Soul to Squeeze


Look, I’m a snob.  I know.  I’ve tried to fight it, but what’s the use?  Luckily, because the universe has a sense of humor, I am also a gigantic spaz and clutz so it all works out.

Anyhoo, I’m sitting on a crowded train yesterday and can’t help but eavesdrop on an awkward conversation between two coworkers, guys probably in their late 20’s, early 30’s.  In short, similar in age to me.  One of them is sort of a quiet mysterious type who looks like he could have been a military recruit at some point, the other is gregarious and just about exactly like every upper middle class white college boy down to the J Crew button down, North face vest, khakis and Jack spade bag.  (See my snobbery appear).

So Gregarious guy says, “You into Matchbox 20?”

And Mysterious guy looks at him like, “You can’t possibly be talking to me, even though it is clear you are talking to me.”  But instead he says, “…uhhhhhhh….not really man.”

I’m stifling giggles.

Gregarious guy says, “Well they just came out with a new album today, it’s pretty good.”

Mysterious guy doesn’t say anything.

Gregarious guy continues, “Yeah, I’m into music.  I like Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews.  Pretty eclectic actually.  I like those bands from 97-99.”

Eclectic…I think.  I do not think it means what you think it means…

Mysterious guy says, “Ehhhhhh I like bands from a little earlier in the 90’s. ”

“As well you should,” I think.

Gregarious guy says, “The only band I really got into from then was Pearl Jam.”

“Shit,” I think.  “Don’t bring me into this.  Don’t make me talk right now.”
You know because it’s always about me.

Mysterious guy says, “I don’t know man.  I’m getting more into electronic stuff.  Less guitar.”

Gregarious guy says, “Like…..house music?”

Mysterious guy says, “…No.”

Long pause.

Gregarious guy, “You know what really bugs me about so and so and that issue at work…”  And they quickly morph the convo into something about work that they both feel strongly about.

Long pause.

Gregarious Guy: I really love the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Mysterious Guy: They were my first concert, man!

“Saw them at Riverbend in 2001,” I’m thinking.  “STP opened for them.  What a great night.” Visions of my Anthony Keidis poster flash into my head.

And for this moment, the three of us (even though they didn’t know I was listening) had a moment of shared Chili Peppers.  My snobbery faded because 1. How can you possibly be a snob when you are professing love for the Red Hot Chili Peppers? 2.  Sometimes all you need is music to connect.

Or dance:

Or books:

Or theatre:

Helene Weigel-Brecht in her Silent Scream as Mother Courage

Or movies:

Or art:

Art, in any form, from the highest of high in conceptual painting to the lowest of the low fart joke, has the ability to connect us with these little invisible threads of art we love.  Words we love.  Songs that touched us.  Movie cracks that make us laugh.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
Herman Melville

“Invisible threads are the strongest ties.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

I am consistently awed at art’s ability to connect us, and I am humbled and priveleged that I get to be an artist and work with other artists.

But most importantly, I had that little moment of enlightenment partially because of this guy:

Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers

But he agrees with me:

“What’s the difference between me and that guy with the grey suit on down there? NOTHING! What’s a difference between a mouse and Jupiter? …NOTHING!!!” – Flea

Maybe I’m not the snob I thought I was.

Be Confident. Be Yourself. Gee, thanks.


Family and non-theatre friends (“Civilians” as my friend Jay calls them) are essential supporters in our lives. We’re in a high sacrifice, low payout career. Having normal human beings around can be the key to maintaining sanity and perspective. Still, we occasionally have to translate our odd experiences to those, the fully functional, who have not chosen to be systematically rejected as a way of life. Bless them.

Off we trot to audition after audition. They shout, “Just be confident! Be yourself!” We try not say, “That’s not helpful! It doesn’t mean anything. But thank you for your support!”

Except, actually…

It isn’t meaningless.

In fact, it’s flawless. It’s perfect. They are so right on. It is ever so more helpful than my usual, “Tits up!” (Although at the very least, it can’t hurt, right?)

Let me translate.

“BE YOURSELF”

You’re on the phone with your Mom. You say, “Welp, guess I better go get ready for this audition.” And she says, “Well, you know what you do? You just get in there and be yourself. Break a leg!” (My Mom has stopped saying this due to the audible sighing on my end of the line. I don’t blame her. BUT she USED to. My Dad still does. Turns out they are geniuses. Read on.)

You think, How can I possibly be myself when I’m either terrified or have surrended to hopelessness or am feeling so competitive I don’t even recognize the person inhabiting my body (depending on the audition) and am speaking/singing someone else’s words under someone’s else’s circumstances. I am nothing if not NOT myself. Myself shows up belching in the car afterward, changing into flip flops and cracking something with caffeine I had denied myself until the audition was over, texting Will saying “I’m done. You want Chipotle?” THAT is me. Eager Beave in the audition room is somebody else. They say, “Can you do an Armenian accent?” And this person, whoever she is, says, “YES! Of course! I also clean bathrooms for free.”

