It’s Okay To Be Fierce. Thank you, Reza Abdoh!

Adam Soch
Filmmaker Adam Soch

Tonight we attended the LA Screening of Adam Soch’s film about Reza Abdoh‘s life and work, work that Adam himself had collaborated on and has now assembled from over 20 years of footage taken in the theatrical trenches with Reza and his Dar A Luz company. What struck me most in the film was the commitment of the artists in Reza’s tribe, and how much joy and laughter, lightness really, was derived during those long hours in the theatre supporting his less-than-light vision.  Reza Abdoh Documentary Film

It felt important to celebrate his work with old friends but the guest of honor wasn’t there; Reza died on May 11,1995, twenty years ago almost to the day. I think he would have been pleased with the film, which captured the gutsiness and drive of his life and work; but more likely not, because, as the film pointed out, he was not ever fully satisfied with his work. Reza always let his collaborators know that there was room to improve – to go faster and fiercer.

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Under the not-so-flattering glare of the heat lamp, yours truly with Costume Designer Alix Hester.

I look forward to being able to share the film (after it makes the documentary film circuit) with my students, friends, and family. The intensity of Reza’s passion infused all of us. Michael Angel, now a filmmaker, then a crew member on two of Reza’s productions, said

“It was very hard to say no to Reza, when he stood in front of you and said, ‘I really need for this to happen. Can you make it happen?'”

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Twenty years later, Reza’s collaborators 

IMG_4124Many of us discussed this “can-do” hangover/attitude/disease/tendency after the film tonight.

Stage managing a show as complicated as “Bogeyman” was has given me the confidence to do just about anything my heart has desired in my life. It has also made it very hard for me, and others, I found out tonight, to say “No, that isn’t possible” to directors. People call Production Managers “Dream Crushers,” because they bear bad news about limited resources and possibilities. I think my brief brush with Reza’s process simply reformulated my understanding of what is possible and what isn’t.

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David MacMurtry, Janine Silver, Laurel Meade with Filmmaker Adam Soch at the Los Angeles Screening.

All of Reza’s youthful artists are now twenty years older, no longer cherubic young theatre technicians and actors, but nonetheless still committed to their work in theatre, or academia, or film. We toughened and wised up in theatrical boot camp with Reza. Reza’s now mature Dar A Luz company members, whose beautiful bodies were tasked with grueling emotional and physical choreography twenty years ago, now have the opportunity to celebrate Abdoh and his importance to the theatrical canon and to them as individuals.
Thank you to Adam, who has been the keeper of the flame for all these years. And thank you, too, to Reza’s long time collaborator and friend, Sandy Cleary-Wade, who co-produced the film with Adam.

I urge you to see this inspiring film as soon as you can. It reminded me that it’s okay to be fierce as an individual artist, and collectively in  your chosen artistic tribe.

Explore at 4- The Performing Arts

This week, the USC Career Center, in collaboration with the Theatre Student Association of the School of Dramatic Arts hosted a panel in the Martin Massman Theatre for The Performing Arts, as part of their Explore at 4 series.

LevarQA-808c59dfThe panelists included actor, entrepreneur LeVar Burton, Camille Schenkkan, Program Manager Next Generation Initiatives, Center Theatre Group (CTG), CTG Casting director Mark Simon, playwright and Co-literary Manager for the Theatre at Boston Court, Emilie Beck, and David Mack, Strategic Director of the Heidi Druckler Dance Theatre. Meghan Laughlin, who helped coordinate the event with the Career Center  asked me to moderate the panel. This was a first for me at USC.

The purpose of the panel was to show alternative pathways to students on the brink of forging a life in the performing arts. To provide a safe place for them to ask questions of a prestigious panel of people who had already made their way in a variety of directions. Approximately 55 students attended. Career Center’s Senior Career Counselor and organizer of the event, David Ginchansky, took a quick survey which revealed all but three students in attendance were Thespians.

I have an embarrassing confession. I was really nervous about moderating this panel. That probably sounds silly, and after a lifetime of stretching out of my comfort zone, the experience has reminded me yet again of a valuable lesson for those about to seek a life in an uncertain profession.  The wonderful thing about being asked to do something new is that following that initial frisson of fear, one’s creative habits and training kick in. Which is, of course, what the panel was addressing. How do we take the training we have received in school and go out into the profession to find our way? The students who attended the discussion heard the same idea expressed many ways throughout the hour-long discussion:

Find your authentic self.

Keep your ego healthy. In a business where exposing your authentic self is de rigueur, find a way to protect your ego from being bruised without sacrificing what makes you authentic.

