mostly been labeled crackpots and bigots.