You feel me. I know you do.

I once had an audition, I swear to God, that went like this.

DIRECTOR: Are you funny? You seem funny.
ME: (Completely not funny.) Yes. I’m funny.
DIRECTOR: Are you nervous?
ME: Yes.
DIRECTOR: Why?
ME: I’m always nervous.
DIRECTOR: That’s funny.
ME: …
DIRECTOR: Don’t be nervous.

Don’t think of purple dinosaurs, lady.

Actually, that ended up being a fairly successful audition. But my true self was sitting at the back of the house eating popcorn and saying, “OH just wait until I tell the other personalities about THIS one.”

So how do we access the humorous, joyous, intelligent and charming individuals we all are when we are also under positive stress. Here’s how:

1. Your material. This is a running theme with me. What you pick, what you are attracted to, the language of the pieces you use are all ways of showing who you are. What are those roles that just scream YOU to you? Do a piece from those shows!

Sidebar: Why not just write something for myself then? Well. I mean this with love. You probably aren’t a very good playwright. Most people aren’t. It’s cool. I’m not. This is very thin ice to tread. BUT if you think you are a good writer, and you think you can write a piece that will blow folks out of the water, then do it. Take a good risk. Make sure it’s active and not a story. I would also suggest saying the piece was written by “Anonymous” because if you say you wrote it, you will have just made a steep hill an even steeper one to climb. BUT, I’m all about authenticity and if you have genitals made of steel, more power to you. Preach!

2. Quit trying to imagine what the director or casting director is looking for. You will never know. Pick material you think is appropriate for the piece. Prepare it well. Audition. Go home and get Chipotle.

In a callback situation, read the play (READ THE PLAY), make strong choices. Let them direct you. Accept that they won’t always direct you. The important thing is how these words come out of YOUR mouth. What YOUR presence is in the role. Yes, YOU. Certainly we would all like to try our hand at playing an age 40 years different from ours cross-gendered with an Italian accent because we are ACTORS! We can play any role! But you know…that’s really more of an academic exercise OR sketch comedy. Being “right” for a role doesn’t mean it’s easy.

But don’t attempt to read minds. Trying to suss out what the director is looking for weakens your choices. They may not even know what they are looking for. OR you might change their mind.

3. Dress nicely but dress in your style. Wear shoes that feel good and make you feel like you look good. Don’t worry to much about “dressing for the part.” Just the other day I heard a director say, “Ugh I HATE that,” followed by a music director saying, “Mmmph I LOVE that.” See? You can’t win. Wear something awesome that feels good. Imagine if there was a movie about you, how would the costume designer costume the actor playing you? In something that made your body rock, that was a more cleaned and ironed version of your normal clothes. It’s like you popped up a notch so the back of the house can see. But then, I’ve been confused for a drag queen. So grain of salt. Grain of salt.

4. Your material. I’m saying it again. Find pieces you LOVE. YOU. LOVE. They are fun. They seem to be tailor made for your skillz. And they exist. For everybody. Find them. Love them. Prepare them well.

“BE CONFIDENT”

What does that even mean!? I actually thought that. For years. I’m not crying in the corner! That’s the best I can do, people. I showed up, didn’t I? Be confident. Hmph. Be electric. Be incandescent. Be stripey.

It reminds me of a song by Steve Martin:

“Be courteous, kind and forgiving
Be gentle and peaceful each day.
Be warm and human and grateful
and have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike
Be witty and happy and wise
Be honest and love all your neighbors
Be obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese and eat cactus
Be dull and boring and omnipresent
Criticize things you don’t know about
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless rude and offensive
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional
Put a live chicken in your underwear
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.”

Even the most stoic among us is going to get nervous for certain auditions that hold a degree of importance to us. You don’t get nervous? Pin a rose on your nose, dude. Good for you. A director of mine just told me that she heard Uta Hagen say, “If you don’t nervous. Get out of the business because you don’t care.”

I kind of agree. But that’s neither here nor there because nervousness is not the opposite of confidence. Insecurity is. Confidence is knowing your path. Confidence is not comparing yourself to others. Confidence is standing in your own shoes and presenting who you are without judgement. That’s why confidence is attractive. If you don’t know if you are right for it, (say like RuPaul) how the hell they gonna know you are right for it? Confidence is knowing that whether they call you or not, you are going to go on L-I-V-I-N’ and enjoying the trail you are blazing. And that’s key. You have to blaze your own trail. You know why a lot of directors don’t want you to dress for the part? Because they don’t want a room full of the same person.

