September 27, 2015 — Pontificating: Reflecting On My Time As Theatrical Liaison To The Vatican

 

AGNES OF GOD at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre in Charlotte

AGNES OF GOD at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre in Charlotte

 

Now that the Pope has officially graced American soil, I can breathe a bit easier following months of coordinating the Pontiff’s holy theatrical itinerary and Behind the Emerald Curtain Tour. While this current Pope’s penchant for motorcycle joyriding and tango dancing have generally overshadowed more obvious pursuits, make no mistake: Pope Francis finds showstopper musicals and family drama in particular, heavenly. I was honored by the Vatican Council for Culture, appointed to design an appropriate program for His Holiness.

It wasn’t real to me, I suppose, until a courier dropped off an international parcel—a box (on loan only) containing the Pope’s favorite musicals all on CDs, some well worn tees (STARLIGHT EXPRESS was unexpected), as well as assorted Playbills and four signed posters, including the LOVE!VALOUR!… with Jason Alexander. I was starting to think I’ve seen His Holiness at the Broadway Flea Market in Shubert Alley.

 

film cast of THE WIZ including Michael Jackson

film cast of THE WIZ including Michael Jackson (right)

 

Anyway, the Pope obviously can’t just rock up at HAMILTON like the Obamas. His security detail is the most intense of any international figure. No one wants anything to happen to the Pope on his or her watch. And to be frank, Broadway was not prepared for the Pontiff’s ravenous contemporary pop musical taste. Tickets were by-and-large already spoken-for and Equity, as anticipated, pooh-poohed additional performances without properly filed paperwork (ahead of the deadline). All in all, we decided to present the Pontiff with a one time only, star-studded performance of a more-or-less unknown show, in concert. But I thought—as I often get messages to this effect—many of you like to hear about the inside track of New York theatre, so I might as well share the final list of show candidates—by vote of the Vatican Council for Culture, myself and my two workhorse assistants, as well as Jennifer Mudd and three Jujamcyns. Here they are, below, in order of least to most votes. Jennifer Mudd’s vote counted twice, but I was not privy to why exactly, when I dropped questions about it casually in a Words With Friends exchange with a member of the Holy See.

10   THE WIZ
Ultimately it was decided better to distance His Holiness from Luther Vandross.

9   AGNES OF GOD
Hear me out. Given his fondness for a hardy drama, and his radical new direction for the Church, I thought it was at least a dark horse worth exploring.

8   NUNCRACKERS: A NUNSENSE CHRISTMAS
I figured this was really getting two doves with one stone, but that Christmas-in-July thing doesn’t translate well in Vatican City, apparently.

7   GODSPELL
Deemed too liberally interpreted, though I did find a writeable disk copy of a Marist College production in the Vatican Online Archive.

6   JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR
Some of the Cardinals traveling as aids with Pope Francis were initially intrigued by the recent Vegas-style revival, but in the end, no one could agree on a Mary Magdalene. A late night conversation about Victoria Clark, sources report, led to “strong words” and “espresso”.

 

NUNCRACKERS... Newtowne Players, Maryland

NUNCRACKERS… Newtowne Players, Maryland

 

5   BOOK OF MORMON
I knew this one would at least make it into the top five. Sadly, unsavory language and references could be uncomfortable for PF.

4   JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT
A serious contender as it appeases Catholics while simultaneously shouting out to New York’s large Jewish population.

3   SCANDALOUS
Kathie Lee Gifford’s show. Look it up. It’s a real thing.

2   LEAP OF FAITH
Ultimately, we lost Raúl Esparza to a national commercial and therefore, the show was vetoed by an anonymous member of the council. It garnered the number two spot regardless, via “write-in votes”.

 

the winner: P!: AEM

the winner: P!: AEM

 

And the show actually chosen, POPE! AN EPIC MUSICAL, kicking mass and taking confessions. Here’s a link to a synopsis—the show previously ran at NYMTF in July.

http://www.popethemusical.com

 

September 18, 2015 — Alt + Format

 

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The soon-to-be theatrical import—or… export/import—TRIP OF LOVE, currently in Osaka en route to Off Broadway, is neither a traditional musical or a jukebox musical or actually a narrative at all. It’s a string of songs from the 60s. Sounds entertaining enough. I might possibly like it. But is it Broadway? Or, in this case, Off Broadway?

I’ve flirted with this topic here before, but there’s a lot of Broadway status being thrown at productions that don’t fit the traditional mold. I mean… I love street theatre. And puppet theatre. And shadow puppet theatre. Pretty much anything with shadows and puppets—but, with a narrative. Theatre is storytelling, no? Even dance-y CATS was comprised of tales that loosely came together, all from a single book of poems.

 

BEAUTIFUL's Jesse Mueller at Broadway Barks

BEAUTIFUL’s Jesse Mueller at Broadway Barks

 

I’ve made peace with the jukebox musical—even though stories there can be a bit thin… or barely make sense, like strung-together-with-paper-clips MAMMA MIA!, may it rest in peace. But there is a glimmer of a story–usually some feel-good starting-from-the-mailroom coming up into a triumphant obstacle-overcoming 11 o’clock number (but at 9:30, because curtain was at 7). My dad liked BEAUTIFUL so much, I (legally) downloaded the cast recording onto his Mac.

