Sunday, January 24, 2010

Around the next corner

In which our Diva did not see that one coming

Was supposed to do a fun vintage-style photoshoot today. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas, as I woke up with a hacking cough, pounding headache, and 101.3-degree fever. Didn't I just do this a month ago?? Photoshoot duly rescheduled, fingers crossed that I'll be better in the morning to start shooting My Cousin Radu.

This post, however, is not to complain about my health. It's to remark upon The Audition, the absolutely captivating documentary about the finalists in the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions that ran on PBS the other night.

All the singers are amazing, of course, and you absolutely root for all of them. But one tenor, Ryan Smith, stood out as a bit of an underdog. At 30, he was several years older than most of the others, and had given up on an opera career for a while before returning to give it one more shot. Early in the film, he explains that he told his mother he was going to give it two years full-out, and if it didn't happen by then, he'd go back to finish his doctorate and teach or whatever.

It happened. He knocked the judges' collective socks off, brought tears to the eyes of the Met vocal coach watching from the booth, and went home with one of the six $15,000.00 prizes and a huge heartwarming grin.

As so often happens with this sort of documentary, there's a "one year later" montage at the end, outlining how each finalist's career is taking off. In the midst of this parade, the text notes that Ryan Smith made his Met debut in a featured role, and "is now fully committed to an opera career."

Then comes the sucker punch. At the very end, there's one more screen, with a still of him with that wonderful grin, and text dedicating the film "in loving memory of Ryan Smith, who died in November 2008 after a year-long battle with cancer."

I already can't breathe very well today. Bursting into tears did not help. Nor, particularly, did wailing "Not fair!" for the next three minutes.

And it's not. He will never have the career and life that every instinct says he should have.

But this is also true: He sang on the Met stage, with the Met orchestra, and a happier human being was never captured on film.

Seize your dream. It may not happen quite the way you envision, but you will make something magic happen. Recognize and cherish it when it comes, and then reach for the next.

Do it now.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Super-dog to the rescue!

In which our Diva continues to have a very busy January indeed

I should theoretically be exhausted and/or stressed, but all the stuff going on is under control and it's all stuff I love. And one of the keys to this game of Schedule Tetris that I often find myself playing is to make the most of the pockets of downtime. I always have a dozen projects I could be chipping at when I have a couple hours, but sometimes the wisest thing to do is just plunk on the couch and, say, watch Bolt, which I hadn't seen before. And which is very cute, funny, and occasionally sniffle-worthy. If you're a sap, anyway, which I freely admit I am. I'll sit there with tears welling up through the most blatantly manipulative stuff and thank you for it, as long as there's an ounce of sincerity. What's the point of a story if I'm not going to ride the ride where it takes me? (Without wanting to give too much away, though, I have to say the ending is maybe a little ironic coming from Disney, the biggest child-star factory on the planet.)

It's funny to say, but sometimes popcorn entertainment can function as meditation, which to me is anything that clears the mental sinuses and sets me back to center. Other times, what's called for is a nap, or dancing, or housework. Seriously, just vacuuming and letting my mind wander its way over whatever? Love it.

After the movie, I got around to pulling out a bunch of clothes (possible wardrobe for a shoestring-indie feature I'll be shooting at the end of February) and snapping pictures of them to email to the director. Which I had known all day I needed to get done, and which just loomed as this huge, complicated undertaking in my head, until a couple hours of animatey goodness recalibrated the meter. The mind is a weird and wonderful thing.

Off to make an early night of it now, before a marathon callback tomorrow, for a play I very much want to do. Need body and mind ready for movement, fight work, and reading. No matter what the outcome, it's guaranteed to be an amazing day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

That was the week that was

In which our Diva waves on her way by in a bit of a blur

Whew! Since I last posted here:

  • Three auditions, one of which scored me a fun day-player part in an indie feature, shooting the end of February (more info soon)
  • Rehearsals for two projects (My Cousin Radu, which shoots next week, and Elgin Opera's upcoming gala)
  • One rush web promo video -- I submitted on it this morning, and shot it this afternoon! That last also means my first paid gig of 2010 is in the can, yay!

And of course there was still day jobs and electronic housekeeping (updates on my and actual housekeeping (life is never entirely out of control if you're caught up on laundry). With a couple hours' breather carved out for the Sanctuary season finale and penultimate Dollhouse episode, as well as the unaired pilot of the latter. (Which is way talky, and showed way too much of its hand too soon. The gradual and ambiguous way the true horror of the Dollhouse came to light may have made a lot of people very very uncomfortable -- because it took a long time for the show to be overt about saying yes, what is happening here is a horror -- but I don't think it would have been nearly as effective otherwise.)