You can be nervous and confident at the same time.

“Be new, George. They tell you ’til they’re blue, George. You’re new or else you’re through, George. And even if it’s true, George. You do what you can do….” Sunday in the Park with George

Guess what. You’re new! You might not be young, but you’re new BECAUSE you’re you. Don’t blend in, for the love of god. This is Chicago. We don’t have to play by the rules.

Your material is new because you’ve prepared it with YOUR take on it. This is why I’m begging you to look at your material and ask yourself, “Do I like this piece?” If the answer is “no” or “meh”. Get rid of it. Find something you love. Picking a piece you are itching to share with people is a way to invigorate your auditions. Stand tall. Feel your nerves. Feel the weight of the audition. But know that you are showing them something they’ve never seen before because it’s you performing it from your perspective. THAT is confidence. That’s how you leave them wanting more. Don’t just try to get through. Live in it for that two minutes. That two minutes is a show and you are the lead.

So in conclusion, my Mom and Dad, and your Mom and Dad and your friends are GENIUSES. Be confident! Be yourself! with the addition of Be prepared, you’ve got a battle plan and a no-fail one at that. You’re not going to get every show. You just. Aren’t. You will get the shows that are right for you, the experiences that belong on your path, if you stand tall in who you really are. Being able to show up, do your thang, and walk away towards the next opportunity AS yourself IS confidence.

Brush Up Your Shakespeare


I have this philosophy that being open about the closed-door process of auditioning demystifies potentially intimidating situations and help us all learn from each other’s experiences.  I know, I know…grab some s’more supplies and we’ll all gather around the campfire and sing “Kumbaya”.

But on the real, something I am intensely interested in is audition repertoire. I’m really fascinated by pieces actors choose.  I also love really digging into my own book.  For most performers, it’s kind of an after thought.  After auditions, rehearsals, day jobs, performances, who has the time, right?  You see a posting, you fling something together or use that tired old monologue that’s been your trusted workhorse for years.  Trust me.  I do this too.  Still, we make our lives more difficult by being flip with our repertoire.  I believe it’s essential to really sit with your audition pieces.  Ask questions of them.  I say this over and over, but it’s true; as a performer, you are your own empire.  Your audition pieces are your employees.  They work for you.  Are they doing their jobs fully?  Also, are you utilizing all they have to offer?  Have you been actively recruiting exciting new pieces?  If you like your material, nay LOVE your material, if you find joy in performing it…auditioning becomes that much more easy and fun.

It can be overwhelming to look at your repertoire in it’s entirety and ask these questions.   You might be thinking, where do I even start?

Over several posts I’m going to be digging into different areas of audition repertoire and talking about how you can find really exciting and fun pieces that show off who you are as a performer.

Since I like to talk about things in real time, currently I’m switching out my old Shakespeare piece and bringing in a new one, so let’s talk about the Bard.

Conventional practice says YOU NEED A SHAKESPEARE MONOLOGUE.  I agree.  BUT, if you really hate Shakespeare….if classical theatre curls your toes, screw it.  Don’t do classical theatre.  Don’t have a Shakespeare monologue.

Heresy, right?!  Not really.  Do what you like.  That said, a theatre company may hold a general audition in which they want to see two contrasting pieces, one classical.  Typically you could eek your way around this by not expressing interest in the classical show, but tread carefully.  Not doing the pieces that were requested can very quickly make you look “difficult.”  Still, it’s your life.  Don’t waste it on stuff you don’t care about.

That said, in my opinion Shakespeare rocks, and you are missing out on a fairly large and vibrant subsection of productions if you don’t spread your wings in that direction.

So what to pick?  Ideally, you should have TWO Shakespearean pieces, one comedic, one dramatic.  Which will you use most?  I can’t tell ya.  It depends on who you are as an actor, what kind of productions are currently being produced, and what roles you are interested in.  What would rather play?  What would you rather play?  Dogberry or Claudio?  That would be an indicator.

There is often concern about what pieces are “overdone.”  Well, I’ll tell you something.   What’s overdone is not investing in your classical pieces or being intimidated by them.  They are just text, my friends.  Albeit really really great text, generally speaking.  So, if you want to do “To be or not to be…”  If that is the piece above all others that you connect to…Do it.  Just make it awesome.

That said, while the philosophical question behind “To be or not to be” is food for thought, I would offer that from the perspective of an actor auditioning for something, you could find a monologue that is more active and vibrant and shows off who you are as a person and a performer.