Be kind. To everyone.
Take risks and do things that are unfamiliar because you never know when you will stumble into your perfect career in the arts.
Dare to fail.

We covered topics such as how to navigate new media as actors. Who better to discuss that then LeVar Burton, with 1.7 million Twitter followers? Burton refashioned his long running Reading Rainbow television show into an app which has allowed students to read over 16 million books on their tablets. He modified his original premise of bringing reading to young children via the current technology  (television in 1983 when the series started) to embrace the latest technology. He took what he knew and adapted himself and his vision, creating a successful kick starter campaign with over 105,000 contributors, raising over five times his $1,000,000 goal. Burton asked to see a show of hands for how many of the students had Instagram accounts. Every single one rose in unison. Roots_25th_Anniversary_Edition

Burton discussed how he had been cast as the lead in Alex Haley’s “Roots” when he was 19, a sophomore at USC. He attributed everything he knows about acting to the training he received at USC, in the earliest days of what is now the School of Dramatic Arts.

Mark Simon and others talked about researching the company you are approaching for a job and knowing before you interview about the type of work they do. Before auditioning, he advised, “Read the play.” He said that if he found that an actor hadn’t read the play he was likely to lose all interest in that actor. Good advice!

The universal advice from the panelists was to get out and go to the theatre. See the plays, talk about them, write about them, hone and train your ability to think about plays in critical terms and to have opinions.

Several of the panelists talked about how they had started as actors and migrated in another direction. Camille Schenkkan began as an actor, and realized that she really didn’t like commuting to auditions. She had a formative internship while in college, which developed into a full-time job. She became active in the Arts Alliance and other organizations, and soon landed at Center Theatre Group. She is responsible for overseeing the internships offered to students at Center Theatre Group, now a highly competitive process.

Emilie Beck began as an actor in Chicago, an environment she loved, and which I later overheard her telling some students about more. When she moved to Los Angeles, she discovered she no longer wanted to be an actress, and because she was writing plays by then, sought a job which could support her creative work.

David Mack described his rewarding work in coordinating the logistics for a dance company doing events in non-traditional performance spaces. Again, the theme was adaptation, flexibility, not being afraid to try something that hadn’t been tried before. It was a wonderful conversation.

I had joked with my husband before the event  that moderating a panel is just like hosting a dinner party, except without the shopping, cooking, and doing the dishes. The moderator’s task is exactly what the dinner party host’s is: to draw out your guests, to tease out the stories and the experiences that fascinate the other dinner guests. I love hosting dinner parties.

The dessert was hearing these generous panelists respond to the questions of the students, who were so eager to hear what they had to say. It was a dynamic and positive conversation which left everyone in the room, both students and panelists, feeling charged and hopeful about their future lives in the arts.

Following the question and answer period, the panelists stayed to talk with the students one on one before heading out into the early evening. Everyone left this dinner party fully sated.

On the Occasion of Brent’s Baby Shower

On the Occasion of Brent’s baby Shower                           January 11, 2015

Organized by Vic at the home of Laura and Geraldine

We’ve all been to a lot of baby showers – all of us over the age of thirty or so, anyway: women probably more so than men, though times are changing on that. image1The most recent shower I attended about 8 months ago, the result of which may be the happiest baby I have ever met.

Today I have the privilege of attending the baby shower of one of my colleagues, a well-traveled, thoughtful man who teaches Applied Theatre Arts. This baby won’t be your first, Brent, though it is your first flesh and blood baby. You birthed the one-year MA program in ATA at the School of Dramatic Arts several years back, to which you brought your intellect, passion, strong core beliefs and work ethic. This time, you will be taking on an even longer term project, for sure, currently as a single Dad, and I know you will bring to this new experience the same commitments and passions which you’ve dedicated to your work of the mind.

The challenges that face you in this adoption are many. Your academic work has global reach, taking you all over the world, multiple times a year, to regions where danger is not so much lurking as expected.

As I prepared myself to go to your baby shower, I, always the worrier, had so many thoughts spinning through my head.

Who will take care of the baby when you are in Rwanda or India next? Will you take the baby with you?

How will you create the support group necessary to make your full time teaching and global work possible?

I wish I could see the baby’s room you have set up, though thank you for sharing some pictures with us via social media.

Isn’t it wonderful that children’s lives now have a digital lifespan that even my son, born 25 years ago, did not have?

Is it wonderful?

