Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Harold Ramis; Thanks to You

"You're such a carnivore," I derided while I did my best to shame Harold Ramis with slow motion gesticulations, squinted disapproving eyes and attitude. I was improvising with the comedy legend one night when he stopped by to improvise with the e.t.c. cast at The Second City. I was playing a woman in love with her garden full of vegetables and Harold was playing a guy who just wanted to eat some meat. The line coupled with the non-verbals got a big laugh. Harold Ramis let a small smirk come across his face.

I was on stage with the guy from Stripes; a movie I watched over and over on cable when I was in high school. Once my line got the laugh he didn't do anything to try and grab the laugh back. In fact, he seemed to bask in the fact that the audience was laughing at me. Then he proceeded to say the next logical thing a "carnivore" might say with a laid back approach; playing the scene rather than the need to get a laugh.

It was one of those nights where as an ensemble we weren't hitting any home runs. Scenes meandered a little bit. Nothing was downright bad but there weren't many gems either. Mr. Ramis found a way to enhance every scene. Every darn thing he said was funny and even when a scene was going nowhere he found a way to elevate it and make it better. He did all this in the most gentleman-like style; letting us go first, standing when we entered the room, opening the door.

I came to improvisation as a theatre actor who was funny who quickly learned the basics of improvisation and was thrust into performing with people who had been studying it for years. They also happened to be brilliant. I rarely felt like I was in my element. Harold Ramis made me feel like an improviser that night.

He is known for saying, "If you concentrate on making everyone else around you look good, then it makes everybody look good."

I know he practiced that on stage. From everything I have been reading he did the same in life.

Great words to live by.

Job well done, Sir.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Vanity Fair's Hollywood "Issue"

This is the most black actors Vanity Fair has ever featured on the cover of their annual Hollywood Issue. There's six of 'em. Count 'em SIX. As a black actress my heart beat faster and my skin got tingly when I saw these actors amongst George Clooney and Julia Roberts. "Wow! What progress!" I thought.

As quickly as I felt the joy it was gone like the let down after you eat a pint of ice cream. Progress!!? It took them nineteen years to populate the cover with more than one black person. Why can't one of the black actresses be strewn across sex symbol Idris Elba's lap? (Granted if I were Julia Roberts I would have elbowed any one of the other ingenues who tried to take my spot.)

The image of Ms. Roberts and Mr. Elba pleases me because I know it will piss off many a racist who abhors interracial anything. Yet the image saddens me because it's a missed opportunity to show a black woman on a black man's lap on the cover of an iconic magazine or a black man standing on his own. How about that? She even has her hand on Chiwetel Ejiofor's shoulder! That's just greedy, Julia. The gesture turns the focus away from the black men and features the white actress. Nothing new here.

Google "Vanity Fair Hollywood 2014" and there are dozens of articles touting the grand accomplishment of the Vanity Fair Editors to finally have the realization that there are actors of color worthy of their cover. Nobody challenges the fact that there are no other ethnicities represented. Too often the discussion on race stops at black and white as if there are no other minorities who are discriminated against and underrepresented.

One step forward, two steps back.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Farrow and Public Opinion

Some sensitive topics have been bandied about on the internet and I say it needs to stop.
When it comes to issues of child abuse and addiction these are subjects that shouldn't be reduced to the arena of public opinion.

The Daily Beast's Robert B. Weide recently spent an article clarifying misconceptions surrounding Woody Allen and the allegations of abuse by his daughter Dylan Farrow in the 1990's. He also reveals what is true and false in regards to Allen's marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter with Andre Previn. Allen was in a relationship with Mia Farrow when the relationship with Soon-Yi began.

I read the article and was influenced by the revelations. "Oh, Soon-Yi was never Woody Allen's adopted daughter she was the adopted daughter of his girlfriend. Oh, there were no official charges against Woody Allen about the abuse of his daughter. My bad. Maybe Woody Allen isn't a creep," I thought.

Then Dylan Farrow published an open letter for the New York Times with details regarding the alleged abuse. It is a stark, graphic description. I was embarrassed that I'd been momentarily swayed by Weide's article but I didn't jumped from one conclusion to the other. I felt shame because I realized it was none of my business to try and exact the truth out of something in which I have no connection.