But TRIP OF LOVE seems to be following in the jazz shoes of MOVIN’ OUT—remember that dicey Billy Joel-vehicle? Anyway, TOL seems to be a bit more even-handed between vocals and choreography. Regardless, these dance shows fall into my FILE 13, along with comedians who have shows “On Broadway”, magicians, too (though my second Broadway show was actually one of these), or cirque du soleil-like limited engagements. Not to mention the occasional bizarre celebrity rant, Carrie Fisher. Which, incidentally, I loved for its brass and bravada.

 

A still from the production in Japan

A still from the TOL production in Japan

 

Is it a Broadway show if it’s……

—Canned music, no live musicians?
—Only puppets, no visible humans?
—No dialogue?
—No plot?
—More like a cabaret?
—Without a fourth wall?
—A comedy routine?
—A magic show?
—A showcase of acrobatics or stunts?
—A live reality competition?
—Only dancing, no singing or dialogue?
—A sequel? Like the one supposedly in the works for CATS?
—A monologue play, Mr. Parsons?
—Robots only, on stage? Remember that one?

I suppose technically any production that attempts to entertain the public and rents a Broadway house… and sells tickets… But it’s difficult for me as an actor to take the acting out of Broadway. I like to think even your dance-heavy shows like, traditionally, A CHORUS LINE, or currently, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, still rely heavily on acting. Certainly, we act through our singing in musicals—Audra was acting up a storm in LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR AND GRILL.

Come to think of it, there’s such limited crossover in the high-end arena of “performing” and “acting”. Your Madonnas and Britneys versus your James Francos and Anne Hathaways (remember when the latter two tried to host the Oscars?). It wasn’t pretty. And Madonna, on the tails of internet-proclaimed genius these last two nights at the Garden, doesn’t usually WOW film critics in that Daniel Day Lewis sort of way. Ah-hem.

September 14, 2015 — WTFashion Week?

 

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Mainstream New Yorkers pay minimal attention to it. Just a lot of irksome foot traffic in TriBeCa and easily spotted trying-oh-so-hard style efforts. But what is Fashion Week? Besides the obvious. Yes, it’s a several day stretch of runway shows for buyers and the gen pub, occurring twice a year: in February and September. One full season ahead. But further down the rabbit hole, it’s a big PR event for individuals in the most vacuous industry in the world… in Paris, Milan and London—but clearly, New York is the one.

 

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At the top, you can see mi amiga and former cast member of my play IN PASSING, Isis King, giving face at the Marco Marco show. This was the show to be at for downtown scenester types. I think we can’t all help cheering for Madeline Stuart, the model who happens to have Downs, featured so prominently in this year’s 800+ million dollar extravaganza. Here she is (above) at the Hendrik Vermeulen show with some bold color face.

With great reverence for New York—or in a horrifically disrespectful, reductive display, the hottest ticket on the town was Givenchy’s show with World Trade Center One as backdrop—on September 11th, complete with the annual memorial lights. I’m mixed about this one—Givenchy chose to show in New York obvi to bring attention to the new store on Madison Avenue. Kendall Jenner walked—that’s Kim’s less annoying little sister. “Big” sis was of course in attendance with Kanye Kardashian, both dressed in the label’s own wears (see Kim down below with black lace-y belly). People were annoyed that Julia Roberts, who rarely attends Fashion Week events, wore a simple T-shirt and over-the-shoulder blazer. Kind of like Diane Keaton showed up thinking it was the men’s show. Apparently, though, Julia got the memo—the show was mostly black and blah… lots of tuxedo parts.

What have the trends been for Spring/Summer 2016? Pretty awful, overall. But to be more specific: body and face bejeweling, lip gloss everywhere besides the lips, for a sweaty glowing skin-look, twisty ponytails a la Sade, checkerboard nails (really?), and non-traditional models: older, trans, larger and differently-abled.

I walked by Target’s party (Vogue-Target, which is hard to even type), on my way to shoot a live commercial event—the usual non-disclosure keeps me from telling you more (I assure you, it had nothing to do with a car being flown across the Hudson via helicopter to be dangled before a tenth floor penthouse where a party was going on), and I saw a bit of the Tar-zhay shenanigans. The fact that Target has a twenty page spread in this month’s Vogue just may be a sign of the apocalypse, or some ultimate selling out-at-large.

Best and Worse Dressed? Who cares. Definitely not me or Julia (remind me to tell you about the time we sang Christmas Carols in Mandarin on the set of MONA LISA SMILE) for Best. Worst is quite a competitive category. Here are some contenders for your amusement… PS—Not all are from this week, but ALL are hideous.