In the days leading up to today’s shower, I have thought so often about our son’s welcoming party. My husband and I adopted him from the Department of Children’s Services, in October of 1991, when he was 2 years and 2 months old. We knew very little about his history, other than the fact that his birth mother, addicted to drugs was in Sybil Brand Women’s Prison. Chris had been in two foster homes prior to his placement in our home as a fost-adopt, i.e., a child whom we intended to ultimately adopt, but to whom we were currently foster parents.

I know that you know that it’s a long process to become a foster parent, one we had embraced eagerly even while we accepted its foreignness. An adopting couple has no natural nine-month timeline during which to plan for a baby’s arrival. In our case, we didn’t even know the age or sex of the child, so securing a crib or anything, prior to the specific call about the baby would have been folly. So, we really had nothing going in, save the Ikea bed which our adoption worker, Amy, helped us to put together on the weekend during which our guest bedroom became our son’s bedroom.

At the time, I was the stage manager for Reza Abdoh’s “Bogeyman,” which was in performance at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, with amazing artists both on stage and off. My ASM, Sandy, along with her soon-to-be-husband, Galen, the sound engineer for the show, and their roommate, David, organized a baby shower for Chris at their home in Silver Lake. In attendance, if my fraying memory serves me here, were many of the beautiful actors from the show, Tom, Juliana, Tom, Tony, Peter, and others, and the indefatigable crew, Michael, Alix, Mark, Jane, Jon and others whose names have sadly withered away. See, there’s one difference – if our shower had happened now, there would have been dozens of photos on Instagram and Facebook allowing Chris and my husband and me, to access those memories in sharp detail. Alas, now our son needs to rely on that increasingly faulty source, his mother’s and father’s memories, and some photo albums with yellowing photos.

I do remember that Chris was rambunctious, and he ran around the coffee table for hours, opening his gifts (another difference with your typical baby shower). The givers of the gifts got the added bonus of seeing their gifts truly and very actively appreciated. It was moving to see these generous artists, who gave every night on the stage their seething, raging, triumphant spirit and commitment to Reza’s work, give stuffed animals, Winnie the Pooh plate sets, and many other toys to our son. It may have been the most life-affirming experience I’ve ever had.

IMG_4391And so, dear Brent, I welcome your baby into your life and my life, and the life of the school we share. You must feel free to call on us to support your new role as father, protector, nurturer and teacher of your child. It will be quite a ride, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Lots of love to you from your extended family.

Watts Towers 1986 to 2015

Recently, while cleaning out some boxes from our storage area, i came across an old picture of our visit to the Watts Towers in about 1986. We had recently moved to Los Angeles from New York, out here temporarily due to Jimmie’s gig in a touring production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Huntington Theatre (later James A. Doolittle Theatre, and currently The Ricardo Montelban Theatre). We were staying at the Magic Hotel in Hollywood, on Franklin Avenue, at the base of the Magic Castle. Our hotel room was more of a suite, with a bedroom, a living room, and a kitchen, with not much more than a hot plate and a microwave. I remember the sofa bed retracted into the kitchen right where the oven would have been. The hotel took dogs, which was critical for us, as we had brought Jasper, the smartest dog in the universe, with us to L.A. There was a seedy park across Franklin from the hotel where we would walk him throughout the day, and we took night walks up Odin St., which ran behind the hotel into the hills, and where we frequently spotted the shining eyes of coyotes late at night.

IMG_4362In the picture, Jimmie and I were leaning up against Simon Rodia’s epic exterior wall, smiling  at the photographer, while our dog, Jasper, tongue lolling, looked off to the right. Casually dressed, Jimmie wore jeans and his Tail o’ The Pup t-shirt covered by a bluejean jacket. I had rather unflattering front-pleated khakis on and a long sleeved pink T-shirt. The jewel tones of our shirts echoed the vibrant colors of the broken tiles in the walls behind us. I really wish I could remember who took the picture, because we were looking so fondly and a bit shyly at them. The towers were completely unprotected at that time, no fence, no entrance tickets, no tour guide. We were left more or less to our own devices to wander through the structure and relish the detail of this artist’s mad and spectacular life’s work.

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One of the towers stands 99 1/2′ tall, just 6″ short of the regulations of the day for structures needing permits.

