Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lizzie steps out on stage

In which our Diva is only a little jealous that it's someone else's Lizzie, and is happy to cheer from the sidelines

It's been a couple months since a Tweet popped up in my timeline that made my heart skip a beat, announcing "Lizzie Siddal, a new play." I don't even recall now who I saw post it first, though it was likely the lovely Stephanie Pina, who has given us both and The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. But in any case, there it was in all its official glory on the Arcola Theatre website, complete with promo photo of its Lizzie, Emma West, in front of Ophelia with flowers scattered in her hair.

Damn, I couldn't help thinking in those first moments, somebody beat me to it. The irrational impulse of "Hey, that story is mine!" is of course completely ridiculous, but I'm as human and vain as the next creative person, so I'll admit I had to work through it for a minute there. I'll also admit to being greatly relieved when it became clear that, while Emma West was the only cast member announced right away, Jeremy Green has in fact written an entire play with other people in it, quite different territory from my solo piece in (slow-but-progressing) progress.

Even if it hadn't been, of course, in the end excitement about Lizzie's story being explored on stage had to triumph, and I very much wish I could be there. It's funny -- when I first had the idea for Unvarnished, over a decade ago now, when I first started getting mental images of stage pictures that have proven so challenging to build into words, the Pre-Raphaelite circle and their art were still just being rediscovered by the public -- especially here in the U.S. -- after decades out of favor.

These days, any given person with even a passing interest in 19th-century art is much more likely to know who I'm even talking about, let alone the lore of Ophelia's bathtub and that late-night exhumation. The images and stories have made their way back into pop culture, aided by an Internet that bears only the slightest resemblance to the nascent wilderness it was back when I happened upon a review of a one-woman show about Lizzie by Orange, a French multimedia artist who had worked with Cirque du Soleil (and whose somewhat generic pseudonym makes it impossible to find any hits for her on today's Google, if any still exist).  I was just starting my research then -- with Lucinda Hawksley's marvelous biography and so many other resources still in the offing -- and happened on an email address for Orange, resulting in a very kind reply that I wish I could still find, wishing me well in finding "your Elizabeth." I've carried that thought with me ever since.

I've not read or seen Kim Morrissey's Clever as Paint, but I've known it was out there for a while, and apparently there's also one from around 1999 called Dear Dove Divine. Still, it's thrilling to see a new play put Lizzie at the center of her own story, and to see it getting such great coverage, including this BBC News piece and Dinah Roe's interview with playwright Jeremy Green over at her great blog Pre-Raphaelites in the City. There's also this nice audio interview with Emma West from East London Radio.

April Love by Arthur Hughes
All this has also prompted a thoughtful blog post from Kirsty Stonell Walker over at her always-worth-reading The Kissed Mouth, about the ways in which the story is so often reduced to a few tragic episodes. It also puts me in mind, by way of contrast, of a couple conversations I've had recently regarding how little there is to read about Tryphena Foord. My conclusion that "that's what a long and happily married life will get you" might be facetiously phrased, but I stand by its essential accuracy. "Arthur Hughes married his muse and they lived happily ever after" is pretty much all we get.

After reading Kirsty's post, I feel a bit guilty always referring to Lizzie by her nickname, but I can't shake the familiarity. Anyway, guilt hasn't made me write Unvarnished any faster (as I've said before, I'm a busy actor and an unreliable writer), and in fact was pretty much what kept me paralyzed for a long time, for fear of what all these people I like and respect might make of my interpretation of events!

I've mostly managed to shed that, as about 75 handwritten pages of draft can attest, so now all that's left is periodic fretting about whether I'll still be believable on stage by the time the thing is ready to perform. *wry g* I don't have Emma West's uncanny resemblance to begin with (though I have had my share of unprompted comments over the years to the tune of "Hey, have you ever seen that Ophelia painting...?"), and I won't be carded beyond my time forever. (Though a hardware store clerk did ask for my birthdate before ringing up a can of spray paint last week, so I'm probably okay for a little while longer.) It will be what it will be; all I can do is forge on and hope people find it a story worth telling.

In the meantime, if they're in London starting next week (as I so very much wish I could be!) they can take in the story told by Jeremy Green, director Lotte Wakeham (of Matilda the musical fame), and a bright young cast who have been lighting up Twitter with their enthusiasm during rehearsals. It's been fascinating learning about the development of the project, and the collaboration of playwright and actress through a short film about the painting of Ophelia and on to this full-length play. I hope it's a great success, and look forward to reports from those able to attend!