 

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September 10, 2015 — Autumn Living

 

W/ HOTEL LIVING AUTHOR Ioannis Pappos

W/ HOTEL LIVING Author Ioannis Pappos

 

I’ve been traveling, as you know, capitalizing on my right as a Manhattanite to “late August”—now a verb—when absolutely everyone seems to be on vacay, and the New York landscape becomes a veritable ghost town. PS—awkward segue—“Ghosttown” is my preferred track from Madonna’s REBEL HEART, show soon to manifest at MSG (September 16th & 17th). I have to be a little nicer to my pal and upstairs neighbor, Shane (below, squatting on the right), who happens to be a stuntman on the tour. I stole this pic of him with the dancers.

 

shane

 

W/ actor XX

W/ Actor Christian Coulson

 

On Tuesday, I was honored to attend a celebray for my number 1 recommendation in the way of fall reads, HOTEL LIVING. Handsome author Iaonnis Pappos’ book follows the deliciously-hectic path of a young Greek man, fired through the canon of Euro Business School shenanigans (nearly) straight into a debaucherous net of excess and American Psycho-esque style. Humorist/performer Mo Rocca was on hand for a brief interview with Pappos, followed by the reading of an excerpt by actor Christian Coulson, who I know from the world of HARRY POTTER, THE HOURS, and other favorite flicks.

 

Cable Rockstar and Downtown Fixture Mo Rocca

Cable Rockstar and Downtown Fixture Mo Rocca

 

The evening was sponsored by Paul Goerg Champagne, held in the lovely back garden of The Waverly Inn, a favorite restaurant of the Obamas, I happen to know. It was an affair befitting the fiction; I ran into fellow-Theatrist Mike Albo (I love everyone in my writer’s group at the Public) and social media guru Lisa Goldenberg, as well as Caffe Vivaldi staple, musician Mark Radcliffe. I was privy to read an early draft of HOTEL LIVING, and I knew it would score big with readers. Still, my eyes popped a bit when I saw the book pictured above the new Tana French novel in ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. I hope HarperCollins printed generously—I found my copy here:

http://www.amazon.com/Hotel-Living-A-Novel-P-S/dp/0062376365

Fall theatre also has my hair standing on end—or it’s the Propecia. Three debuts have ushered in a hopeful season—well, at least two of them. SAVING GRACE may need to pray a bit harder. But HAMILTON’S 30-some million dollar advanced sales and the Jim Parson vehicle, AN ACT OF GOD, came in with a vengeance. AAOG is already closed, neatly recouping thanks to the popularity of the wry-mouthed BING BANG THEORY star. If Neil Patrick Harris taught us anything in 2015, it was the (reinforced) notion that celebrity equals box office, for better or worse. David Bowie will be flouncing around the New York Theatre Workshop stage this fall (LAZARUS), and lest we forget about Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf in MISERY (kind of obvious casting on the psychopath front—SCREAM 2, etc…) I’m also looking forward to the Raiders-style rolling boulder that is THE WIZ, powerhousing its way onto Broadway and television later this year.

Happy to see old friend Telly Leung in ALLEGIANCE with Facebook junkie and Leftist whistle-blower George Takei. For us Gen X-er Broadway-ers, Lea Salonga rounds out the cast. Takei spent a portion of his childhood in an internment camp; I’m all for the authenticity brought to the project. MTAT has been busy booking tickets for upcoming travel groups; some lucky ducks will be experiencing the evolving stage adaption of SCHOOL OF ROCK, and interacting with cast members via workshops. First Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in at least 32 bars. Will it be a PHANTOM, a STARLIGHT EXPRESS, or Sutton Foster-forbid, THE WOMAN IN WHITE?

 

cover

 

MY TOP FIVE ARTS PICKS FOR FALL 2015:

 

1    read HOTEL LIVING by Ioannis Pappos

2    watch AND listen to Deaf West’s revival of SPRING AWAKING (in English and American Sign)

3    score tix to Madonna’s REBEL HEART TOUR

4    see a woman direct Mamet on B’Way for the first time (CHINA DOLL w/ Al Pacino)

5    digest KING CHARLES III (a more accessible British play than WOLF HALL or THE AUDIENCE)

August 28, 2015 — Operan

 

me

 

If you’re a musical theatre fan who’s grown waywardly opera-curious, I generally recommend CARMEN as the ideal beginner opera. Not that I’m at all taking away from the iconic work—it’s a masterpiece, for certain. It just so happens to grease a gentle introduction into a medium that can often be heady, arduous, and feel foreign to many, given its period settings, melodramatics, heightened realism (CARMEN was the first to do otherwise), and foreign language.

 

après show

Après show

 

I was ecstatic to discover that CARMEN was opening the season at the Royal Swedish Opera. Oh, did I mention I’m in Stockholm? Generally, I find myself traveling through Europe during summer—I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for inflated hotel rates and air tickets. No, actually, it’s just a pleasant weather-time to visit. The Royal Swedish Opera starts their season a touch earlier than most European companies, and I finally was in the window to catch a season opener.