Today, about 28 years later, I returned to the Watt’s Towers. IMG_4319After many years of being closed to the public due to fears about their seismic safety, they are still in the process of being restored;  the whimsy and passion of the work is so powerful. Jimmie didn’t come with us today. I was invited by a friend who was introducing a new member to the Trojan Family to some of LA’s splendors. I tagged along, and was so glad that I did. Over the course of thirty years, Simon Rodia, whose life had early on taken a somewhat tragic spin, regained control of his circumstances and sought to execute this tribute to his Italian roots. He scouted the location, in 1921, of this small lot bordered on the one side by the Red Line Trolley tracks, and on the other by a working class neighborhood. Over the next thirty years, he used stones and metal and broken shards of pottery and tiles to construct what they called today, the largest personal sculpture in the world. And it is spectacular.  I asked my friend to take a picture of me by the wall, but I will make another trip back with Jimmie to take an analogous picture to the one we took almost thirty years ago. IMG_4324 IMG_4325 IMG_4326 IMG_4327 IMG_4328IMG_4338

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Goodbye 2014, hello 2015!

Best BuyI spent New Year’s Eve day just about the way I spend every New Year’s Eve day. I started off at Best Buy, buying a new Blu-ray/DVD player. I think the one I just tossed today was about 2.3 years old. I laughed at the guy in the blue shirt when he asked me if I wanted the extended warranty. “Aren’t these disposable?”

As I was leaving the store, I realized another appliance that I could handle while there. I bought a new 10-sheet shredder, for the upcoming tax prep season. These are almost disposable, too, it seems, though I’m hoping fewer hand written checks will diminish my use of it. I had to throw my last one out sometime in August when I went on a late summer desk purge and the teeth of the shredder locked in a snarl that I couldn’t rectify. I’d snarl too if I had a steady diet of worthless political contribution checks.

I know that this will make me sound like a bad Democrat. But today I’m thinking that there are better ways to spend my hard earned money than to send checks to the Democratic National Party to elect Hilary or anyone else. I’m of the opinion now that it’s all a wash -it doesn’t really seem to matter any more who’s in office because the other side makes progress impossible. So, this year I’m going to send my meager philanthropic contributions to struggling theatres in the Los Angeles area. It felt really good to write those little checks, and plus, they are deductible to the full extent of the law, unlike the meaningless political contributions are.

I came across a new word (to me) in my New-Year’s-Eve-appropriate reading book, “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. It was “Technophilanthropist,” defined as “a young, idealistic, iPad jet-setter who cares about the world – the whole world- in a whole new way.”

I think my New Year’s identity will be “theatropist”. So I’m not young, but tend to be idealistic, and I do own an iPad, which I read religiously at night, promising a future of horrible cancers due to my sleep deprivation. I kind of like the sound of theatropist. That, or “dramopist.” Which is what I am occasionally when I leave a really bad play.

I bought a Home/Office Budget ledger. It looks like something my grandfather might have used to keep track of his expenditures. I know, you are thinking, this is absolutely the wrong way to go – shouldn’t you be upgrading your Quicken? I’ll do that too, but sometimes, manual entry of money spent gets you to think about whether you need something? That’s my thinking, anyway. (See paragraphs 1 and 2 above….)

Paid our 2nd property tax installment. Ahhhhhh. Feels good.

This year I did the passive, reactive Christmas card thing, where I just responded to the cards that came in. I know, it’s lazy, but this year I learned that I really only need to send about 30 cards, not the 100 that I’ve done in other years that appear to go off into the abyss with no response back. So it was a good exercise, right?  And, I went off to Vroman’s yesterday and bought next year’s Christmas cards which I will shove into the closet and forget about, probably prompting me to buy more next November. I put one box on my desk to remind me that I bought them. I cleaned off my desk at home, restocking thank you cards and stationery for the New Year. I’m too entrenched in my vacation to think about my desk at work, except to berate myself for not cleaning it before leaving on my vacation.

Cleaned the apartment, new sheets on the beds, etc. Well, I didn’t do it, but I know you will think less of me if I tell you I paid someone else to do it, so let’s just let it be our little secret.

I plugged in the new Blu-ray player, which operates flawlessly. You don’t need to use your fingernail to wrench the disc drawer open. Wow! I almost had to throw away a SAG screener copy of “The Theory of Everything” that refused to come out of the old DVD player, but thought that would be imprudent. I imagine my neighbor’s delight and my husband’s subsequent imprisonment when she found the abandoned DVD player in the trash room, plugged it in and the drawer popped open with the illicit DVD in it. So I had a go at the drawer of the DVD player with my tweezer prongs, causing it to grind open so I could extract the prize. My husband will thank me later for this, while my neighbor curses me and drops the DVD player on the floor of the garbage room.

