Monday, March 31, 2008

Rainy days and Mondays

...are at least not snowy days. But still Mondays.

I've been meaning to hit the Midwest Independent Film Festival some first Tuesday or other. Networking yay! Was too sick last month, but am totally going to haul my finally-getting-better butt into the city tomorrow night. (Yay, Zithromax! Yay, sinuses no longer attempting to secede through the front of my skull!) The offering scheduled happens to be one that others might also be interested in, a docu about women's body image called America the Beautiful. Tickets are $10. Chicago peeps, if you end up planning to go, let me know!

In opera news, apparently we're doing Tosca next year. Went to Solange's bel canto recital yesterday afternoon, and she did "Vissi d'arte" (of all things...fach shift much?) as her encore and mentioned that. First I've heard. And actually, this time last year she was talking about The Merry Widow, which ended up morphing into Elisir, so we'll see. I did a bit of a doubletake at the public mention, tho.

Also, now that the former Café Magdalena is officially launched as the newest location of Villa Verone, our cabaret nights there are coming back! Looks like they will now be Sunday nights, and early word is that they'll be Sundays in May and July. I'll keep you posted as details become available.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moral of the story: Take the bloody stairs!

My dreams tend toward the seriously batshit bizarre, especially when I'm doing a show. Atypically, I've remembered very few dreams of any kind in recent months. However, there was one I woke up from about 1:30 this morning with quite clear recall, and no small amusement.

I'm traveling to some sort of meeting -- the impression I retain is that it was in downtown Chicago, and theatre-related -- using an extended arrangement of escalators heading up and down and all around, either inside one large building or connecting several, I'm not sure which. But it goes a long way. I do have a crystalline-vivid image of an almost Escher-like descent through a red brick archway up ahead, when the whole shebang becomes a traffic jam with people jammed solidly the width of the escalator, as far as the eye can see. The crowd pattern behaves exactly like creeeeeeeping gridlocked traffic, although the locomotion is still coming from the escalator.

Eventually, just as I throw my hands up and climb over the wide-but-far-from-impassable half-wall separating the escalator from the stairs that have been next to it the entire time, word makes it back that the backup is because some guy set his boss on fire way up ahead. I continue into the building on the stairs, my path unobstructed, only slightly annoyed with myself for waiting so long.

I can't imagine where anything like that might have come from. :-)

Monday, March 24, 2008

:: vibrates in place ::

I'm having one of those GET ME OUTTA HERE kinda days. The demands of Office of Doom are actually more manageable right this moment than they have been for most of the past three or four months, but that doesn't help.

I want to be somewhere that is NOT HERE, doing work I actually CARE about. I don't want to not work, I don't want to play all the time. I want to WORK. Work that is not this work, because I Do Not Care about this work, no matter how hard I try.

Knowing that I'm pursuing all available avenues to do something about that helps only slightly when I'm in this mood. Probably makes me even more restless, in fact. In the starting blocks, waiting for the damn pistol to fire already.

*deep breath* End of lunch hour. Focus. Other people do care about this stuff, and deserve to have it done promptly and well.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have no ambition. I know enough to know I wouldn't want it, but I'm still curious what it's actually like.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Belle of New Hampshire

Last night we attended Sarah Vowell's reading/talk, which was all kinds of cool. Really must read her books. Though I don't think it will be quite as fun as her reading them aloud. :-)

She chose a Lincoln-assassination-related passage for the first reading, prefaced by an entertaining tangent about how dumb it was from a PR standpoint for Booth to pull the trigger on Good Friday. Something to the effect of "thus ensuring that a President half the country hated on Friday would, by Sunday morning, be eulogized in every Easter sermon." Which is a really, really good point, and one I don't remember if I ever thought about before.

If I did, it would have been while I was devouring research getting ready for These Honorable Men, and that was 1995, so it's a little fuzzy. I read about the whole topic, of course, but mostly I was focussing on any mentions I could find of my character, Booth's "secret fiancée," Lucy Hale. (The linked article just happened to be the first Google hit I got this morning, and is really cool, but has the same oddity from my perspective as the one I'm about to explain...)

Those aspects of my research are less fuzzy, despite it being thirteen years later. So the passage Vowell read last night got to the part about how Lucy's father was keen on taking her with him to his new assignment as Ambassador to Spain, thus putting as much distance between "his pretty daughter" and Booth as possible... Well, that's all quite accurate, except for the part where everything I read indicated that she was quite the social belle, and regarded as having an "air" or personal charisma, specifically in spite of not being considered a beauty. Even my hubby (who, granted, had to live with me while I was living with Lucy, but still, thirteen years!) chuckled at that. And noted in the car on the way home that her long list of suitors, including Robert Todd Lincoln, could probably be at least partly ascribed to money and connections. Which, yeah, probably true. But since she's one of two historical figures I've played (and it's questionable how much one can count Catherine de Valois as written by Shakespeare in that reckoning), I choose to believe it was charisma. ;-D
IIRC, neither of the good pictures I found of Lucy online this morning is the carte de visite Booth had in his pocket at the time of his death. (The actual one is in the museum in the basement of Ford's.) It might have been the one at the top of this post, but I don't think so. But my favorite -- the one I photocopied and taped to the front of my THM script -- is this second one, mostly because it's the one that reminded me so much of my maternal grandmother (seen below modeling her brother's Army coat) as a young woman. Grandma Wieging was a lady and a tough broad, with nary a speck of cognitive dissonance between the two, and is without a doubt the root of what my mom raised me to be.
There ended up being some of Grandma in my Lucy because of that picture, which worked amazingly with the way Doug wrote her -- young and sheltered and not without vulnerability, to be sure, but no hothouse flower either. Such a gift that she was written for me! That'll always blow my mind.