So.  (And I will ask this over and over ad nauseum) Who are you?  What floats your boat? Personally, I like my Shakespeare monologues with a dose of evil.  It’s just so damn fun.  Lady MacBeth isn’t a bitch!  She’s ambitious, people.  Talk about motivation.  What is fun for you to perform?  Do you like to wax romantic?  Do you like to make ‘em laugh?

Still, even if you know exactly what you are looking for in a Shakespeare monologue, the cannon itself is a little overwhelming.  I often suggest heading towards the Histories.  They are often pushed aside in favor of the Comedies or Tragedies.  In fact, the new monologue I’m working is Queen Margaret from Henry VI, Part II.  I know, you just fell out of your chair from excitement.  But listen, this woman is NOT HAVING ANY MORE BULLSHIT.  “I am no loathsome leper, look on me!” It reminds me of this moment from Best in Show: (go to :55 in the video)

The key is to find the right character and then find them at a moment of crisis.  By crisis, I don’t necessarily mean Drama or Tragedy.  I mean crux.  See these characters are human, because they are.  For now, in your search, push aside ideas of “heightened” language, scansion, or anything else that makes you a little wary. Just find a human you connect to and want to play.

Secondly, find this moment of crisis as it is happening.  Don’t find the moment when they are telling someone about it after it happened.  Don’t pick a story monologue.  It isn’t active.  These moments work in the context of the the play or scene, but in an audition,  you haven’t built enough relationship with your audience to make a story monologue viable.

I mentioned Claudio before, so let’s dig in a little.  Claudio, as you may recall, is the suitor to Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (one of my very favorites.)  Based on false information, he thinks Hero has been banging  somebody else so when he shows up for their wedding grieving, angry and distraught, he has this to say:

CLAUDIO Sweet prince, you learn me noble thankfulness.
There, Leonato, take her back again:
Give not this rotten orange to your friend;
She’s but the sign and semblance of her honour.
Behold how like a maid she blushes here!
O, what authority and show of truth
Can cunning sin cover itself withal!
Comes not that blood as modest evidence
To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear,
All you that see her, that she were a maid,
By these exterior shows? But she is none:
She knows the heat of a luxurious bed;
Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty.

This “rotten orange”?  “She shows the heat of a luxurious bed”?!  Dude is throwing SHADE.  He is pissed!  He is also devastated.  Admittedly, this is a short piece but imagine the power you could rack up in this.  Short pieces can be very effective.

Staying with Much Ado About Nothing, let’s take a look at some comedy.  I offer you Benedick, the charming blowhard who starts the show with everything figured right out, and always affirming his Bachelor status.  In this monologue he is expounding on just how much he hates Beatrice…the woman he (spoiler alert) shortly marries:

BENEDICK O, she misused me past the endurance of a block!
an oak but with one green leaf on it would have
answered her; my very visor began to assume life and
scold with her. She told me, not thinking I had been
myself, that I was the prince’s jester, that I was
duller than a great thaw; huddling jest upon jest
with such impossible conveyance upon me that I stood
like a man at a mark, with a whole army shooting at
me. She speaks poniards, and every word stabs:
if her breath were as terrible as her terminations,
there were no living near her; she would infect to
the north star. I would not marry her, though she
were endowed with all that Adam bad left him before
he transgressed: she would have made Hercules have
turned spit, yea, and have cleft his club to make
the fire too. Come, talk not of her: you shall find
her the infernal Ate in good apparel. I would to God
some scholar would conjure her; for certainly, while
she is here, a man may live as quiet in hell as in a
sanctuary; and people sin upon purpose, because they
would go thither; so, indeed, all disquiet, horror
and perturbation follows her.

DON PEDRO

Look, here she comes.
Enter CLAUDIO, BEATRICE, HERO, and LEONATO

BENEDICK Will your grace command me any service to the
world’s end? I will go on the slightest errand now
to the Antipodes that you can devise to send me on;
I will fetch you a tooth-picker now from the
furthest inch of Asia, bring you the length of
Prester John’s foot, fetch you a hair off the great
Cham’s beard, do you any embassage to the Pigmies,
rather than hold three words’ conference with this
harpy. You have no employment for me?

DON PEDRO

None, but to desire your good company.

BENEDICK

O God, sir, here’s a dish I love not: I cannot
endure my Lady Tongue.
Exit

Purists may balk, but I say either cut or integrate Don Pedro’s lines and you’ve got yourself a monologue.  He goes from listing Beatrice’s horrible attributes (and inadvertedly showing us how witty and hilarious Beatrice is in her own right), to desperately begging Don Pedro to send him anywhere ANYWHERE Beatrice is not.

Remember, in the context of auditioning, don’t think of Shakespeare as separate or different from any other piece. 