Emma West and Tom Bateman  in rehearsal as Lizzie and Gabriel

Lizzie Siddal runs November 20 - December 21, 2013, at the Arcola Theatre in London. Click here for details and ticket info, and/or follow the production on Twitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Crew members your indie film needs

In which our Diva has noticed some consistent oversights

When I encounter someone visiting a film set for the first time, I can almost guarantee they will say something like "I had no idea there would be so many people! And they're all working!" I've heard it on big studio productions, and I've heard it on little student films with skeleton crews, relatively speaking.

The latter end of the scale is a necessity of minimal budgets, of course, but sometimes filmmakers let those crews get a little too skeletal. And I'm not entirely convinced that is a necessity. People doing double or triple duty is one thing. Entire areas of responsibility left to more or less fend for themselves is quite another. This list is in no particular order (mostly because the impact of the lack of someone doing a given job will vary by production), and by no means guaranteed complete, but these are the gaps I've noticed time and again.

Costume Designer. Okay, I said "no particular order," but this is the one I would probably be doing if I weren't an actor, so I get soapboxiest about it. Clothes do not just happen. Your clothes, what you are wearing at this moment, did not just happen. You might or might not have thought about the reasons you bought those particular pieces (or why someone bought them for you), and why you pulled them out of the closet or drawer this morning, but there are reasons all the same. Making a film is creating a world and the people in it. In order to do that, someone needs to figure out what clothes those people would own and wear, and why.

In the microbudget world, you're probably not making a detailed period film (and if you are, you'd better have at least a year to set aside for pre-production -- Team Witchfinder, I salute you!), and you're almost certainly not looking for someone to build a bunch of clothes from scratch. What you need is someone who pays attention to clothes and what they say about people, knows how to shop (especially thrifting), and preferably has a good sense of color. If you have no budget for wardrobe, that same knowledge is what they need to guide the actors to plunder their own closets effectively. Because I'm sorry, directors, but the vague guidelines I get the vast majority of the time? Rarely result in anything resembling the image you have in your head. And I know this stuff. A lot of actors don't. Directors don't have time -- or, often, knowledge -- to work out all the details of how to make a look happen. That's why they need costume designers.

Separate Director and Producer. That thing I just said about "directors don't have time?" It's going to be a theme here. There are exceptions to every rule, and if you're super-detail-oriented and driven, you might be one of them. But chances are there's a whole swathe of business and organizational stuff you dread having to deal with. That's because it's supposed to be someone else's job. Especially if everyone involved also has a day job. Riding herd on all the artistic stuff and the business stuff AND a day job? Will send pretty much any director to the hospital. That's why they need producers.

Script Supervisor. Another one that tends to fall to actors. Which, aside from the energy drain of keeping track of our own continuity, is just supremely uncomfortable in the chain-of-command sense. When everything is ready to roll and everyone is looking at me, I feel super-extra-squirmy holding up my hand and saying "Um, wasn't his jacket zipped up before?" or whatever, because it's not my job. It is, in fact, perilously close to telling the director how to direct, which is the biggest actor no-no in the universe. But unless a director has a flawless eidetic memory, sooner or later some detail is going to fall through the cracks in the course of making the big picture happen. That's why they need script supervisors.

Grips and PAs. Lots and lots of grips and PAs. Unless you are physically tripping over people in every direction (and, depending on how close the quarters are at your location, sometimes even then), there is no such thing as too many hands. Some directors take pride in participating in the grunt work, and that's awesome. I applaud that. But they can't direct the actors and hold a reflector at just the right angle and fetch fresh batteries and hold coats for actors pretending it isn't 30 degrees and make coffee and keep the gawkers out of frame and turn the noisy heater on and off and fetch extras from holding. That's why they need grips and PAs.

Makeup and Hair. Insert a lot of the same stuff I said about costume designers. Just because you don't need special effects doesn't mean you don't need knowledgeable people in charge of what your actors look like. Sure, most actors go around every day looking reasonably presentable, but most of us know sod-all about how to translate that for the camera, or how to look a way we normally don't. And a smart director knows that -- as with costume design, and a whole lot of other things -- it takes skill to present something in a way that the audience doesn't notice or think about it. That's why they need makeup artists.

But where do I find these people? If you have next to no budget, it's a serious question. In which case, if you don't already have one, you really need to start with that producer. That's when it's important for that person to be good at finding answers to things. Like "What does the person doing this job need to know?" and "Where should I look for someone who knows those things who might be willing to pitch in?" If you know people, you probably know people who can do these jobs. Organized and detail-oriented? Ask them to be script supervisor. Makes the rounds of all the thrift stores in the area once a week? Sound them out about costume design. Somebody's cousin is a Mary Kay distributor? Talk to them about makeup.

