Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meet Blue!

In which our Diva has photographic evidence of her stint as Creepy Mystery Woman

Check out this nifty set of behind-the-scenes photos from the set of The Storm, the HD short I filmed in April. Taken by Nate, the action man, who taught me to slap a clip in a (prop) handgun without looking.

Even more excited about this one now... Can't wait to see it!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kissing history

In which our Diva endeavors once again to kick-start a long-dormant project

Those of you following me on Twitter may have noticed some cryptic comments the last couple days about "Lizzie," and wondered what the heck I was on about. Or possibly you didn't care, which is also perfectly fine. (The cryptic thing is one of the reasons I've finally caved and climbed aboard yet another electronic bandwagon -- 140-character-or-less nibbles of people's lives are astonishingly addictive, and I'm finding the more opaque ones to be the most compelling. But I'm weird like that.)

In any case, it all started with this self-portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, when I first saw it about 20 years ago (eeep!) in the now out-of-print Pre-Raphaelite Women by Jan Marsh. I vividly remember flipping through it in the bookstore and stopping dead to stare at this image for what seemed like minutes. I instantly wanted to know who this woman was, and how she could possibly be the same person painted by William Holman Hunt, or Dante Gabriel Rossetti, or most famously by John Everett Millais. I've read everything I could get my hands on about her ever since, and a few years ago hatched the crazy idea of developing a one-woman show about her.

There are certain images crystal-clear in my head, threads the notion hangs by when I hit a writing wall and think I can't do this... but I want to put these images on stage! With all the crazy-busy of the last year or so, with my career suddenly growing in different directions, I haven't even been doing the little dribs and drabs of work on it that I had been. Now something's gone *sproing* and I'm getting back to it. Not much concrete yet, maybe, but a shift in my way of thinking that makes me realize some of the things that have been stopping me are really irrelevant to this project.

See, I want to get her "right." And I didn't realize how much I hadn't let go of the notion that it needs to be factually accurate. I'll let the scholars duke that one out, as they have for over a century. This is a work of theatre, and it needs to be the Lizzie that's right for how her work and her words and others' images of her and words about her come together and come down to me.

It doesn't matter whether her death by laudanum overdose was accident or suicide. It matters whether she wanted to die. (Do I know the answer to that? Not yet, but now I think I'm asking the right question.)

It doesn't matter what the actual clinical diagnosis of her chronic ailments might have been. It matters that she was an intensely creative person who persistently lacked the strength to create. (I can barely imagine the frustration of that, but have several dear friends who live it every day.)

I don't have this trouble when it's just about acting. I'll research a historical figure in as much depth as I possibly can, mostly because it's an excuse to research. (Seriously, my ideal day job is dramaturgy. Too bad there's even less call for that on a full-time basis than for acting!) I've posted here before about that process when I played Lucy Hale. And I read more about Catherine de Valois than anyone would think I possibly needed to know just to play Princess Katherine, with her broken English and her whole adult life ahead of her. But surely even that girl, listening bewilderedly to Harry's clumsy so-called wooing, must have something in her of the woman who would outlive him and remarry to become the mother of the tempestuous Tudor dynasty!

But I've always started with Doug Hoehn's Lucy, Shakespeare's Katherine, William Gibson's Anne Hathaway. They gave me the words, and I made them my own. This time, the words are mine.

I knew that was harder than it looked, but damn.

Here's to keeping momentum going this time! Let's see where it takes me...

Friday, May 22, 2009

New Cyrus promo

In which our Diva is actually in this one!

None of my lines, but you can spot me just past the halfway point, munching away on a "Road Kill Burger." (It's the bright sunny shot with no blood. *g* As opposed to the most of the rest of the video.)

Check it out on MySpace!

Hopefully you can't tell I'm freezing my tushie off in that cute little rayon dress!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Of ballet, blades, and bloodthirsty walking dead

In which our Diva has busy and talented friends

Once again, I find myself with several friends' shows I really want to see nearing the end of their runs. Gotta figure out how to slide them in around auditions, singing, and other friends' weddings...

n.u.f.a.n. ensemble's world premiere of Caliban, Dancing reunites Mary Czerwinski and Adam Krause (our Mina and Jonathan in GreenMan's Dracula) in a story of relationships woven around two of my favorite things, ballet (Giselle, even, my all-time favorite!) and Shakespeare. I didn't even realize until just now that it's directed by Jim Heatherly, whom I'll love forever for seeing Jekyll & Hyde the same way I do, and undoing some of the tweaks that should never have happened between out-of-town and Broadway. And, just for the home run, it's running at Chicago Actors Studio, where I train when I can commit to the consecutive weeks of a session.