 

The opera house interior is exquisite

The opera house interior is exquisite

 

As is the overwhelming trend, the work was done with a modern bent. The Act IV bullfighting scene was realized with projections while the company watched the main event from a television set within the mis-en-scene. Brilliant, I thought, solving two fundamental issues simultaneously: the bullfighting arena often involves an elaborate and costly set and also, the idea of bullfighting is becoming less and less palatable in our politically correct times. Can a bullfighter still be a hero? I never attended a bullfight in my travels through Spain; however, I might have been swayed differently if the toreador-at-large was Kostas Moriginas, hands down the most gifted and handsome Escamillo I’ve ever seen. And from eighth row center, I could make that assessment with utter confidence. Other cast highlights for me included the hilarious Viviane Holmberg as Frasquita—she brought the character role in opera to a level of commedia dell’arte brilliance, a mix of sublime voice and spastic physicality.

 

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The writer in me is thoroughly gratified to be here in Södermalm (the formerly blue collar neighborhood of Stockholm turned Meatpacking trendy) this week as Stieg Larsson’s fourth installment of his Millenium series (you know the first three, starting with THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, was released). Well, released in Swedish. Us English-speaking devotees will have to wait until September 1st. The book comes loaded with controversy as Larsson passed before finishing it. A well-known chain smoker and junk food-addict, Larsson died climbing the stairs to his office—heart attack—right above the coffee shop where I’m writing this blog. He wrote much of the trilogy on the stool I’m sitting on, just to the left of the door. I’ve skipped the pastry today. And I’ll be taking the elevator.

Fika  v. Swedish. To have coffee, generally accompanied by a pastry, while socializing.

The book is fourth of an outlined ten; Larsson had written the beginning and end though the middle section was largely unfinished, all existing bits encrypted on his personal laptop in the possession of his girlfriend and domestic partner. The fourth book, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB, was written without Swedish author David Lagercrantz ever having seen any of it. He wasn’t allowed, following a bitter battle over legal rights between domestic partner and Larsson’s greedy brother and father, in Swedish courts. Lagercrantz is quite an accomplished writer in his own right, and reviews have been more-or-less favorable both yesterday and today. Shame, though; I’d much rather read Larsson’s intended continuation of the Lisbeth Salander adventures.

August 22, 2015 — Far Out

 

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Don’t worry, this week’s blog title is not a sign I’m embracing my inner Woodstock or anything tragic like that. I write a lot on here about previews and openings, but wanted to talk about some of the projects that are lingering on the horizon—maybe even some you haven’t heard of—yet. I got the idea walking down West 13th past my favorite movie house, the village landmark Quad Cinema, which seems to be under renovation. At least, I hope so. Immediately following Hurricane Sandy, local restaurant Leon had a similar please excuse our appearance sign, only to never open again. Poof! Gone. That better not happen to the Quad, known for its indie and foreign film offerings. I started thinking about what the new Quad might look like when it’s done (or what will—heaven forbid—replace it when some greedy landlord raises the rent too high). What else will be rolling into town in the not-so-near future? What projects are FAR OUT?

 

A still from the stage adaption

A still from the stage adaption of TJB

 

Remember THE JUNGLE BOOK musical floating around a bit ago? It never made it to the Great White Way—makes those of us who’ve tried to push new works down the pike feel a bit less self loathing. As they say in FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, “There’s a special God for steadfast projects.” Seems like a surprise live-action version of the tale will be gracing screens next spring. The cast is littered with A-Listers: Ben Kingsley, Lupita (does she really need a last name?), the incomparable Bill Murray, ScarJo and my fellow high cheek-boned comrade, Mr. Christopher Walken. Maybe this adaption of the animated classic will get the stage version’s momentum going.

 

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I haven’t liked a Disney character more than …NEMO’S Dory since Thumper. So, you can imagine how excited I am for the FN sequel-of-sorts, FINDING DORY, where the cuddly fish is not so much lost as looking for her own past. Ellen takes on the voice again—I’m not sure how many millions she’s netting for the film, but whatever it is, she’s worth it. Fellow TV stars Ed O’Neil and Ty Burrell (who I can never decide if I like or not) join the talk show queen along with Albert Brooks. I don’t see much chance of a stage adaption; the mediocre box office of …MERMAID (in comparison to mega hits LION KING and BEAUTY…BEAST), I imagine, will keep all things under the sea, under the radar.

 

Moana-Disney-Dwayne-The-Rock-Johnson

 

Keeping with the Disney theme, I’m equally curious about Moana, the upcoming animated musical about a girl on a quest to find a fabled island in the South Pacific. It looks to be complete with volcano gods, villagers, regionally appropriate sidekicks, and rich Polynesian folklore. This is Disney’s 56th animated feature and first Pacific Islander-character. “The Rock” voices Maui, a demigod—because his ego needs that. The villain is a lava witch.