While you search, remember: there are comedic monologues in tragedies, there are tragic monologues in comedies, and there are both in the histories.  It’s all the delivery and timing.

I’ll post later about preparing these monologues, but for now read and gather.  Sit with them for awhile.  Read them out loud.  Find phrases that speak to you.  Ideas that seem clear and pointed.  Just like any monologue, it’s easiest when the character is talking TO someone. Once we dig into preparation, you’ll find most of the time Shakespeare tells you exactly what to do.  In many ways, Shakespeare provides a road map to preparation right there in the text.

But for now, have fun!  Find pieces that excite you and spark your creativity.

Hamlet:
Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this
special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature:
for any thing so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose
end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as ’twere the
mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own
image, and the very age and body of the time his form and
pressure.

In an audition, the true nature you should be concerned with is your own.

11 Things I Have to Tell Myself About Theatre…and Nachos


A castmate and I were musing about our respective moves to Chicago and how our 21 year old selves would view our current lives.  While I sort of wrote this blog post to my 21 year old self, I also know that I couldn’t have learned these things by reading a list.  I really had to learn these lessons authentically.  Still they are things I have to reiterate to myself and it’s nice to see them all lined up and spell- checked and in numerical order with a movie clip at the end. (Also note to 21 year old self, you are currently working on a project you LOVE.)

Sidebar: I hope my 41-year-old self writes something to my current self like, “Use that windfall of 14 million dollars to buy a villa NOT a yacht.  THAT was a hard-learned lesson, giggle giggle. Care for a bellini?  Let me just summon my faithful houseman Agador Spartacus.”

11 Things about Doing Theatre in Chicago

1.  Confidence means more when you aren’t onstage.  Talent, training, technique and rehearsal are the keys to a good performance or audition.  Confidence is deeper.  You have to know…you have to KNOW that the path you are on is your path and the one that is right for you.  Comparison to other actors is death.  It kills your spirit.  It kills your creativity.  And it kills your spark.  Judy is right, you have to “be yourself.  Everyone else is taken.”

2.  Have priorities.  Change them if you need to. And make sure they are actually yours, not someone else’s.  You can be a professional actor and not necessarily want to star in a tv series.  It’s your career.  If you want to do Cher covers while rollerskating, then the world will be a better place for it.  I am so serious.  The world needs HAPPY rollerskating Cher coverers not UNHAPPY commercial actors who wish they were rollerskating and covering “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.”  In the same vein, if that sounds like it sucks?  Dude.  Don’t do it then.  Only an performer thinks, “Ugh that project sounds horrible.  I’ll do it.”  Why?  WHY?

3.  As in the beginning…so in the middle…so in the end.  If that company sucked to audition for….if they were running an hour behind….if they were rude or dismissive…I assure you the rehearsal process will be the same way.  On the other hand, if the audition process was smooth, the people friendly, and the paperwork informative, that’s a huge high sign that they have it together.

4.  Make sure you love every single audition piece you use.  If you are bored by something, the people behind the table will be too.

5.  If you are offered a project and you have an inexplicable sinking feeling or  panic….that’s your intuition telling you to say no. (Not to be confused with feelings of healthy fear that indicate you are challenging yourself.)

6.  It’s okay to say no.  If you say no upfront to a project in a polite way, you won’t burn a bridge ( If you bail halfway through with a shady excuse, that’s a different story).  The project that feels “not right” for you might be a dream job for someone else who will love it.  If you know you can’t throw yourself into the project wholly, what’s the point?

7.  It’s totally okay to take a break for as long as you want to.

8.  When you take a break, it can take a long time to get back into the swing of things.

7.  If a role scares you, it’s probably the right role and you will benefit from playing it.

8.  If you have to force something from the get go, it’s not worth it. (Not to be confused with healthy competition)

9.  You have to love doing this for your own sanity.  I call it the Nachos Philosophy.  Sure every once in a while, I get tired of nachos.  Or am occasionally disappointed with a plate of nachos (what is with the cheese and pickled jalapenos only bullshit?).  Might you occasionally resent this inexplicable need for nachos and that it occasionally causes you to sacrifice other amazing foods in your quest for more nachos? Of course.  But can I imagine my life without nachos?  No I cannot, Madame.   You’ve got to love it like nachos.

10.  You can stop loving it and start loving it again.

11.  This: 

Gone for a Soldier – My Spring 2012 Reading List


Image

I am an avid reader.  And now that I have a Kindle?  Oh my god.  I’m a reading machine WITH a reading machine. I sometimes get so overwhelmed by titles I have to read or watch that I come up with complicated spreadsheets to keep track.  True story.  And I’m fine with it.  I know who I am.  Lots of things inform what I read and when I read them.  I try to create seasonal To Read lists just to keep my thoughts together.  Two major elements that inform my “To Read” lists are the current season, and if I’m in a show.