Caliban, Dancing runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, through May 24.

It's not exaggerating to say that Babes With Blades are one of the reasons I moved to Chicago, and working with them in Horror Academy was every bit a dream come true. The stars weren't aligned for a repeat with their current all-female production of Macbeth, but I'm determined to be there in the audience. The Babes are deservedly getting ever-increasing notice for bringing the dramatic goods, and still delivering the action that made their reputation. This show also sees them in partnership with The Viola Project, a fantastic workshop program building girls into powerful women through the vehicle of Shakespeare. (Of which one of the cofounders is a dear friend of an old friend from Columbus. I love this town!)

Macbeth runs Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, through May 30.

Last but far from least, WildClaw Theatre is getting raves all over the place for their Midwest premiere of The Revenants. Their tagline, "A relationship drama -- with zombies" pretty much says it all. Aaron Christensen (or, as he's known in Chicago horror-fan circles, Dr. AC) served as fight choreographer on this one, and he and his WildClaw colleagues are at the forefront of what seems to be a burgeoning horror theatre scene. It's smart stuff (last fall's stage adaptation of Lovecraft's The Dreams in the Witch House was not to be missed), and if the momentum keeps up, it'll be right up there in visibility with the physical theatre that's exploded in the last few years (at companies like the House and Lookingglass). Chicago has great improv, but there's a LOT of other stuff going on here! Did I mention that I love this town?

The Revenants runs Thursdays - Saturday at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, through May 24.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Cyrus on the market

Just found out that Cyrus is one of two movies the distributor, Moonstone, is screening at the Marché at Cannes. One of the three screenings was this evening. Hopefully it'll get snapped up... Can't wait to say I'm coming soon to a theatre near you! *fingers and toes crossed* And I can't wait to see it myself!

Seems like we're steadily getting more feature production in Chicago, and Michigan is really hopping. Those tax credits are doing their job. Keep the work coming, filmmakers!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday evening change of venue

In which our Diva is singing for scholarships instead of her supper this week

Elgin Opera is partnering with Highland Christian Academy to raise Scholarship Funds for both organizations. Please come out for a wonderful evening of Opera, showcasing several vocalists and young students who have a love for singing.


Sunday, May 17th, 6:30-9:00 PM

Highland Christian Academy 2250 W. Highland Ave. Elgin – 847-741-5530

$5.00 per ticket, donations/offering accepted at the concert

Call For Tickets & Reservations
847-695-5014 (Elgin Opera) or 847-741-5530 (Highland)

An offering plus a Silent-Live Auction will be a part of the evening (All Donations Tax Deductible)
Highland Christian Academy is the school under the umbrella of Highland Fellowship Church, where our resident tenor/Elvis impersonator (and my waltz partner in Fledermaus recently), Jeorge Holmes, is senior pastor. And if you read this blog at all, I don't need to explain Elgin Opera. We have a terrific program of opera and musical theatre favorites lined up -- hope to see you there!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Summer of Shakespeare?

In which our Diva ponders the potentialities

I've been jonesing to do some Shakespeare again for a few years now.  Stepping in for a weekend as the Widow in Taming of the Shrew last year really just whetted my appetite.  So I was delighted when I read the sides for the callback I had last week -- not Shakespeare, but a pretty darn good pastiche, in perfectly respectable iambic pentameter with some nice wordplay.  (Bonus: the callback was at North Lakeside Cultural Center, so I got to get in some nice Lake Michigan shoreline time in Berger Park on a gorgeous sunny day.  I didn't grow up around water at all, and now I have a pretty little creek with a nice strip of woods a block and a half away, a gorgeous scenic river six blocks away, and a whole freshwater inland sea smack-dab against a lot of places I go.  All of them just amazing.)

Yesterday I got (and this is going to sound odd, but it's not ironic or facetious at all) the best rejection email EVER from the director of that show.  I love people like that -- he knows I'm a professional and I know the odds, that when you have three or more awesome actresses and two female roles something's gotta give, and that something is as likely to be me as anyone else, but he still took the time to write me a nice personal note and promise to keep me in mind for future projects and recommend me to other directors.  It's such a simple thing to do, and shows so much class.

I didn't even have time to be disappointed (and I am, a little, but there's never time to wallow for long around here!), because not ten minutes later I got another email -- based on a recommendation from the Shrew director -- inviting me to audition for a really cool-sounding project that is Shakespeare, but with a very intriguing twist (on a play I've done no less than three times in various capacities).  That'll be coming up in the next couple weeks, and I'm excited to learn more about it.