And of course there are scads of indie filmmaking forums, Facebook groups, and so on. On many of them, any post actually looking for crew (as opposed to spamming self-promotion) will get noticed and get responses. Obviously it's better if you're paying (even if it's just a modest stipend), but if you genuinely absolutely can't pay anyone (most definitely including yourself), there's someone out there who'll be interested in doing it for fun.

In all seriousness, if you can't find people to fill all the jobs a film really needs filled, I urge you to seriously consider whether you should be making this film right now. If you wait and do it right, if everyone has a great experience on your set because it actually felt like a team working together to make an awesome thing, if it's not a desperate shorthanded effort to just get something, anything, in the can so we can all go home and put this nasty business behind us? Not only will you have a better film at the end of the day, but you'll have a bunch of people who would work with you again in a heartbeat, will refer their friends the next time you need crew, and will proudly support and publicize your baby.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


In which our Diva has a tale to tell and a song to sing

GreenMan Theatre Troupe, where I've had some great performing experiences in the last several years, sponsors an annual storytelling workshop with veteran storyteller Carolyn Thomas-Davidoff.  It culminates in a "Spooky Stories and Songs of the Season" program for one weekend only. This year, things finally worked out for me to participate, which means this Friday and Saturday, October 11 and 12, I'll be one of a about a dozen performers spinning traditional tales, urban legends, literary adaptations, and a few haunting tunes for good measure.

I have two selections on the program. One is a short story by Chicago writer Jenna Waterford, "Beata Beatrix," which was published a couple years back in the Hugo Award-winning speculative fiction magazine Electric Velocipede. The title comes from the painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti -- or rather, several paintings by the same name and of the same subject, one of which resides at the Art Institute of Chicago. With that in mind, Beata Beatrix got my "favorite" vote on #PRBDay, and I was far from the only one, since it ended up at the top of the list when the Tweets were counted. I'm looking forward to the next issue of the Pre-Raphaelite Society's quarterly journal, which I'm told will include an article on the various versions of the painting.

Jenna and I met online and bonded over our mutual love of Pre-Raphaelite art and Lizzie in particular, so I love having the opportunity to adapt her chillingly beautiful story for oral telling.

by Evanira on DeviantART
I'm also over the moon to have permission from fantasy author and singer/songwriter Seanan McGuire to sing her eerie reinvention of Red Riding Hood, "The True Story Here." I've been itching to perform it since the first time I heard it on her album Wicked Girls, and this is the perfect time and place. If you've seen Catherine Hardwicke's gorgeous film starring Amanda Seyfried, you might have an inkling where this Red is coming from, but Seanan's songwriting makes for its own unforgettable take on the tale.

Fingers crossed that I do both these terrific writers justice! If you're in Chicagoland, come and see/hear for yourself this Friday and Saturday. There's lots more spooky wonderfulness on the program -- ghosts and vampires and mythical spirits galore. Tickets are just $5, at the door or online. Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Day of the Witch!

In which our Diva is witching it up, and she's not alone

Exciting day in Diva-land! Witchfinder premiered today on Popcorn Horror and MyIndieShow. Popcorn Horror is a free app for Android or iOS and we're their "Short Fright Friday" selection for this week. Check out the nifty minimalist poster they made to go with it!

Over at the MyIndieShow link, you can stream or download Witchfinder, as well as a growing catalog of other indie creations. (And you can "show love" by clicking on the little blue heart/reel thingie at the top left of the main movie graphic, even if you don't watch on the site.)

When we were shooting last November, we had no idea we were contributing to something of a zeitgeist moment, but by the time Pamela J. Grossman took to HuffPo to declare 2013 "The Year of the Witch," they seemed to be everywhere. Just a couple weeks after her essay was posted, I watched Oz the Great and Powerful on a flight out to California and Beautiful Creatures on the flight back. I'd already caught the former at the cinema, but missed the latter, which turned out to be well worth seeing for more than just the jawdropping adult cast (Emma Thompson, Viola Davis, Jeremy Irons) the filmmakers lined up. The metaphor might not be the subtlest ever, but I'm all for a teen audience seeing a girl stand up and refuse to be irrevocably branded either madonna or whore.

As Grossman noted, the fall TV schedule is downright witchtastic. Her sampling didn't even include the new series I'm having the most fun watching so far, Sleepy Hollow, whose reinvented Katrina Van Tassel Crane has done most of the explaining about her faction of witches and their evil opponents despite being trapped in a spooky interdimensional limbo. (And this is the supporting female character. The made-entirely-of-awesome-ness of Nicole Beharie as Abbie Mills is off the witchy topic, but can't go unremarked.)