In Spring, my reading usually takes on an outdoorsy feel.  (One of my favorite Spring reads is A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.)  I also read up on different religions in the spirit of Easter and Passover.  Since Chicago weather has been more early July in nature, than late March, I’ve also been tempted to read things with Summer on the brain.  I usually read some big blockbuster type book like a Michael Crichton that just begs to be read on a beach.

This Spring, I am also rehearsing a production called Opus 1861 which involves music from the Civil War era in a modern day wartime Afghanistan setting.  Since I have no personal experience with either conflict (although I have visited many a Civil war battlefield and museum, and am now in retrospect very grateful for the experience), I have been stocking my list with lots of research. (I also have a big list of documentaries I’ve been trying to plow through.)

My seasonal lists usually consist of around 20 books.  I try to make them a diverse mix of non fiction and fiction.  I try to learn about a subject I know little about.  I try to throw in a couple pulp fiction fun reads, and I also try to read some items that might help me in my personal goals.

Okay, so that said, here are the titles on my Spring 2012 booklist:

Part One:  Research

  • The March by EL Doctorow (I am exceedingly jealous of my husband who will be at the upcoming opening of Steppenwolf’s production of The March.)
  • War by Sebastien Junger
  • The Civil War by Shelby Foote
  • 1861: The Civil War Awakens by Adam Goodheart
  • Band of Sisters: American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt
  • What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
  • The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of our Soldiers by Nancy Sherman
  • Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson
  • The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy and the Way Out of Afghanistan by Bing West
  • The Girls Come Marching Home: Stories of Women Warriors Returning from War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt

Part Two: Personal Picks

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov – I try to attempt a classic on each list.  I figured a saucy one makes sense.  Lusty Month of May.  All that.  Whatever.
  • Game of Thrones Book 1 by George RR Martin.  After all this grit about the Civil War and Afghanistan, I think I will require something very escapist and fantastical.  I’m sure there are battles but there is no denying it’s pure fiction, right?  RIGHT????  *Twitch twitch*
  • Dune by Frank Herbert.  I promised Will I would read it.
  • Outbreak by Robin Cook.  THIS is my kind of science fiction.
  • The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.  I love a good new agey fable every once in awhile.
  • Dance of Death – Book 6 The Pendergast Series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  This is my favorite pulp fiction series.  It’s got elements of mystery, science fiction, occult stuff, and one of my favorite recurring characters: FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast.  If these books ever get made into movies, Paul Bettany just HAS to play this guy.  HE HAS TO.  I will accept NO ONE ELSE.
  • The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury.  More escapist conspiracy crap that I frankly love to read.
  • Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup.  A book I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.  Other than exercising my vote, the best way to maintain autonomy over our own bodies is to learn as much about them as possible.  And then maybe reread The Handmaid’s Tale again.  Cripes.
  • Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron.  Sometimes I need to be reminded.
  • The Firestarter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.  I preordered this one before I had the Kindle.  I bought this program when it was a pdf file.  I can’t wait to see the rehauled print version.  This woman is a genius.  An unmitigated fully feminine no compromises genius.  I think I will be glad I have the print version just so I can write “GENIUS!” in sharpie in the margins.

I won’t end up reading all of them.  That’s why there are so many titles.  Likely some of the books I’ve chosen as research won’t end up resonating for me.  Some of the ones I’ve chosen for personal reading will end up sucking.  That’s why I have the rule of 50.  If it ain’t working for me after 50 pages, I put it down.  I’m also sure I won’t make it through all 4 volumes of Shelby Foote’s comprehensive The Civil War before tech.  Or before I’m 40.

I also won’t read them in any particular order (although the research books will be heavily weighted towards the beginning since we open in mid-April.)

Hopefully, I can carve some time out in this gorgeous weather to sit back and dig into my list!

Kiss Me Kate (The Musical Project)


 

I was just recently in a production of Kiss Me Kate, so my proximity to this material will be much closer than most of the musicals I cover in The Musical Project.

That's me looking like my head is growing out Christine's arm.

Kiss Me Kate is so very fun to sing.  I’ll get to the score and the actual meat of the musical itself momentarily, but first…y’all I got to bitch about the movie.

If the only experience you have with Kiss Me Kate is the 1950-whatever movie version, then brother, you don’t know Kiss Me Kate.  The movie is sanitized and just a jumble of pieces that at one time comprised the actual work that is the stage musical Kiss Me Kate.