We actually had some remarkable resemblances in that play, some of them not even discovered until we started doing research after it was cast! The standard comment was "Except for Val, because she's prettier." Which still amuses the heck out of me, as my one experience with the typical "more glamorous version of historical figure" thing. Since I'm not usually more glamorous in, well, general. And of course I was amused by the definitely-more-glamorous Jean Louisa Kelly in the TV-movie The Day Lincoln Was Shot a couple years later. I distinctly remember making note of that. (And also feeling particularly unglamorous myself, as I was watching it with a big knot on my forehead, having whacked myself with a dryer door in the laundry room half an hour before.)
It's a curious thing, that people seem to find it essential to characterize such a person as a beauty, even if she wasn't. Which feeds tangentially into the Lizzie project, as one of the threads I'm playing with is how she started out being perceived as quite plain and/or odd-looking, but became defined as the Pre-Raphaelite stunner. Complete with a certain amount of revisionism going into the story of her "discovery" by Walter Deverell, who was looking for red hair and a girl who could be convincing as a boy (i.e. Viola-as-Cesario). All pretty much because Rossetti said so, and saw her that way, and painted her that way.
Funny all the things popping up lately that resonate with that watershed year. Maybe just me, or maybe the Universe trying to tell me something. :-)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two degrees of Chicago theatre

Possibly one and a half. I really don't think there are any more than that. Seriously, I'd done all of two shows here before it was impossible to go to a theatre-related function without bumping into someone I knew. Which is just a lovely, welcoming thing. Have I mentioned lately that I should have moved here five years sooner? Because it's true.

Today's edition? Promo photo call for Shrew. Our Kate's fiancé was the photographer. He arrived and we both said "You look really familiar." Someone mentioned Babes with Blades about fifteen seconds later, and determined that he had seen me in Horror Academy last fall, but were both convinced that wasn't it. We then worked our way through GenCon and Origins to arrive at Ohio Renaissance Festival.

At which we were both dance guild (and frequently partners for the Cumberland Reel) in NINETEEN NINETY-FIVE.

There followed reminiscences of the Great Flood of 1572, declaring war on the mud, and the student day when the Tudor Rose stage was set on fire.

You can't make this stuff up. Or at least I can't.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Work what you got

In which our Diva and cameras continue to have an uneasy relationship

I now have in my hot little pixel-stained hands the two headshots I picked from my shoot with Beth Cummings at the end of January. (I would have had them a lot sooner, but her original email fell into the ether and I just now got around to asking after them.) Beth is one of the kickass women of Babes With Blades, with whom I had the long-aspired-to privilege of performing in last fall's Horror Academy. She just recently launched her business, and I totally recommend her to anyone looking to update. She does some really innovative things with angles, while still fitting into the stylistic expectations of the Chicago market.

In a fairly typical scenario when I'm the subject, out of about 200 shots, I managed to find one...

...I actually like, and one...

...I picked because I'm entitled to two, and it has something that drew me, but also things that bug me.

The biggest thing that bugs me I can do something about, and need to just get around to it: I swear my teeth get crookeder by the day. I have the oral surgeon and orthodontist referrals. I will call on Monday. *determined face* (Short version: Never bothered getting wisdom teeth out. Not enough actual room in mouth. Traffic jam.)

The smaller thing is that "deer in headlights" thing that I've always had. Just ask my mother -- I don't remember when she didn't point out that the distinctive feature of even my baby pictures is that "you can see the whites all the way around your eyes!" Which is cute and funny when talking about baby pictures, but not terribly useful as a first impression for a serious adult actress, y'know? But I always have to really concentrate to keep it from happening pretty much any time I'm trying to hold still.

I'm working on tipping that love/hate relationship with photos a little more to the "love" side. It's a challenge. This is my calling card, my knock at the door, my little 8x10 package of "This is me, and you want to see more." The challenge for me in judging and picking them has always been to try to approximate a first-impression eye, instead of being drawn immediately to the familiar flaws. (Yes, flaws give you character. However, there's only so much character they want, especially from a woman who reads as under 30.) I've always considered myself reasonably attractive (barring the occasional hormone-driven bout of "OMG give me a paper sack STAT!" that everyone has), but that's in the real world. There's only so much water it holds in an undustry with truly surreal quantities of pretty wandering around.

My criteria are simple: I want it to (a) look like me, and (b) look good. That's a lot harder than people who know me in real life tend to expect. Poor Beth got me on a cranky evening after a cranky day at Office of Doom, when the luck of the draw just meant I was having a helluva time letting go of the tension of the day. So the fact that she managed to take any pictures I like is a minor miracle.

I'm not a model; I have no expectation that posing for still photos is ever going to be a large part of my work. But it is always going to be a part, and it is usually going to be what people see first. For better or for worse, things are structured such that I'm being assessed out of the gate on something that is a weak point for me. So sometime in the next year or so, however long it takes to get my teeth closer to where I want them, I need to learn how to be better at it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Working smarter, not just harder

In my "get this damn career thing together already" mode, various thoughts that have been whirling through my little diva brain, gathered here for some semblance of order and to have them in one place as a reminder:

Yes, I'm in more or less the same place I was ten years ago. Yes, that would probably not be the case if I had made some different choices along the way. Yes, that is frustrating as all hell. Own it and let it go. It does not help my mental health. It sure as hell does not help my work.

I totally grok the "biological clock" thing in a way I never thought I would. Only mine isn't ringing "Aaaagh! Must have kids now or it's not going to happen!" (That would also be nice, but it's not what the lizard brain is screaming about.) It's "Aaaagh! Must get career momentum now or it's not going to happen!" And yeah, there's some truth to it. But I'm no less likely a leading lady at 38 than I was at 25.

Which is to say, quite frankly, not all that likely. Most of the actresses I love and follow because they've created and inhabited characters that really spoke to me aren't the huge household names, largely because I tend to develop that attachment most strongly with TV series characters. That's a mode of storytelling and way of living with a character that I would dearly, dearly love the opportunity to experience, and one I'm most likely never going to. Even if I were in the right place -- if I had been born in Canada like most of my favorites, or if I had moved to L.A. a decade ago when I was sorely tempted and could probably have taken good advantage of some tenuous connections -- I am, as the song goes, not that girl.

My friends are probably sick to death of my glib "I'm a stage actor for a reason; cameras and I don't get along," and it's really only half true. I hate most still pictures of me -- always have, probably always will -- but have surprised myself by enjoying and generally being pleased with the little bit of film work I've done. But I'm still not someone people look at and think "leading lady material" the way they do with someone like Amanda Tapping or Christina Cox or Gina Holden. There's not really a way to change that, and I'm still evolving a strategy for finding the place where I'm what they want.

One of my other glibs is that I want to be Emma Thompson or Catherine Disher when I grow up. That's maybe a little closer to the mark. But I'm still working on the growing up. And it's a weird schizo thing, because with 40 not that far off on the horizon, people still look at me and see 26 or 27. And however much we wish differently, 26 or 27 is supposed to be gorgeous first and everything else second. And someone else is always going to come in with more gorgeous.

All of which leads me to conclude that, far from time running out, I am in fact not old enough yet for hotness to become a secondary consideration, and for what I do have to get people's attention.

I do not suck. Of this I am (usually) certain. That's not always an easy thing to hold onto, when it's impossible not to gauge your worth as an actor through others' eyes. A writer or painter or sculptor or even musician can do their work on their own, any time. Sharing it with others and having it appreciated is of course important, but they can do the actual work. Acting is entirely collaborative. There's an extent to which you can make your own opportunities, but when it all boils down, it cannot be done without someone, somewhere saying "Yes, you can do this work, and we will do it with you." And then when you get to do it, it must be done on the group's terms and according to their schedule.

That? Will make a person crazy right quick if they're not careful.

I've been very restless lately because I haven't been getting to really do the work. Horror Academy was fantastic -- oh, how I cherish that people not only believed when Lula died, but cared! -- but it closed four months ago. Auditions are fine as far as they go, but that's maybe five minutes of engaging with a character I've just met, and it just doesn't cut it. The roles I get in opera are necessarily limited by my vocal development -- cardinal irony of remaining an actor first and foremost!

Ergo, time to revisit the thought I had months ago about taking a proper acting class. It's been a long time, and right now it's my best option for really engaging with character work. Plus I think I've been stagnating a bit. I may even take a break from voice lessons for a while. I know it will slow down my development there, and my teacher will be frustrated, but she also knows singing is always going to be secondary for me. Training the last several years has been about all sorts of wonderful side areas -- singing, stage combat, and yeah, after Barnum I was giving serious thought to going back to the Actor's Gymnasium to do the regular aerial course -- but I haven't gotten back to basics in a long while. And with what I've been up to lately, back to basics with an on-camera emphasis is what I need.

It's also been waaay too long since I set foot in a dance class, and I want to get back into that habit. But that's a second priority. And since the Elgin Park District doesn't even have any ballet classes on the spring session schedule (WTF?), it may mean looking into private studios when the time comes. One thing at a time. Which needs to be the mantra, really -- trying to do everything at once is accomplishing nothing!

So. Plan of attack for this weekend:

1. Check out classes in Chicago (there are a couple I know a bit about), get registered, and get back in training.
2. Start getting mailings out to agents. Was going to wait until my new headshots and reel were ready, but both of those are taking longer than I'd hoped, and my current headshot and resume could be enough for now. I can get in the door now, and give them more and updated material soon.
3. Strategize the hunt for a day job that will keep me alive without eating my life.

Yay, plan!