I wasn't there. I don't know any of these people. The complexities surrounding abuse deserve more than a quick read and my verdict.

On Sunday Phillip Seymour Hoffman a wonderful, forty-six-year old actor died of an apparent heroin overdose. Unfortunate details about how the father of three was found were laid out and the media machine went into full throttle. As quickly as the information was released people started spouting their opinions and in some cases judgement about his addiction.

He is dead. His partner lost a wife; his children lost a father. Debates about addiction have significance in a public forum but perhaps invoking Phillip Seymour Hoffman and one's opinion of him isn't respectful, necessary or appropriate. And perhaps speculation around whether a person was sexually abused should not be disseminated and reduced to conjecture and gossip.

Just because we have immediate access to information doesn't mean we can't take pause and recognize that we never know the whole story unless we have lived it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

10 Tips to Enduring Your Child's Rainbow Loom

1) Break it to your kid early and often that you will not be wearing all the bracelets they gift you. Sure the first time it’s easy to react like you just got a blue box from Tiffany’s. But by the twentieth band your child expects the same reaction despite the fact they just made you one ten minutes ago.

2) Avoid YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish who does instructional videos without a child in sight. She has mastered the starburst, fishtail, triple single and more. But why is she playing with a Rainbow Loom? All by herself? For what appears to be for hours? YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish will make you sad.

3) There are never enough c-clips. There are always more rubber bands than clips. This is a conspiracy. It keeps you buying more and more bags of bands in order to have enough clips. It's like when a drug dealer gives a customer their first hit for free. That's how they hook ya. After the first bag of bands, you are just another sucker "chasing the dragon."

4) S-clips suck.

5) Starburst will drive you to the edge of sanity. You need a degree of some kind to get through a Starburst instructional video. And the fact that it's being conducted by Ashley a nine year old only makes things worse. 

6) Every time you successfully return a rainbow loom rubber band to its case you get chocolate, or a glass of wine. Because you will find them everywhere. Places you can't imagine. Bonus: Open up the vacuum cleaner and you'll hit the jackpot. Book yourself a Spa Trip for that one.

7) Rainbow Loom cases are essential. Without a case chaos will ensue. Of course the case should be included with the Rainbow Loom but it isn’t.  It’s a racket. (see #3)

8) Empower your child with a mantra for the moments they lose their mind over a rainbow looming error. I suggest, “Stop. Breathe. Try again.” or “If you don’t stop hyperventilating I am going to send you to your room and throw that Rainbow Loom out the window!” One works better than the other.

9) YouTube-Lady-With-Long-Nails-No-Polish really does have the easiest to follow videos. Watch her in small doses unless you need a good cry. French Manicure, maybe? Anyone? Anyone?

10) Just remember the hell we put Mom and Dad through with our craft projects. Hook Rugs? Shrinky Dinks? Chalk it up to the "cycle of life" or "circle of love" Whatever. And remember, "Stop. Breathe. Try again."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Racism, Homophobia, Misogyny: Five Reasons We Are Not A Post Racial; Post Anything Society

The transparency that Facebook,Twitter and YouTube provide gives us a rare view into the racism, misogyny and homophobia that use to take place behind closed doors.

Here is a sampling of the stories that I have seen posted online in the past few weeks.

1)  Dasha Zhukova the editor in chief of a magazine posed sitting on a chair designed to look like a black woman dressed as a dominatrix with her legs in the air and the seat strapped to her backside. The image makes me sick.

2) Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt killed herself after a journalist Caleb Hannan exposed her as a transgender person in a article despite Vanderbilt's urging that Hannan keep it private.

3)Michael Douglas was widely criticized for using the word "mincing" in his acceptance speech for Best Actor at Golden Globes. He played Liberace and described his concern that he was perceived as "mincing'" by his director in a previous project. Instead of correcting his error in his SAG award acceptance speech he went on to make jokes about who was "on top" and "two handers" What an asshole and what a careless disregard for the feelings of others.