I feel a certain kinship with the tween fans of book series like Beautiful Creatures; my own favorite book through middle school was The Witch of Blackbird Pond. (Even though -- spoiler alert -- it involves no actual witchcraft.) My first (and probably favorite) directing gig was The Crucible.

So in the Year of the Witch, it's pretty darn cool that there are witches, witches everywhere... and one of them is me!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Mom Zone revisited

In which our Diva spotlights a certain category of supporting character

A couple years ago, I hit a threshold in my acting career - the one where you start playing moms, and really never stop until you start playing grandmas. Since I don't have kids in real life -- and, due to the vagaries of genetics, was still frequently being asked where I went to school up until very shortly before that (and have been carded more than once since!) -- it felt weird. Really weird.

I've since gotten over that initial weirdness in the process of playing Busy Single Mom, Updated Fairy Tale Mom, Wholesome Civil-War-Era Mom, and Slightly Nervous Suburban Mom. Sure, it's great to be the lead once in a while, and women -- particularly mature women -- need to be more often, and in more varied ways. There should be more than this set of supporting roles out there for my type and age bracket. But that's a much larger discussion than I'm tackling today, and it doesn't change the fact that these roles, for all their limits, can be much more varied and meaty than we sometimes think.

Which is how I came to tweet last week, only semi-jokingly, that as long as I'm spending so much of my acting time in the Mom Zone, I want to be the Hollywood Midwest answer to Lena Headey.  Seriously, though, the last few years have seen this lady take on three, count 'em, three high-profile characters who function in their respective narratives primarily as mothers -- but you sure as heck can't say she's in a rut.

First, of course, she stepped into Linda Hamilton's iconic shoes as the ultimate "mama grizzly," Sarah Connor, on the TV spinoff Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Sarah started out (as seen in the original 1984 movie) an ordinary working-class girl, not long out of high school, who waited tables and went out dancing with her not-long-out-of-high-school friends, until one night Kyle Reese dropped out of the sky... er, future and informed her that her yet-unconceived son would be the only hope for the survival of the human race. Caught between trying to give John a childhood and preparing him for the brutal realities he would face as an adult, she made everything up as she went along, trusted nobody, got really really psychologically damaged, ended up more dangerous than most of the machines, and never ever, not once, failed to be riveting to watch.

Then of course, there's Game of Thrones' Cersei Lannister, defined primarily as mother -- particularly after Joffrey takes the throne and promptly derails any plans Cersei might have had of doing any actual reigning as Queen Regent -- but also as wife, sister, illicit incestuous lover, and most of all as bitter, viciously resentful product of a pseudo-medieval fantasy society's strictly enforced gender norms. She hates the role that's been thrust upon her but plays it to perfection and to whatever advantage she can gain, coping with an apparently endless royal wine cellar and a nasty pastime of mocking her intended daughter-in-law for believing and sincerely doing her best to embody the ideals of highborn feminity they've both been raised on. She is, by and large, an awful person who does awful things, and the show would be much poorer without Headey's sly, snarky performance.

Currently on multiplex screens (for the moment, anyway; the box office hasn't exactly been all they hoped for) -- and setting off this whole thought process -- we have Jocelyn Fray in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, who belongs to a subset of mom-dom that I'd quite like to take a crack at: the Unexpectedly Awesome YA Mom.

YA (for those who don't hang around the same people and blogs I do) stands for "young adult," and refers to a segment of the literary market primarily intended for teens. It's on my radar primarily as an arena where female authors are thriving and young female readers are finding a welcome breadth of young female characters driving their own stories. (Even more breadth would be great, of course, and it would also be nice if, say, publishers didn't go around slapping whitewashed cover images on the few books that do star PoC protagonists, but that's another topic getting important discussion elsewhere, and not my topic today.)

It's also on the public's radar, to the extent that it's a well Hollywood has been drawing from quite a bit the last few years, ever since Twilight caught them off-guard as a juggernaut franchise and finally brought to their attention the fact that teenage girls and young women have *gasp* actual, legal-tender money they quite like to spend on movie tickets. (The merits, or lack thereof, of said franchise are also beyond the scope of this particular post, and quite frankly I'd be happy to never see another comment about them as long as I live. Just so we're clear.)

Being girls, of course, the things they like can't possibly be actually worth anything (for a nice summary of that particular cultural meme and the problems with it, see this interview with YA author Sarah Rees Brennan), but their money? Ah, that can move mountains of calcified industry conventions. Or at least budge them a little.