I really enjoy Howard Keil in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  His vocals soar and he is perfect the role.  Academically he’s also perfect for Petruchio/Fred but he bombs.  Bigtime.  I get the feeling the director was of the Frank Sinatra “that take was good enough” school of directing because everything feels thrown together.  I get that musicals written for the stage don’t transition well to film, but you know who’s problem that is?  Not mine.  Unfortunately, as a viewer I still have to deal with it if the producers didn’t.  Oy.

Meanwhile, the Code.  Oh, the Code.  The old Production Code basically took all the fun out of Kiss Me Kate.You see, Cole Porter is dirty, downright raunchy if you play it right.  So when Ann Miller sings “According to the latest report…” you have to know that the actual lyric is according to the KINSEY report and that Ann Miller, bless her, isn’t even supposed to be singing it in the first place, and not in that getup. (I found myself saying “What is she doing with her body??” several times.)  A man needs to sing “Too Darn Hot” because why else would it matter if the singer “ain’t up” to their baby tonight?  Huh?  Hmmm????  So already we have a reference to the most comprehensive survey ever performed in reference to human sexuality AND a dick joke.  And that’s just one song.

What I also find fascinating about the sanitizing of Kiss Me Kate is that it doesn’t extend to Shakespeare.  Baptista says, “…thoroughly woo her, wed her and bed her” and that is no problem.  My guess?  It didn’t even occur to the censors to look at the Shakespearean language.  Certainly not our loss, I just like to point out the inconsistencies and the patent ridiculousness that is censorship.

Everything in Kiss Me Kate is punctuated by a metaphorical wink. In fact, in order for the show to pass muster for me, Lilli HAS to actually physically wink after “I am ashamed…”  SHe HAS to.  Or she loses all credibility.  And I think we’re dealing with an actual domestic violence situation.

I’m not a fan of Taming of the Shrew.  I think it’s a chestnut.  I suppose it has academic merits.  I’ve seen a production that employed nearly gymnastic commedia del arte between Katherine and Petruchio.  But it’s not my cup of Shakespearean tea.  I do enjoy the Taylor/Burton/Zefferelli version but that is a big ol’ Art Imitating Marriage situation.

Hilarious.

Unique.  Lovely.  Done.

So why do a musical that does a Taming of the Shrew light with the added pre-women’s lib eye twitches of 1940’s sexual politics?

Cole Porter.  That’s why.

I think this is the face he made when he saw the movie.

This score soars.  It is brilliant and very influential.  There’s no opening whistle in West Side Story without the opening to “Too Darn Hot.”  Tevye can’t ask Golda “Do You Love Me?” if Lois doesn’t ask Bill why he can’t “…Behave.”  In fact, I often found myself backstage singing, “…with our daughter getting married and this trouble in the town, you’re upset…you’re worn out…go inside… go lie down!” while “Why Can’t You Behave” is trickling through the monitor.

Kiss Me Kate is the ultimate transition piece.  You can hear the future of musical theatre (as seen from the 40’s) and yet, there, right at the end of show placed ever so conveniently for costume change purposes, is a perfect vaudevillian number preserved for posterity in “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.”

And that’s the thing.  It’s a show of numbers.  Big, classic musical theatre numbers that any theatre aficionado should know.  I happen to think that “Always True to You in My Fashion” is one of the most clever belt numbers ever to grace the stage.  Full of winks and puns.  Check out Blossom Dearie’s rendition if you want to hear my favorite.  I use it as an audition piece.

However, even though it’s a show of numbers, it’s not exactly a revue.  The plot is certainly more developed than some musicals.  It’s a play within a play structure.  Yet, there are moments I feel this structure fails.  This musical comes from an era where the pop music of the day came from Broadway stages.  Audiences didn’t demand as much depth from plots.  They wanted to hear the latest hit.

For me, Kiss Me Kate is about what Cole Porter could do, and he could do a lot.  Many of the songs in Kiss Me Kate are major high water marks in musical theatre as well as being textbook influential entries.

“So in Love” is both a perfect ballad AND torch number.  It’s also an actress’ dream.  In the right hands, “So in Love” makes Lilli Vanessi/Kate a fully 3-D woman.  It’s a mistake to label the character of Lilli Vanessi and/or Kate just a bitch.  And the right actress won’t.

But analysis aside, let’s look at this show from a performer’s standpoint.  It has everything.  You like to dance?  Here ya go.  You want to belt?  How about “Always True to You in My Fashion?”  You want legit?  Here’s “So In Love.”  How about a waltz?  Here’s “Wunderbar.”  How about Jazz?  Here’s “Too Darn Hot.”  Operetta?  “Cantiamo”.  Comedy?  You got it.

Sure there’s a bit of a light hand if you look at it from a domestic violence point of view.  This is not a particularly enlightened show.