4) Madonna called her son the N-word on Instagram. After some backlash she proceeded to  apologize to anyone she offended and referred to the N-word as a "term of endearment"for her white son. She has two black adopted children. Isn't that adorable?

5)The U.S. Skating Committee chose fourth place U.S. Nationals skater Ashley Wagner (white, blonde hair, blue eyes) over the third place winner Mirai Nagasu (Asian-American) for the Olympic team. Wagner, 22 has the opportunitiy to compete at other Olympics.  The average age of an Olympic Skater is early twenties. At 29, Mirai may not have another chance. She earned it. Wagner didn't.

A few more:

On the CBS show "How I Met Your Mother" the actors appeared in yellowface. Now that's comedy.

This article about the casting of Sasheer Zamata (SNL's first black female since 2007)  is prejudicial gobbledygook.

Jared Leto a straight, male actor is winning awards left and right for portraying a transgender character. Why wasn't a transgender actor cast in the role? Here are some suggestions Alexandra BillingsAlexis ArquetteLaverne Cox

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. If people in the public eye are willing to be careless with their words and actions just imagine what people who aren't in the limelight think and feel. Racism, sexism, prejudice run deep. This culture is in the thick of it.

I have two choices. I could avoid all media or I can use my Facebook page and blog to share these stories in hopes to illuminate and remind people we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Five Reasons Why Beyonce is A Robot

I suspect Beyonce is a robot. Entertainer, entrepreneur, wife, mother, Sasha Fierce. She is able to accomplish things on stage and off that mere humans can only fathom in their dreams. 

Here are the top five reasons why Beyonce is a Robot:

1)The Show Never Stops.
Her weave got stuck in a fan during a concert but Ms. Carter kept on singin'.
A fan pulled her into the crowd during a concert and Diva kept on singin'.
She toppled over like a tree on stage but Bootylicious kept on singin'.

2)Nobody is that Beautiful.

Girlfriend hacked off her weave but still her beauty is like the sun. 

3)Nobody is that Rich.

Her and hubby Jay Z-izzle made ninety five millions dollars last year. 

4)She had the perfect comeback.

When controversy broke out after she lip synced the National Anthem at Obama's inauguration Destiny's Child sang the same song acapella at a Superbowl press conference. Only a team of programming geniuses could come up with a bitch slap like that.

5)There is more than one Beyonce.

It's not technical wizardry that allowed Beyonce to dance with former versions of herself in that Pepsi commercial. Those other "versions" are robots. 

Can you think of any other reasons why she is a robot? We can prove this together. Please share your thoughts. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Magic Tricks

My daughters love music. I have introduced them to my favorite Broadway show soundtracks and thanks to their older siblings they are up on the current music teenagers have on their iPods. There is nothing quite like hearing my three year old sing the lyric, "I crash my car into the bridge! I don't care!" at the top of her little lungs.

Sunday night I was driving home with the girls in the back seat. We had on the pop station their big siblings request whenever they are in the car. One of their favorite songs came on and they asked me to raise the volume. I hit the plus button on my steering wheel and the music got louder.

"How did you do that?" my six year old asked.
I almost started to explain the logistics of what I had done but then I decided to go in another direction."It's magic." I told her.
"Are you serious?" she asked.
"Do it again!"
"See." I waved my hand up while I turned the volume up more, then waved my hand in the opposite direction while I turned the volume down. I repeated the moves alternately while the girls squealed with delight.
"That is so awesome!"

My heart was exploding. The girls were fully convinced there was magic taking place. It reminded me of the moment in the play Peter Pan when Peter turns to the audience and asks them, "Do you believe in fairies?" then begs that they applaud in order to revive Tinkerbell. The children in those audiences believe it is their applause that brings Tinkerbell back to life.

As much as I loved that they were so easily convinced I felt a pang of guilt for misleading them. Eventually, I explained that I was pushing a button on the wheel in order to control the volume. They weren't disappointed. In fact, I think they admired that I took them on that ride.

When we got home I showed the girls the button on the wheel. They both wanted to "control" the music by waving their hand and I obliged by pushing the buttons up or down. Knowing that they were creating the magic seemed to be just as thrilling as believing it was real.

There is magic all around us if only we believe.