But the thing I've been noticing as these movies based on YA (and middle-grades; let's not overlook the number of cars hooked to the Hogwarts Express here) books come out, even more than the fact that a lot of them have girl protagonists, is that said protagonists' moms are often some seriously awesome characters in their own right.

Now, mostly I'm familiar with the fantasy ones, because that's the genre I'll always gravitate to by default, regardless of the age bracket of its intended audience. So I don't know how much it holds for YA novels in other genres. But YA fantasy novels are often some variation on the "destined hero" narrative, with a protagonist who discovers some fantastic heritage kept hidden throughout her/his childhood. With that structure in place, Mom almost has to be involved in said heritage somehow, as a keeper of knowledge if nothing else. And she's often a lot else. (See also: Virginia Doyle, mother of Gemma, protagonist of A Great and Terrible Beauty and its two sequels, a property I would dearly love to see adapted to film even though nobody is going to let me play Virginia. Which I would love.)

Which brings us back to Jocelyn. Who was apparently even less prepared than Sarah Connor to raise a kid with A Destiny, since it's pretty clear that she had no opportunity to learn how to raise a kid at all. The secret society of Shadowhunters and their solemn duty to hunt demons with their special innate badass abilities seems great and all, until the younger (and more prominent) characters start telling you what it's like to actually grow up in that world. Which Jocelyn did, and there's a world of interesting in whether it was a good idea to keep that fact (and by extension a lot of other facts) from her daughter Clary, the central character. Like Sarah, she made up this whole parenting thing as she went along, and she got a lot of it right and a lot of it wrong, but at the end of the day she and Clary love each other ferociously even while they're arguing, and it's a beautiful thing to see. (Also, she's hell with a cast-iron skillet. That fight sequence is worth the price of admission all on its own.)

Mom's role is unquestionably a supporting one, but this week-plus later, I still find myself thinking a lot about it, even though the movie overall is kind of a hot mess, albeit one assembled from a lot of interesting bits.

I'm not sure what the point of all this musing is, except that I'd love to see more of this kind of story, and this kind of character, in the indie milieu. There's plenty of room for it, given that, for example, the YA properties picked up for big-budget adaptations are uniformly led by pretty white straight girls. It would be great to see Hollywood fix that, and I'm all for continuing to talk about how to get them to do so. While that inevitiably arduous process continues, though, I'm looking for the indie community to step up first and show them how it's done.

So how about it, indie filmmakers? When I look at the Chicago/Midwest casting breakdowns on Actors Access tomorrow, what kind of moms will I see? Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The ghosts of Lizzies past

In which our Diva considers those who have walked a particular path ahead of her, on the occasion of meeting one of them

Okay, they're all alive, so "ghost" is rather a misnomer, but as Unvarnished continues to take shape (in longhand, making this Tumblr post a relevantly giggle-worthy observation), I can hardly help being a little haunted by them!

The one I saw first and know best is also the most recent: Amy Manson in Desperate Romantics. However fast and loose the series played with history, I loved its complicated and ambitious Lizzie, and Manson's performance made me an instant fan. I'm delighted to see her career growing, and wish I could have seen her well-reviewed turn as Nora in A Doll's House at the National Theatre of Scotland this past spring.

(Maybe someday we'll get something that gives the women of the Pre-Raphaelite circle the rounded portrayals they deserve without being quite so thoroughly ahistorical. A girl can dream.)

Mind you, the 2009 series' flights of fancy are nothing next to Ken Russell's take on the same events a generation earlier! His 1967 Dante's Inferno is unapologetically theatrical, veering at times into psychedelia (yes, you can do that in black & white, at least if you're Ken Russell) and at others into music-hall or panto (what even is going on with Annie Miller?). In that context, the paradoxical mix of strength and fragility in Judith Paris' ballerina presence serves Lizzie well, if the film's narrative doesn't always.

In a 2011 interview, Paris recalled that Russell cast her based entirely on her physical resemblance to Lizzie. "I saw Millais’s 'Ophelia' in the Tate and thought, 'That’s me!' It wasn’t about talent; Ken didn’t care if I could act or not. I did a screen test and I told him, 'I’ve never acted  apart from at school and a few lines in musicals and I don’t have any training.' He said, 'I don’t care. I’ll make your performance in the editing room!' I was thrown from being a dancer to playing opposite Oliver Reed on the BBC, which was one giant step for mankind!" I particularly cock my head at this apparent keenness to match Lizzie's physical appearance, when his Gabriel was Oliver Reed. (Actually, the fact that the same historical person has been played by Oliver Reed, Ben Kingsley, and Aidan Turner, all of whom work quite well for various reasons, makes me go full quizzical-puppy.)