Interestingly, the 11 o’clock number is “From This Moment On.”  It’s a duet.  And it’s a lie.  Lilli is lying to herself rather than finding some sort of resolve.  Is that a flaw?  I don’t know.  I don’t know if adherence to structure dictates perfection.  It would be a little scary if it does.  I mean, Kiss Me Kate isn’t perfect.  “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” basically shouts by virtue of existing that there is a massive costume change going on backstage.  Still….everybody wants to see those gosh-darn Gangsters again.  I also think Cole Porter was probably of the “who gives a shit?” school of thought.

It’s an old show, so there are many places to experience at least a recording of the score, if not a production.  The recent London revival has some great renditions.  This musical hails from a time when pop music came from musical theatre.  So while in our minds watching Bono and The Edge write Spiderman or Duncan Sheik pen Spring Awakening feels kinda dirty and gross, well, there’s history there.  Sure I think Cole Porter is a better musician, but it would be wrong to pretend precedent hadn’t been set years ago.  Although, and correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think anyone was brutally maimed and disfigured during the original run of Kiss Me Kate.

Kiss Me Kate, for a musical theatre performer, is like learning your family tree.  It’s your roots.  It’s where this whole thing came from.  I like knowing who was influenced by what.  Sondheim, for example,  thinks the best of the best is Porgy and Bess.  I like knowing that type of thing.  Hearing the influences of today’s writers is humanizing.  We often thrust composers into demigod status.  There is this web meme going around called Steal Like an Artist.  It’s nice to know that even the big guys do too.

To Review:  the movie is a stonker (although potentially worth watching solely for Fosse and his uncredited choreography.  You also get to see the dude dance.)  But the stage version is a classic.

A View from the Homefront – Day 2 of the 30 for 30 Winter Challenge


There is a connection...just read on

It really does feel like we’ve been through some sort of battle and now it’s a weird white post-snowpacalytpo world out there.

Of course the real question is, “But what will I wear?!”

Before I get to that, it has been announced that tomorrow is ANOTHER office jeans day.  With the assumption they are doing this for our comfort level, I see no reason not to wear something slightly dressier if I want to.  My be-fri and I are going out for a joint birthday celebration tomorrow (she’s a New Year’s Baby and mine is coming up) so I have to at least try a little, you know?  What kind of a Chicagoan would I be if I let snow get me down?  I ask you. Plus I chose my 30 for 30 items based on the fact that 40 hours of my week are spent at my day job.  I’m running out of casual-wear already!

But, for Thursday, the day after the storm, I took refuge in jeans day and wore the now fashion-blogger ubiquitous gingham shirt.  And today, as opposed to yesterday, I really like my hair (you should also know…or maybe you shouldn’t…it’s filthy.  No way was I going to get my head wet in this weather).You see, I just closed up a production of Kiss Me Kate, a show that had been running since mid-November so the 40’s hairdos are here to stay for me.  I’ve always been a fan, but now it just feels natural.

Backstage at Kiss Me Kate - I played, appropriately, the Wardrobe Lady. The dress is real 40's vintage! (So are the shoes...but those kids aren't in the picture.)

Another 40's incarnation - this time more subtle. Ha! Except for the evil grin, that is. Gingham - tied at the waist with character shoes at a pickup rehearsal.

So with all that background mumbo jumbo, here is Day 2 of the 30 for 30 Winter Challenge:

Day 2 of the 30 for 30 Winter Challenge

Okay, so I know the photo is, um, lacking.  But here’s the thing, Will took as he was headed out to shovel our car out of a snow bank.  I had no room to be picky.  Also, you’ll notice I can’t take a picture without a cat in it.  I consider him an accessory because I certainly wouldn’t wear him alone.  I show you this photo only to document that indeed I am continuing on with the project.  Better photos coming when William isn’t rushed.  He’s a good photographer.  But not when he’s got shoveling on the brain.

That said:

Cardigan – Zara, Shirt – Old Navy, Tshirt – Hanes (Target), Jeans – H&M, Boots – JCPenney

Bear socks (not visible) gift shop in Cooke City, Montana.  Huz purchased them for me on our ‘moon. 🙂

In total, I have on 4 tops (1 cardigan, 1 gingham shirt, 1 tshirt, and 1 silk long john shirt), 3 bottoms (jeans, long johns and dance tights), plus a pair of bear socks, and boots.  -30 windchill my friends.  What’s funny is, I’ve worn less clothes and felt much bulkier.

Anyway, this outfit feels very “Betsy” to me.  I’m calling it my Winter Victory Garden look.  The hair and cardigan/button-down combo feel a bit 1944 Homefront to me.  Kind of like something my American Girl doll, Molly, would have worn after school.