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.