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I removed the extra holiday drop leaf from the dining room table and put a non-Christmas tablecloth on the table. It has snowflakes, but it is blue. I do get tired of the red and green. This symbolizes the end of large parties – wait, did I have any? I threw away the most durable Christmas table decoration I’ve ever had, made of fir tree tips and frosted cones. I must thank my colleague, Marissa, for providing me with such a long lasting table decoration.

I made a shopping list for the lamb stew I’m going to make for New Year’s Day dinner. This recipe I received from a colleague due to a chain email requesting recipes that I succumbed to in the last moments in my office when I should have been cleaning my desk surface. But hey, now I have lamb stew to make. Thanks, Laura!IMG_4288

New Year’s resolutions are a bit fuzzy still, but I have about nine more hours to come up with some. Here are a few:
1. Don’t procrastinate. (I have this on every year’s list, but then, so do you, right?)

  1. Learn how to drive on Santa Monica Blvd. so that I don’t damage my axle. This means hugging the left lane when east bound. (No need to thank me for this tip. You’d have figured it out on your own.)
  2. Hug my husband at least three times a day, maybe more. Hey, hug him until he asks me to stop.
  3. Write every day.
  4. Write more letters.

IMG_4307And since I have a few hours before the ball falls, or the fireworks go off over Grand Park here in L.A., I just want to take a moment to thank you for making 2014 such a smash hit, and to take a moment to thank you in advance for being kind and committed in 2015. Which is different from being kind of committed. Take note of that, you theatropists out there. Here’s to a theatrical and dramatic 2015!

The Pink Lady

Several years ago, an old friend of my husband’s from back in his “Greenwich Village days,” in the 1950s, Peter Harvey, notified us that he would be coming to town for an exhibition of his paintings at a little gallery on Melrose, just west of La Cienega. Did we want to attend? This was in about 2008, I think.

Peter is an accomplished painter, as well as a very experienced theatrical scenic designer, and Jimmie had worked with Peter and known him well socially back in New York.

Of course we wanted to go to the show, and before going, we had discussed rather seriously that we would  buy one of his works at the gallery to support him.

We arrived at the gallery at about 7pm, I from work, and Jimmie from home.  I went to park the car nearby, returning to the small gallery, which was filled with jovial friends of Peter’s – mostly gay men, but there were some women there as well. I found Jimmie, and we began to circulate around the room, enjoying the colorful, large-scale paintings on display.

Text/Eros was the name of the show

It soon became clear to us – I don’t know, call me provincial, prudish, too straight, narrow-minded – that we were unlikely to find a painting for our living room among the canvases in front of us.  However, one painting was really lovely and G-rated enough for our lives.

IMG_4090There were many paintings in the gallery with text incorporated into the body of the painting, and this one, though inherently a bit sad, had a warmth and theatricality to it that caused us to gravitate to it.

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I sent this photo to Peter because he said he liked to see where his paintings had gone to live

We made the deal and after the show closed a few weeks later, picked up the painting and hung it in our dining room. I actually painted the walls of the dining room to better show it off.

While we were at the gallery, I also thumbed through a portfolio of water colors, and stumbled upon a lovely and saucy watercolor of a “woman of a certain age” flaunting her zoftig body with insouciance  on a coverlet splashed with bright pink flowers and Peter’s jaunty signature at the bottom of the blanket. I fell in love with the Pink Lady. After the show closed and Peter went back to New York, I thought about her.

My 50th birthday was coming up and Jimmie asked me if there was anything I wanted for my birthday. I said wistfully, “I can’t stop thinking about the Pink Lady. She is just the epitome of what I feel like 50 is about. Take it or leave it.”

And so, the Pink Lady came to live with us. She graces the wall above my desk at home, and I can glance up at her when we are reading in bed before turning out the light.

And as I lay on the couch tonight in the living room, I was looking up at the Ode On Melancholy painting that we had bought originally, and decided to look up the ode which inspired it.

Ode on Melancholy

BY JOHN KEATS

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
       Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine;
Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kiss’d
       By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine;
               Make not your rosary of yew-berries,
       Nor let the beetle, nor the death-moth be
               Your mournful Psyche, nor the downy owl
A partner in your sorrow’s mysteries;
       For shade to shade will come too drowsily,
               And drown the wakeful anguish of the soul.
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
       Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
       And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
       Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
               Or on the wealth of globed peonies;
Or if thy mistress some rich anger shows,
       Emprison her soft hand, and let her rave,
               And feed deep, deep upon her peerless eyes.
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
       And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
       Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
       Veil’d Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
               Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
       Can burst Joy’s grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
               And be among her cloudy trophies hung.