The rumors of what direct-to-stage projects are being shopped around are boundless, but here are some of my favorites (for good and for evil):

ROCKETMAN, THE MUSICAL, the life and music of Sir Elton John

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA THE MUSICAL

FROZEN (with Tony-nominee Alex Timbers)

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s musical adaption of FREAKY FRIDAY

MRS. DOUBTFIRE, THE MUSICAL, helmed by Harvey himself

Audra MacDonald as the SPIDER WOMAN (ugh… Alan Cummings was in the reading)

Sondheim’s new David Ives collaboration at the Public

The return of both MISS SAIGON and CATS TO NYC

A Hugh Hefner musical on B’Way

FIGHT CLUB, THE ROCK OPERA

August 15, 2015 — 10 Ways To Combat Stage Fright

 

Back Stage Babs

Backstage Babs

 

Even big stars aren’t immune to it. Barbra Streisand is famous for it. Carol Burnett has admitted to routinely vomiting pre-show. Stage fright can be crippling to some of the best performers. I myself rarely get extremely nervous before a performance but am often shaking in my boots prior to an important audition. The worst part about stage fright is that it prevents the audience or auditioners from seeing how wonderful you really are. You may not know that people—not actors, real people—routinely rank public speaking as their biggest fear. I mean… really? Over being attacked by a shark or crashing in a plane? Wow. Stage fright is some powerful stuff! Here’s my top ten list, compiled from personal experience as well as tips from other performers that I trust, in tackling that stage-a-phobia.

 

10   CREATE A PERSONAL BACKSTAGE ROUTINE
Lots of actors have pre-show rituals. Most of these have little to do with the actual show at hand and can be transported from one production to the next. Though perhaps not thought of as a ritual, some actors “get into the zone” by methodically applying their make-up. Taking the focus off what is about to occur can be enormously helpful. Others may do Sudoku, knit, pre-set their costumes, or even troll through Tinder.

9   GET PHYSICAL
Just like Olivia Newton John suggests, do some physical activity to get the blood pumping. I’ve seen performers doing jumping jacks or even taking a jog around the parking lot. In addition to a cardio-induced endorphin rush, some others like to stretch or execute some yoga poses backstage. If ashtanga or some other activity otherwise relaxes you, try bringing it backstage.

8   GET META-PHYSICAL
Lots of actors practice regular meditation and many employ this practice before rehearsals or performances. Sometimes just sitting comfortably with your eyes closed and allowing yourself to think of nothing in particular can be an excellent way to center and prepare. Studies show that meditation actually decreases blood pressure. If your mind is racing and you can’t stop thinking of the task ahead, allow yourself to have the thought, then quickly dismiss it. Some people prefer to repeat a word or short phrase in their head to facilitate clearing the mind.

7   BE PREPARED
Sometimes stage fright can bubble up due to a feeling of insecurity: you think you will stumble over your lines, miss a cue, or not hit the note. Hash tag, Idina Menzel. Many actors alleviate these fears by reciting their big monologue silently to themselves beforehand, singing pre-show scales to ensure the pitches are all there that night, or go over blocking in their head from the dressing room. If you have attended all the rehearsals, i.e. put in the work, take comfort in the fact that you have done your part to prepare.

6   ENGAGE WITH THE AUDIENCE
My pal Ian cured long-ago stage fright by simply pretending the audience isn’t even there. It’s easy to block out the audience from stage as you often can’t see them—the house is dark, lights are blaring in your face… no audience equals nothing to worry about, right? Like it’s just another rehearsal or run-through. He thinks of the laughter and audible reactions as merely an ongoing soundtrack to the show.

5   REALLY COMMIT TO THE IMAGINARY WORLD
Someone once told me “the best actors are insane”. At first, I took this as an affront, being a performer myself. But I started to realize that some actors are able to suspend their disbelief to such a degree, a part of them really believes they are living the on stage reality of the show. If you are incredibly engrossed and believe you are in the fictional locale, then you can’t get stage fright. After all, why would anyone get stage fright in an army bunker, or in Oz, or on a train with Kristin Chenoweth?

4   BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PUT INSIDE YOUR BODY
What you eat or drink right before a performance can most definitely have an impact on your psychological state. Just like opera singers refrain from dairy on the day of a performance to keep their voices phlegm-free, actors may choose to avoid caffeine, which can make you jittery, or have some citrus or dark chocolate beforehand, which can actually calm you down and decrease stress.

3   MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE AUDIENCE
I always love a pre-show. It gives me the chance to experience the audience as they enter the space. The mass audience, as a whole, is far more intimidating than thinking of the house as a group of individuals. Mingling with the audience during a pre-show allows you to have an interaction with them right upfront, removing the stressful initial entrance. I have lots of friends who like to peek out from behind the curtain as the audience loads, and see some faces. They might even find Aunt Ida in the fourth row and take some comfort in knowing exactly where a supportive audience member is sitting in the house.

2   USE IT!
That’s right, embrace your stage fright. My initial scene in the play RAFT OF THE MEDUSA was a violent hospital scene in which I was directed to “thrash about the bed” and “writhe in pain”. Awesome. I was able to get out all of my anxiety in that first scene and by the next entrance, I was calm as a school librarian in July. This can work in any situation where you have an entrance that requires a lot of energy.