Until recently, I had known her only from a favorite classic Doctor Who story (that's her under Eldrad's pretty blue scales in "The Hand of Fear"), but she's had a distinguished theatre career, and I've been particularly delighted to learn that she has written and performed several one-woman shows about historical figures over the years -- just as I'm trying to do with Lizzie!

Between these two, in 1975, came the most elusive dramatization (like the other two, from Auntie Beeb), the six-part The Love School. To this day, I (like the rest of the online Pre-Raphaelite community) have seen less than seven tantalizing minutes:

Yes, that Patricia Quinn, the one who created the role of Magenta in a certain "science fiction double feature" that was immortalized on film the same year.

Which is how I came to meet her this afternoon, at the Flashback Weekend horror convention. I couldn't make it to the Rocky Horror Picture Show screening she hosted last night, but I made it over there today, and found a surprisingly short line at her autograph table. I had no idea if this was a role she had any particular fond recollections of, but when I opened my Lizzie journal to a page for her to sign and explained what it was, she lit up and chatted about it for a good ten or twelve minutes!

"I have it," she told me with a conspiratorial grin. "I have the whole thing." Apparently a friend who worked in the production office managed to get hold of it for her some years ago, a minor miracle for anything made in the days when the BBC routinely aired shows once and then tucked them away to (as any Doctor Who fan who knows about the legendary "lost episodes" can tell you) vanish into the storage abyss or even be taped over.

But The Love School is safe and sound in its Lizzie's home -- something that impressed even its director, who had never been able to get his hands on it! -- and apparently she got around not too long ago to watching the full series, instead of stopping after Lizzie died. After all these years, she's downright gushing about how marvelous a production it is, with particular notice of its William Morris.

My favorite bit of the conversation was the anecdote about the day she, Richard O'Brien, and another RHPS castmate (she mentioned first names, but I don't remember the second one) did some sort of Q&A session at the Oxford Union. On the way over, she happened on Ben Kingsley -- her Rossetti -- in the street, and chatted briefly with him. Then, at the event, she looked up at the murals painted in that infamous adventure of the late 1850s (Dear Gabriel: When working in an unfamiliar technique, research is your friend!), "and I thought, 'That's me!'" Apparently there was a sequence in the series where "we were all in there painting away" that I, for one, would give minor body parts to see!

Mind you, that was the point where I made the dubious step of mentioning Desperate Romantics (in the context of my disappointment at its eliding that whole process -- which could probably easily make a feature film in itself -- into Gabriel painting a single church panel alone), of which she is... not fond. And not shy about saying so. Partly because of its inaccuracies, but also, I think, a bit because "I was asked in for it, you know. They had me read for Ruskin's mother. And I said, 'Ruskin's mother??'" I cannot capture the indignation of that in text, but I'm sure you can imagine!

All in all, she is a thoroughly delightful lady, and I heartily recommend meeting her if you have the opportunity.

And now I have someone else I need to finish writing Unvarnished for, because she said she'd like to hear about it when it's finished. Best get back to work, then...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Red carpet season!

In which our Diva may be exaggerating just a touch with that subject line, but is still having an awfully good time

My first experience hosting an awards ceremony (along with the rest of the Prairie State Film Festival) was great fun, evening gown, sparkly jewelry, and all! I saw some terrific films and met some great new people. Thanks to the tireless Willy Adkins of Spook Show Entertainment, which sponsors several festivals throughout the year, for inviting me to be part of the festivities!

This has been a bit of a tumultuous year for Spook Show, as the longtime venue for its events, the historic Portage Theatre in Chicago, went through several months of rather public change-of-ownership drama before, sadly, closing its doors. The PSFF, originally slated to be held there, was moved to the House Cafe in DeKalb, which had not only friendly staff and great food, but the most awesome purple couch known to humankind. I couldn't resist perching for a photo during a festival intermission - it even went with my dress!

Speaking of festivals, Witchfinder's adventures on the indie circuit are now booked through September, with the addition of Dragon*Con in Atlanta and Halloween Horror Picture Show in Tampa added to the itinerary. Be sure to like the Witchfinder Facebook page to keep up with all the latest news, and hopefully a chance to see it near you!

Next up, though, is our Illinois premiere, in the Rockford hometown of writer/director Colin Clarke and most of our cast and crew! The Mosaic World Film Festival is this Saturday, August 3, and I'm looking forward to seeing Witchfinder on the big screen with our whole team. Chicagoland folks, come out and join us! Tickets are just $5, and will be available at the door starting at noon. Looks like some great stuff lined up, including good friend (and Raymond Did It writer/director) Travis Legge's latest annual zombie short, Li'l Bub.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Festival circuit

In which our Diva is stepping out all over the Midwest this summer

Update to the news in my last post: Due to the change in management at the previous venue, the Prairie State Film Festival has been rescheduled for July 20, and will be held at the House Cafe in DeKalb, Illinois. It's a more intimate venue, with plenty of character all its own, and I'm still looking forward to hosting the festivities..

Advance tickets are only $7. If you're in the area, consider spending a day enjoying some terrific independent films, a couple up-and-coming standup comics, and maybe a surprise or two. And please come up and say hello!

I spent last week adventuring in the wilds of northern California at the Actors' Retreat led by "unconventional coach" Molli Benson, an experience I'd recommend to anyone looking to cut through to the core of their truth and bring it home to their work.

While I was preparing to travel, we heard the welcome news that Witchfinder had been selected for the Gen Con Indy Film Festival The festival is part of the enormous Gen Con Indy event held every August at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Known as "The Best Four Days in Gaming," the convention has kept its game-oriented roots while growing into a broadly appealing event for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fans.

The film festival offers independent filmmakers an opportunity to appeal to that large audience -- an audience I've always been part of anyway! I'm always excited by film festival news, of course, but this one gives my geeky side something extra to squee about! If you're a Gen Con attendee, I'll probably bump into you in the exhibit hall, and I hope you'll take some time to check out the film festival too!


No sooner had I landed back in Chicago when I learned that we've also been selected for Fright Night Film Fest, July 26-28 in Louisville, Kentucky. I don't know yet if I'll make it to that one, but I'm looking into it. This one is also part of a larger event, with one heck of a lineup of celebrity guests. So again, if you're headed that way, why not poke your head into the film festival and watch me get my evil on?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The tapioca is spontaneous

In which our Diva has a new pursuit or two

Spring has finally properly sprung in Chicagoland, I'm almost over The Cold That Wouldn't Die, and I'm back with a shiny new project: a podcast entitled Spontaneous Tapioca. Click over and download or subscribe to give it a listen and find out, among other things, why I called it that. Plus a whole bunch of other stuff that my first guest Stacey Tappan and I think are inspiring, awesome, or just plain nifty.

I encounter a lot of creative folks with great perspectives, and I freely admit this new venture is my excuse to have long babbly conversations with them. But I think (hope!) they'll be interesting for other people too!

Also, an announcement I forgot to make in this space: I'm slated to host the Prairie State Film Festival at the
Portage Theater on July 27.

It's put on by the hardworking folks at Spook Show Entertainment, who produce several such events every year, including the Chicago Horror and Indie Horror festivals I've attended at various times. This one showcases films of all genres, and I'm all kinds of delighted to have the privilege of introducing them.

And now, off to enjoy this beautiful sunshine (finally got the bike out this year, yay!!) and then some audition prep. Hope your spring is all kinds of inspiring too!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Five things make a post

In which our Diva plugs a few of her favorite things

Watch: I'm a little behind with this recommendation, since the season 1 finale aired last night on Syfy, but Continuum sort of snuck up on me as a favorite, while proving one of my favorite points: A story doesn't have to be super-innovative and groundbreaking to be worth telling. On paper, it certainly seems like we've seen all this before: Members of a terrorist group escape execution in 2077 by traveling back in time, and a rank-and-file cop is inadvertently carried with them and dropped in the middle of 2012. Cue potential pardoxes, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations about the future of apparently ordinary people.

It's smartly written and beautifully designed and shot, with a solid ensemble peppered with familiar Vancouver-based faces, including Lexa Doig, Roger R. Cross, and Tony Amendola as the charismatic and enigmatic revolutionary leader.

The glue that holds it all together, though, is Rachel Nichols as Kiera Cameron, the cop forced to navigate an unfamiliar world and driven by the twin -- and sometimes opposing -- motivations of stopping the revolutionaries from reshaping the future to their liking, and getting back home to that future and the husband and young son she left there. If you've only seen Nichols in GI Joe or Star Trek, you've only scratched the surface of what she's capable of. Kiera is as smart, tough, and resourceful as her role at the center of a sci-fi adventure requires. She's also a young mom ripped away from her family, an officer of the law forced to lie every day to the people she works with and depends on, and an idealist confronted with mounting evidence that the system she serves -- and the husband she loves -- may not be everything they seem. Nichols navigates all this with raw, breathtaking honesty, and breaks my heart every week.

Listen: All this week, BBC Radio presents a brand-new audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere with a gobsmacking cast ranging from rising young stars like Natalie Dormer to veterans like Bernard Cribbins to straight-up legend Christopher Lee. I'm a huge fan of the original 1996 TV miniseries (which many people don't realize came before the novel), and this new incarnation -- smartly updated for the cultural and technological developments of the last decade and a half -- breathes new life into Gaiman's colorful characters and places them in a flawlessly atmospheric aural environment. It's a great listen, and (unlike the BBC iPlayer's video content) you can catch it from anywhere in the world.

Follow: I ran across Grace Nuth's blog The Beautiful Necessity several years ago, and heartily recommend it to anyone interested in the Pre-Raphaelite and/or Arts and Crafts movements. But today I want to give a plug to her newer blog, Domythic Bliss, inspired by her ongoing mission to transform her home to reflect her artistic and story tastes (and, unlike what you tend to see in magazines, on an ordinary-person budget). Currently she's in the midst of a "Mythic March" series in which she and regular readers share current decorating, craft and art projects. If you want a practical way to live in a fairy-tale forest, get inspired by people making stuff, or just want to look at pretty things, you should definitely check it out.

Listen some more: I ran across Sandra Joseph's blog around the end of her record-setting Broadway run as Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. Of everyone I encountered way back in Michigan State's theatre department, she didn't surprise me a bit with that high-profile success, but I would never have predicted the direction she's taken since then. First in the blog, and then moving into a second career as a motivational speaker and coach, she's been unfailingly candid about her own anxiety and insecurities, and made a mission of inspiring and supporting others in achieving their dreams. The latest iteration of that is a new podcast, Behind the Mask Radio, featuring in-depth interviews with fellow artists, which has promptly landed a permanent spot on my "cynicism detox" list. If you're interested in being a creative person and also having a happy, healthy, balanced life, it's very much worth your time.

And finally, Looky looky looky! The gorgeous poster design for Witchfinder makes me feel like a real movie star.

I can't wait to see the finished film. It's already been selected for Panic Fest in Kansas City, MO, where it will screen as part of the Short Film Showcase on April 20. If you're in the area, I'd love it if you'd check it out and let me know what you think! There's talk of a cast/crew road trip, but it's early days, and I don't know if that'll happen. But I'll definitely keep you posted if it turns out I'm going!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Here a video, there a video

In which our Diva has not one, but two new videos to show you

Here a video: Nifty behind-the-scenes piece about Smoking Gun, the latest incarnation of GreenMan Theatre Troupe's annual dinner-theatre murder mystery. I'm finally getting in on the fun this year as Virginia Archer, headliner at the 1930s Los Angeles "clip joint" the Coconut Lounge.

There a video: You may have noticed I've been pretty busy the last couple years. As a result, here's my shiny new reel! I couldn't be happier with how it's turned out, and couldn't have done it without some pretty spiffy filmmakers who all keep their word and get actors their footage. Yay!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Trailers and festivals

In which various of our Diva's projects are coming to light

Film is a delayed-gratification world. You work intensely for a short time -- days, weeks -- and then comes the waiting. Which sounds sort of awful, except you then have nifty surprises trickling out all through the the post-production PR process. Maybe it's just me, but shiny things in which I look all professional and stuff are that much more exciting when they pop up on my computer as I'm sitting here in my PJs with scrungy hair.

A quick rundown of the things I've been excited to see come to light lately:

Rose White continues to get fantastic reviews across the indie film blogosphere, and will soon be coming to a festival screen near, well, some of you. It's an official selection at the Nevermore Film Festival in Durham, North Carolina, February 22-24 (keep an eye on their website for the full schedule). More festival dates are expected soon, and will be posted to the film's Facebook page and Twitter feed.

I've only seen a rough cut myself, but even in that form it's absolutely stunning, and I'm all kinds of proud to be a part of it.

Speaking of festivals, Words Like Knives will be screened at Blood at the Beach in Virginia Beach, May 10-12. (It's not yet listed on their Events page, but I expect that'll be updated soon.) It's already garnered a couple of great reviews too, including one over at The Critic's Word that really qualified as one of those surprises that make my day:
Michael Wexler and Valerie Meachum delivered spot on performances as Mr. and Mrs. Price. What I found most impressive was how both actors handled themselves on screen, body language plays a big role to a great performance, and both actors showed a good display of that.
Can hardly ask for more than that!

Finally, I'm over the moon about how Witchfinder is coming together. The rough cut I've seen of it looks amazing, and I'm so proud of the team for realizing this ambitious 17th-century vision on an absolute shoestring. The trailer hit the web this week, and I can't wait to see the finished film.