The upcoming week includes more rehearsals and a callback I've been looking forward to, which will involve fight work as well as reading. The prospect of playing with swords remains the most reliable motivation for getting my behind out of bed and getting that morning workout in!

Song for today: "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?" by Felicia Day and the cast of The Guild. Just 'cause it's the earwormiest earworm that ever earwormed (seriously, I dare you to get it out of your head), and the video is hilarious if you know even a little bit about online roleplaying games.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bump that grind

In which our Diva ruminates on a form that is more than the sum of its feathers, rhinestones and g-strings

I love Netflix recommendations. Sometimes they disappoint, but more often they bring my attention to a gem I would never have heard of otherwise.

Such was the case with A Wink and a Smile: The Art of Burlesque. Which, from the synopsis, I expected to focus on the rise of neo-burlesque, the revival and evolution of old-school burlesque that has enjoyed a mini-explosion the last few years. Not only in straight-up burlesque shows, but in influence on other arts. (Some more successfully than others. I don't have anything against groups like the Pussycat Dolls, but I'm not a big fan of their rather surfacey quasi-burlesque. OTOH, Emilie Autumn's show -- in part because one of her "Bloody Crumpets" backing group, Veronica Varlow, is a burlesque artist in her own right -- has a lot of burlesque in its mix, in a way that recognizes not just the raunch but the humor and irony.)

I first became aware of the movement in 2004, when I was costume designer for a play set in the 1950s that featured a classic striptease. In fact, that's pretty much how I ended up designing the show -- the actress doing the strip number was in another show with me, and was talking backstage one night about researching classic burlesque. I gave her a couple website leads (I don't even remember now why I knew about them, though I suspect it branched off from my love of Moulin Rouge), touched on a couple of the primary engineering issues, then interrupted myself in midsentence to ask, "Do you guys have a costume designer?" Turns out that, as often happens with newer small theatre companies, they didn't.

I had a blast working on that show, and the thrift store gods smiled on me with some fabulous vintage finds. I also learned that I still had a lot to learn about burlesque costume engineering, the most important thing being NOT to line the strapless gown with shiny lining fabric. Next time, a nice cotton broadcloth that won't threaten to slide right off the poor dancer! (I also should have gone ahead with a zipper instead of snaps down the side seam, but that was less of an issue.)

The choreographer for Jenn's number was Michelle L'Amour, one of the leading lights of the burlesque scene I didn't even know Chicago had. She's a founder of The Lavender Cabaret, which has been producing shows and teaching burlesque since 2003. I've thought about taking one of her classes a hundred times, but there always seems to be too much going on. (Same goes for the circus aerial training I'd dearly love to do at the Actors Gymnasium, or even just going to ballet class regularly again. Or a dozen other things. A lot of the reason I'm an actor in the first place is that I tend to look at people doing something cool and go "Oooh, I want to try that!" But I can still really only do one of them at a time. *wry g*)

So it was a surprise and delight to find that this little documentary I'd rented was less about the burlesque scene as a whole, and more focused on Miss Indigo Blue's "Burlesque 101" class in the fall of 2007. The ten "ordinary" women are as varied as they can be in age, background, personality, and of course what they're looking to get out of the class. The interviews with the students and with Blue and her co-teacher are unflinchingly honest and insightful, illuminating the complexities and power (and yes, empowerment) of an easily-dismissed form. There are tears, laughter, and life-changing explorations from the students, and exceptionally intelligent and educated nuggets of history from Blue, who clearly knows her stuff and then some. If you never thought much about burlesque before, or even if you're somewhat familiar with it like me, you'll come away from this film knowing a whole lot more.

It's worth knowing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More to listen than watch

In which our Diva's little video recorder is not equal to low-light cabaret conditions

A good time was had by all at last night's "Holiday Leftovers" variety show. Thanks, n.u.f.a.n. ensemble! Hope we can do it again sometime.

I'm not afraid of anything... even singing in the dark!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Holiday Leftovers

In which our Diva is a little behind with her shameless plugging

For some reason I was thinking I already posted about this one, but I realized this morning I had only updated my website. Oops!

Chicago folks, if you want to hear me sing without trekking out to the suburbs, this Tuesday, January 5, is your chance! I'll be doing a couple numbers as part of n.u.f.a.n. ensemble's "Holiday Leftovers" variety show at the Holiday Club in Uptown, from 7-9 pm. This is the same dynamic group that brings you "Seven Plays in Seven Days" twice a year, along with full productions and a smorgasbord of other creative offerings. There's no cover for the Holiday Club show, and it's half a block from the Red Line -- economical and convenient!