1   REMEMBER THE AUDIENCE IS ON YOUR SIDE
Very few people—all right, there are some bitter reviewers out there, but they’re in the minority—come to a theatre performance and want it to be bad. The audience hopes you are wonderful—they’ve probably paid a lot of money to be entertained. They are routing for you, and most likely your comrades on stage are, as well. And in knowing that, if you still experience some jitters, know that you are in good company with some of theatre’s greats, and that it probably means you really care about your work, which is ultimately, all a director can ask of you on show-day.

August 5, 2015 — The Definitive Dos and Don’ts For Headshots! (As Illustrated By Celebrity Mugshots)

 

Of all the questions I get from actors, there is consistently, and disproportionately, lots about headshots. I’ve touched on it before, and re-touched on it, but it seems wise to clear up some ongoing misconceptions about what a headshot is and what it should look like (and not look like… ah-hem). Follow these ten bits of accrued wisdom acquired doing time in the worlds of casting and talent rep. Oh, and as an actor myself.

Without further ado…

 

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RIP BLACK & WHITE HEADSHOTS. Unless you are stepping out of a time machine and into the audition room, stop it. Yup, even if you’re goth. Even if you’re “artsy” and non-commercial. A headshot allows those casting to see what you look like. Color presents, quite literally, a fuller spectrum of your image. The mediums in which actors work are overwhelmingly in color. We know you look better with a black & white filter that hides all your flaws. And no sepia, either. It’s not clever or stylized—you’re not submitting a project for The New School’s Intro to Photo Development class taught by the ghost of David Foster Wallace.

 

justin-bieber-mugshot

 

A headshot is not a composite card for print—those are two different things that should not be used interchangeably. A headshot has ONE SHOT—with your head in it. And definitely no “picture in picture” shots like some TV set from the 1990s. The image should measue 8 X 10 inches (it’s almost unusual to use a printed headshot in our green-forward world of digital agent submissions—so don’t print more than 50 at a time). The photo should be matte unless you’re auditioning for a Vegas showgirl position or attending a Be-A-Model! casting call in a mall in Patterson, New Jersey in 1987, and Tiffany is performing.

 

hugh-grant-mug-shot

 

Don’t put too much thought into your top and even less into what you’re wearing on the bottom, as it most likely won’t be seen. But do follow these suggestions: choose a simple top, and have options, no stripes or busy patterns like herringbone, black or white is a choice, consider the background, choose something timeless or at least not in-the-moment trendy, don’t be shirtless or wear a bathing suit top, wear glasses only if you always wear glasses, don’t allow a top button to make you appear too stiff or rigid. CLOTHING SHOULD NOT DISTRACT OR EVEN BE MEMORABLE. Lastly, borrow a shirt or return it—you can’t wear it to an audition.

 

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A HEADSHOT IS NOT A GLAMOUR SHOT. Remember those? Yeah… if you’re an actor (not a host or presenter), your headshot should look completely naturalistic. You should not be dressed in evening wear or drenched in gold disco lighting. Unless you’re Joan Collins, the majority of roles won’t call for you to be escorted off a yacht in the Mediterranean for the reading of your third husband’s will. Go for an “everyday” look.

 

bill-gates-mugshot

 

Don’t get that five hundred dollar wedding stylist-to-the-stars blow-out before your headshots. You can’t repeat that for every audition. And keep your headshots current. If you’re under 30, you should change your headshots every two years; over 35, every four. YOU HAVE TO LOOK LIKE YOUR SHOT when you enter the room.

 

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BETTER NOT TO POSE. I know, I know… But I’ve found the best headshot photographers are able to capture many moments in a fluid session. The best images depict a fleeting, organic beat and not a frozen one. After all, most actors are dynamic, expressive, constantly-shifting beings. Capture that. How often do you pose, face forward on stage or in a film scene? Oh, and jewelry can be distracting. If the eye goes anywhere other than the face when looking at your shot, photoshop it out! #davinci_reference

 

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HIRE COMPETENT PEOPLE. Find a photographer who has at least a hundred actor headshots that you can see. Some headshot photographers have a very distinctive style—I use a guy who always shoots in front of a blown-out white background. I like interesting framing and negative space. I also prefer a landscape headshot over the portrait variety because I work on camera mostly, and that orientation is more like film. And if you’re having your hair and make-up done (not necessary for most guys but ladies often do), hire those who have worked with your hair type and skin color. Unless you wear extremely good wigs, like my gorgeous actress friend with Alopecia, and you wear that wig all the time, do not wear one in your headshot.

 

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DON’T OVER ACCESSORIZE. Don’t wear a hat—sometimes people will assume men in caps are balding, which could work or not work in your favor depending on the role. Allow casting directors to see your head and what your hair looks like. Also don’t crop your shot at the forehead for that reason. Don’t wear every jewelry option available—choose no more than one or two of the following: earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, tribal neck rings, etc…

 

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DON’T DISTRACT WITH PROPS. Put down that cigarette holder, you’re not Bette Davis. Don’t block your face with your hand or your hair. If they can’t see your full face, game over. If you have a huge scar, embrace it. And definitely don’t show too much skin. Jersey Shore-like nails should not be the focus of your headshot. Also, don’t be too close or too far. The shot should contain all of your head, shoulders, and maybe your torso but no further than the waist.