And then, this morning, an email from the director of last fall's Dracula, announcing auditions for the As You Like It he's directing this summer.  With all this going on, it just might be that somehow, somewhere, I'm going to get to feed that jones soon!

Time to get the Titania "forgeries of jealousy" speech solidly back in my voice and body for auditions.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of that one, and it blows my mind how often it gets cut to the bone in productions.  All that amazing imagery, and most importantly of all the arc that tells you so much about her and about their relationship: Nature is going berserk, and it's all your fault... and there's this terrible thing, and this terrible thing, and it's your fault, your fault... our fault.  "We are their parents and original."  And then, of course, Oberon opens his big mouth and blows it, because fairies are contrary that way (kinda like humans -- funny, that!).  But for that moment, there's honesty and taking responsibility and... just wow.

And GreenMan, the company where I did Dracula, is opening this fall with Pride and Prejudice. Talk about a solution to the "too many awesome actresses" problem!  Of course, at this point even my much-younger-than-my-real-age playing range (which is a bit more elastic for stage, but still) is really too old for any of the Bennet girls except maybe Jane.  And even according to my birth certificate I'm still too young for Mrs. Bennet and much too young for Lady Catherine.  Caroline Bingley could be fun (especially if I float the idea of the Lost in Austen subtext, which I still say explains an awful lot about her).  Charlotte...  hmm. Maybe.  Perhaps not coincidentally, GreenMan's season wrap-up party is tonight, so I'll be able to get the skinny on it and the rest of the upcoming season there.  I had such a great time in Dracula, and I'd love to work with them again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mozart and Yeston and Strauss, oh my!

In which our Diva had a marvelously operatic weekend

Die Flederflöte... okay, "Love & Fairy Tales" had three smashingly successful performances, plus one delightful school matinee of our abridged version of The Magic Flute, all capped off with singing for a wonderful crowd at Villa Verone, most of them fresh from either our Sunday matinee or the Elgin Symphony's Bernstein concert.

Even the surprise insertion of "This Place Is Mine" into the zany midst of our standalone adaption of Act 2 of Die Fledermaus went over well. I can say now that I was a little worried about it -- what were they going to think of me randomly busting out this crazy opera-parody number from the Maury Yeston version of Phantom? Sure, it was a big hit at the Halloween benefit, but that's one thing and shoehorning it into a full-fledged stage production quite another. Luckily, Lady Diva (sort of Solange's alter ego, dating back to one of the company's early semi-dramatized concerts -- that's the persona I'm sending up with this number) knows our audience, and I got enough compliments on it that my head might have swelled to fill up my big pile o' hair if I didn't watch it! (And it was a big pile o' hair, especially Sunday. Nothing beats good old-fashioned foam rollers.) As it turned out, it fit into the craziness just fine. Which I guess makes sense, because that Phantom is a very champagne-operetta score anyway.

Soooooo tired yesterday, pretty much back to normal today. Just in time to restart voice lessons (on hold for a few weeks due to both Solange's and my rehearsal schedule) and swing right back into honing the rep I'm hoping to have ready in time for the vocal competition in June. (Not to mention switching mental gears from German and English to Italian and French. Which isn't just about diction -- there are subtle but important differences in technique too.) Musical theatre? Not a problem. Aria and art song? I have some serious work cut out for me. The art song -- I'm probably going to do a Fauré one called "Adieu" -- is way harder on Planet Val, which makes most classical singers I know look at me funny. I guess opera just makes more sense to my brain because it has a clearer acting component.

My aria will most likely be "Senza mamma" from Suor Angelica. I'm so happy that my voice has shaped up in the last couple years to be suited to Puccini, because he just makes sense to me, musically and dramatically. Sometimes I wonder if it has anything to do with growing up on Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard/read someone comparing him to Puccini (or just flat-out accusing him of ripping Puccini off), and I can hear where they're coming from. They appeal to me as a singer for a lot of the same reasons. One of those is one of my primary challenges with "Senza mamma" -- tempi and dynamics and such are constantly in flux, but you can't just randomly speed up and slow down or get louder and softer or whatever. To some extent it's marked on the score, but there's a lot of it that just has to feel right. (Try that after weeks of Mozart!) I have that sense internalized almost to the point of instinct for musical theatre, and especially for certain composers (ALW, Frank Wildhorn, Stephen Schwartz), but I'm still developing it for opera.

Also, floating that pianissimo high A at the end is kicking my ass.

Check out the queen of pianissimo, Montserrat Caballé, showing how it's done: