Anonymity is a powerful strength. You often see it used to terrible effect by trolls on social media and comment boards. But it can be used for good by famous writers who take on a pseudonym in order to write outside their “accepted” genre. It’s also the reason that masks are so intriguing. We don’t know who it is behind the facade.
Another way this can be used, but often isn’t, is in casting. Producers, directors, and writers are often celebrity-obsessed. Celebrity being in many ways the antithesis of anonymity. Celebrities, of course, allows any project to more easily attract funding. But it can sometimes get in the way of allowing the audience to really see and believe the character.
This week’s Hollywood Reporter cover story is about the remarkable year SNL has had making fun of Donald Trump and our current political swamp. When you step back to look at how they’ve successfully navigated a particularly divisive cultural moment and walked away with a ratings bump of 11 million viewers, it’s truly amazing.
It’s particularly impressive given that so much of what’s happened in the news is either really serious and scary to many people, or is so absurd that it in-and-of-itself goes beyond parody. What I appreciate about their approach in these instances is that they often simply repeat what actually happened, giving us all a second to laugh out loud at it. It turns pain into catharsis, and makes SNL a type of antidote that people have to tune in to get.
In the interview, Leslie Jones quotes Lorne Michaels commenting on the numerous celebrity self-pitches to play other administration officials – most notably Rosie O’Donnell as Steve Bannon. What he says, I think, is actually incredible advice for how artists must approach despicable characters who do unsavory things, whether real or invented. Continue reading What Lorne Michaels Can Teach You About Compassion
Last Monday I hosted Musi-CAL, a bimonthly concert celebrating new works of Musical Theatre in Los Angeles. I premiered a new song from my musical-in-development Passing Through. It turned out to be perfect timing, as it was announced last week in the New York Times that my book writer Eric Ulloa and I were accepted to the Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat to continue working on the piece this summer.
The song is sung by a 73-year-old ranch hand, Dennis, in New Mexico. Our main character, Andrew, is taken in by him for the night and begins to open up with Dennis about his conflict with his dad. In a very fatherly way, the old ranch hand shares his experience with Andrew, offering him a little perspective.
For nine consecutive weeks beginning July 2, each writing team will have a weeklong residency in the Hudson Valley, two hours north of New York City, to write their new musical.
Writers pay nothing to participate in Rhinebeck Writers Retreat, which takes no percentage of future royalties, and donors cover all the writers’ costs. Each writing team lives in a private home and is provided transportation, food, and a $500 stipend.
There are times when the ideas just won’t come. I’m stuck on a lyric, or I can’t find my way into the skin of a character, or my audition prep feels uninspired. A lot of artists have different activities that help them through these blocks, and it’s super important to identify the ones that help you.
I was reminded, recently, of one of my favorite inspirational activities. Now that Spring is here in Los Angeles, I’ve started running again.
Who am I kidding, it’s always great weather here, so what’s my excuse? The fact is, between my different odd jobs of teaching, playing piano, and auditioning around town, I found myself stuck in my car a lot, sitting in traffic. Not the most inspirational of milieus. Continue reading What To Do When You’re Feeling Stuck
I saw a couple new plays over the last few weeks, and it got me thinking about structure.
There seems to be a trend with young playwrights that rejects the “restraints” of traditional structure. With nothing worthwhile to replace it, however, rejecting traditional structure feels like a rejection of any structure at all. The resulting play feels like a meditation on a theme at best and a plot with no climax or catharsis at worst.
My acting teacher asks me this question with unsettling regularity. No, she’s not suggesting I give up. (At least I don’t think she is…) She is simply pushing me to make big choices.
Because I never went to a formal acting program, I would sometimes get confused about the idea of “making a choice.” What does it mean to make a choice? A choice about what? Furthermore – what does it mean to make a “bigger” choice? Continue reading Big Choices to Make
For the longest time there was a wall I couldn’t surpass as an actor. I didn’t know how to be fully emotionally vulnerable in my work. Every now and then I would hit on something and it would surprise me. I couldn’t get back there, and I didn’t understand why.
A few months ago, I saw a play that featured a word that I thought I understood, but realized I didn’t truly understand. The word was shame. I thought I had a sense of what shame was, and I had a feeling about its pervasiveness in our society, but it was a vague sense and a vague feeling.
What is it that makes the “Best Original Song” for a motion picture?
This year is a particularly fascinating year for Best Song.
There appears to be a clear front runner in La La Land, nominated for the maximum two songs – “Audition” and “City of Stars.” Being a “movie musical” (yes, in quotations) the songs function in a very clear and direct way, allowing their effectiveness and RTDW to be more objectively quantifiable. With two nominations, however, it runs the risk of cancelling itself out.
Furthermore, historically the academy has chosen songs by famous pop artists, which gives an edge to Justin Timberlake and Sting. Although THIS year, with the massive pop appeal of Hamilton, the prize could go to Lin-Manuel Miranda. So it’s really up in the air.
There is always going to be a large amount of subjectivity when evaluating a creative endeavor. Ideally, the law of averages works it out so that the opinions of an educated sample reflect the opinions of the educated majority.
Remember, though, that while the nominations are made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, the winners are decided by the membership as a whole. (So beware Lin Manuel Miranda – the deciding vote may come down to a tone-deaf cinematographer.)
I’ve always thought that songs in motion pictures are a difficult thing to judge, and precisely because of that they are almost always a difficult award to predict. Add to that the bizarre and ever-changing rules which govern the nominations of songs, which results in years where only two songs (???) are even nominated.