 

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SHOW SOME PERSONALITY. The worst faux pas of all is a statue-like blank look that tells the casting people nothing about who you are or what kind of characters you might play. You are selling yourself as a brand, so always use the shot that’s less flattering but shows that there’s some life in you! Don’t submit mugshots and missing person adverts. Too many of those already.

July 29, 2015— Behind the 8th-Ball

 

 

So far, nothing has replaced the old B Dalton's Booksellers on 8th & Sixth Ave

Still, nothing has replaced the old B. Dalton Booksellers on 8th & Sixth Ave

 

One of the definitive bitter sweets of Manhattan living—for any reputable length of time—is the bearing witness to the Darwinian evolution of neighborhoods. I wrote about the Meatpacking District recently with some sort of claimed nostalgia, but… when was I ever in the Meatpacking District when it was a meatpacking district? I never patroned now sinking ship Hogs ‘N Heifers (closing Aug 23rd) after a long day at the slaughterhouse. But… I absolutely remember 8th Street (and by natural extension eastward, St. Mark’s Place), what it looked like when my first NYU dorm was only two blocks north on East 10th and Fifth Ave.

 

Liquiterias, Amorinos, and Caffe Benes, have replaced old standards like Gray's Papaya of 8th St.

Liquiterias, Amorinos, and Caffé Benes have replaced old standards like Gray’s Papaya of 8th St.

 

Truth is, it’s changed much more than its westerly concrete compatriot, the MD. Or at least, changed MORE over a shorter duration. Eighth Street is formerly the unofficial Manhattan “Shoe District”. Once home to over twenty different sneaker and shoe shops—from the high end Italian in-house leather variety to the warehouse of boxes piled floor-to-ceiling of old Chucks (I’m psyched about the brand reboot this week) and Run DMC-approved Adidas and checker cab Vans. These, of course, along with Eva’s (a health-forward store long before the days of Juice Generation or even the old The Pump. Also, the visual arts school and Cassiopeia Body Piercings (now, only its sister store Andromeda—featured in an iconic episode of AbFab—remains on St. Mark’s).

 

This now dwarfs the legendary Electric Lady Studios

An urgent care now dwarfs the legendary Electric Lady Studios

 

Also, the historic Electric Lady Studios (everyone from Jimmy Hendrix to the Beatles to Lana Del Rey have recorded there) now resides completely surrounded by this monstrosity (pictured above). At least ELS didn’t lose their lease. There’s been a lot of THAT going around: the out-pricing, upcharging, landlord-gouging, mom-and-pop-squashing of neighborhood shops and eateries. Just this week, famed punk clothing headquarters Trash and Vaudeville, announced they are moving over to East 7th. And not for the reasons you might think—yes, the rent is ever increasing; however, one of the owners maintains that his audience has moved. St. Mark’s has now become a bit, well, touristy, just steps away from the Orpheum and Hamilton-worshipping The Public Theater, and all.

 

inside H&Hs in its heyday

inside H&Hs in its heyday

 

I devoted a passage in my book to this topic:

 

The neighborhood was Alphabet City: where the avenues ran out of numbers so they resigned themselves to letters, off the grid, the kind of neutral ground appropriate for signing a treaty or negotiating terms of a truce. Emily and Lillian weren’t allowed here in their teens. Don’t go past A after dark, their mother had warned. Public housing projects still lined Avenue D, but the neighborhood had become considerably more funky than dicey.

Emily suggested Yaffa Cafe, a familiar haunt. And if it was haunted, the spirits here were most likely a mixed bag of grittier-than-Billyburg hipsters, eccentric Eastern European ladies-who-lunch cheaply, the nearly extinct club kid in search of 5 AM falafel, and the odd New York celebrity. Like Honey Bijoux—sitting at a corner table—a transsexual superhero, pulled tighter than the Cat Lady by a host of South American surgeons, in a two thousand dollar wrap dress she most definitely did not pay for.
Yaffa was located just off the avenue, a few steps down from the sidewalk. Bold stripes were painted on the outside like some urban beach cabana. The theme was no theme. Interior walls alternated between exposed brick and an assortment of wallpaper—swirling patterns interrupted by cracked mirrors reset in vintage frames, still life paintings of fruit, and kitschy advertisements from the 1940s. Heavy curtains were draped across the doorways leading to the kitchen and the loo, as it was marked. A collection of Buddha heads were scattered throughout—several lit up. Lamps on side tables boasted tawdry beaded shades.

Emily sat at a table alone. It was wobbly though she didn’t dare ask the waiter to adjust it—it wasn’t that kind of place. She was waiting for Royce, an all-too-serious, outwardly stubborn, self-conscious scientist-guy. The kind of guy who’s been going to the same barber for seven years. He was more likely to crash a lecture than show for a doctor’s appointment and would sooner take a bullet than dance in public.

Royce sat hard—he’d always been a plopper. “Hi.” He didn’t kiss her, not even on the cheek. She made a habit of not noticing things like that lately. But deep down, she knew this pairing had reached the helium-burning stage of a red supergiant. A grim inevitability.

“How was work?” Emily asked, missing the days of unprompted conversation spewing effortlessly, the volleying back and forth, completely engaged and genuinely interested. The waiter dropped a menu in front of him and strolled away in his Sharpie-embellished Chucks to chat with a regular too old for pigtails. Emily watched Royce take in the café: the perennial Christmas lights, the tinsel, the hanging plastic grapes, the overdone everything.

“This was a good spot to meet, but I’m in the mood for… something different.” He hadn’t even glanced at the menu. “You mind if we get outta here?” She didn’t, really. She was at that point in the relationship where she’d given up on everything except pleasing him, just to delay what was unavoidable.

They left and another couple sat at the same table five minutes later. The waiter didn’t even realize they were different customers.

Emily and Royce walked west against traffic on St. Mark’s Place, the strip of corrupt punk activity in the late seventies, alternative galleries where the likes of Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf gave bloody birth to a new wave of pop art, and the now defunct, infamous Gay bathhouse, shut down by the Board of Health during the AIDS crisis. Still colorful though commercially watered down, NYU students now pierced a belly button instead of a vein.

 

July 21, 2015 — That OTHER Manhattan District

 

A view from the Whitney Museum's terraces onto the Highline below

A view from the Whitney Museum’s terraces onto the Highline below

 

Even my most theatrically minded groups, on occasion, need a break from sweltering summer midtown—the heat index is up near 100 degrees again today. Reminds me of Spike Lee’s DO THE RIGHT THING, when my famous fellow NYU Film alum captured the pavement sizzle of New York so perfectly, so exquisitely. Traditionally, Central Park has been an ideal oasis—so much green space within a stone’s throw of Broadway. However, as Manhattan neighborhoods continually evolve and transform, the Meatpacking District has now become a great escape for tourists looking to get outta midtown for a minute and experience an altogether different vibe.

 

The Whitney Collection

The Whitney Collection

 

Not long ago, the old slaughterhouses, where so many “dead bodies” (hey, I’ve played one) have shown up on homicide shows like SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, went the way of the dodo, and made room for high-end boutiques (like Diane von Furstenberg’s and Stella McCartney’s) as well as trendy nightclubs. (“Samantha” from SEX AND THE CITY had her apartment there.) Previously, the MD was not as strong an offering for student groups, but has now become one of my most requested neighborhoods to visit.

 

Brad finds a Rothco

Brad finds a Rothko

 

The notorious artisanal playground, Chelsea Market (the old National Biscuit Company factory), which some think rivals Flatiron’s Eataly, has now been joined by the more intimate and less trafficked Gansevoort Market, where I recently had a lobster roll dripping in the kind of chive drawn butter that keeps most of my jeans from buttoning. In addition to the food options—B-list celeb sightings at Balthazar, anyone?—the Highline elevated park is now more functional than ever, complete with food and trinket vendors (I heart trinkets), local artists, water features in season, and some great views of the water and Hudson River Park.

 

This exhibit explores museum guards across the City

This exhibit explores museum guards across the City

 

Newest of all, the tidal surge-proof newly relocated Whitney Museum, celebrating American Art (99 Gansevoort), is conveniently located at the downtown end of the Highline. My PSJA group, some delightful NYC repeat offenders, spent their last day exploring the Highline and lunching at Chelsea Market. I—no surprise—snuck into the Whitney and snapped some pictures just for you. Yes, photos are allowed—even encouraged, which just blew my mind in our otherwise no-flash-no-video-no-breathing-on-the-art world. The rooftop of the museum, along with several adjoining terraces, offer a pigeon’s-eye view of the area.

 

A artist's rendering of "The New York Wheel"

A artist’s rendering of “The New York Wheel”

 

In the future, I predict the in-progress Pier 17/South Street Seaport annihilated by Hurricane Sandy, and the foundation-newly-laid St. George-district in Staten Island, will both join the ranks of more frequented spots outside of midtown. I’m twitching in anticipation for the mega-Ferris wheel on the water—alongside thoughtfully curated shopping and dining options. There will soon be even more reason to visit Staten Island beyond the ferry ride across the harbor. Borough politicians and small business owners certainly hope so. And, it’s a good excuse to go to Enoteca Maria to eat… the restaurant where an Italian Grandma takes over the kitchen four nights a week, concocting her favorite regional recipes. Not to mention—more food for thought—the historic theater in St. George is only a short walk uphill—and it’s STUNNING.

 

The President and his daughters at curtain call for HAMILTON. Michelle saw it in previews (obvi).

The President and his daughters at curtain call for HAMILTON this week. Michelle saw it in previews (obvi).