Monday I felt a bit like I was riding on the trunk of an elephant again. I was lifted up and dropped down, all the while feeling giddy and astonished that everything really was happening. I loved it.
This week kicked off the Laughter For A Change improv classes with seniors at the Metro Chinatown Senior Lofts (which I wrote about last week). I spent some time beforehand preparing for our class, going over our lesson plan with my co-mentors Keong and Bryan, and developing a survey to administer to our students at the beginning and end of our program. I really wanted to get a better idea of how the residents viewed themselves, their creativity, and their relationship to their community before we began.
As people trickled into the community game room where our classes are held, we introduced ourselves and filled out name tags, realizing in the process that the majority of this first week's attendants spoke English as a second language, or not at all. The translator who had joined us for last week's workshop wasn't there to help us, and the lesson plan and surveys we had dreamt up just weren't going to happen - but something more fun did!
We dove into our exercises, eschewing verbal explanations in favor of a lot pantomiming, using images Bryan pulled up on his smart phone as references for a few games, and finding once again that these seniors are skilled at space work (creating props or objects through gesture and imagination). We created different musical bands, playing imaginary music and having our 'audience' dance along once they 'heard' the music which was being played; we took turns flipping a table-sized pancake; we pulled a fishing rod out of a cigar box, and when one of the students caught my eye ball on her 'line,' she reeled it in, chopped it up, and called it "sashimi." It certainly must've looked like chaos at times, and but at the end of the day, we were 12 strangers, using laughter and play to communicate where our verbal communication failed us. It was so much fun.
Later that same evening, my musical improv troupe Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party performed our final show at the Cherry Afterschool Special at iO West. We had performed as a 'crush' of host team Cherry for 86 weeks straight, since 2012, more than a year and a half's time, earning us the title of longest-running cage match in improv history and a mainstage show at iO West each month, and we lost the evening by two votes. It was an inevitable end, one we were prepared for, but I felt a flood of emotions nonetheless.
When I think back to Robot's first few weeks in the Cherry Crush, I know it looked like a lot of chaos. We thankfully had Sierra Scheppman and a few of our other friends taping those early performance, and as I look at the footage of weeks and weeks going by, I can watch as we slowly came to find a common language. We developed our own structure for our musicals made up on the spot, and through body language, notes with our coaches (including Cherry team member Michael Garcia), and a lot of hours spent rehearsing and performing, we came up with something that delighted our audiences and challenged us as improvisers. None of us were speaking Mandarin, but we might as well have been as we forged this musical language amongst new friends.
It is sad to see the end of what essentially was a very long residency, our Beatles in Hamburg experience, if you will, but so incredible to witness the journey we took together and all of the support we received along the way. We sustained and built an audience of friends and strangers who came back week after week to watch us perform. We were encouraged and supported by our gracious hosts Cherry and iO West. We were challenged by the teams who played opposite of us and our own desire to step up our game. In the chaos and excitement of our final bow at the Cherry Crush, I couldn't stop smiling, feeling both sadness for an end to a great period in our lives, and excitement for so many new beginnings. I have so much gratitude for the friends we made, the people who encouraged us, and the people who challenged us to grow that I find it hard to put it down into words. I wish I could abandon my words and just hug everyone who joined us in this journey... but I know if I did, that'd be several hundred hugs to hand out.
So now I am looking ahead to next week, where I will pay forward the generosity that was afforded to Robot Teammate and with patience and a little creativity, support our new students as we work through the chaos. I am confident that laughter can help us create in our own form of communication, that with encouragement and consistency, any challenge can be overcome, and that when I look back on these early weeks of our program, I will delight in the messy uncertainty of it all. (I'm also brainstorming more nonverbal improv games, so please leave any suggestions you may have in the comments!)
As for Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party, we have a show next week at a brand new venue for us, Chloe's at Golden Road Brewery, on Wednesday at 8pm, as well as our mainstage show at iO West at 8pm on Friday. We have lots of exciting new things on our docket for this next stage of our existence as a troupe, and I'm looking forward to seeing how teaching this unique community challenges me to grow as a performing improviser. I'm probably going to feel as if I'm stuck on this elephant trunk for a while, but I truly welcome the ride.
I am very excited to announce the latest program Laughter For A Change is offering, Senior Improv at Metro Chinatown! This will be the first program with L4C I am responsible for spearheading, and is the culmination of many years of learning, preparation, and thought. We begin next week, and I cannot wait to finally get started!
I've felt for a long time that improv could be a beneficial activity for those in advanced age, and spent some of my time during my tenure as Chairercise Instructor at Melrose Gardens Assisted Living (best side job ever, btw) a few years ago trying out games with the residents there. They really took to it, despite their physical and mental limitations, and everyone involved had fun. I've since seen the transformative power of play with youths in High School and really gained confidence in my ability to lead a group through the Spolin games and curriculum we've created these past 5 years with Laughter For A Change.
My Co-Comedy Mentors Keong Sim, Bryan Cain, and I will be leading a group of low-income seniors in downtown Chinatown through an 8-week course of theatre and improv comedy games, culminating with a (tentative) performance at the Senior Olympics this September. We met with some of the residents this Past Monday to do an introductory workshop, and it was already a really incredible experience. Here we were, playing with the most unexpected group of 40 improvisers I could imagine, all over the age of 62, our instructions being translated into Chinese as we went, and finding that, despite the occasional chaos, everyone in the room was smiling, laughing, and engaged.
I met this particular population through the organization EngAGE, which works to "transform aging and the way people think about aging by turning affordable senior apartment communities into vibrant centers of learning, wellness, and creativity." Their staff and everyone at the beautiful apartment complex have been exceedingly welcoming and helpful, and their support and encouragement is very affirming. I am so grateful to have been connected with them and must thank Jane Kagon and L4C Founder Ed Greenberg for keeping an eye out for like-minded organizations that we could partner with!
I'm so excited to adventure into uncharted territories, both personally and alongside our students, and promised my friend Laurel Felt that I would document my experience here on my blog. So here we go! Please let me know if you have any questions, and check in again soon to hear how our classes are progressing!
Very excited to only have one week left in the countdown to Sumeau's album release. Working on the album has been a labor of love, and thankfully, we are getting some blog love back with a great review and some press coming our way!
Check out our first review on Buzzbands here: http://www.buzzbands.la/2014/02/04/ears-wide-open-sumeau/
We have CD's and will be releasing the album on our BandCamp for digital download next Tuesday, February 18th. Keep your ears peeled!
My musician friend and roommate Adrian sent me this Forbes article on 13 Things Mentally Strong People Avoid, which is geared towards entrepreneurs, but I couldn't help but notice how the list could also be applied to artists. Mental Strength, author and psychotherapist Amy Morin explains, "is about finding the courage to live according to your values and being bold enough to create your own definition of success." Adrian and I often discuss GRIT, or the tenacity to keep on working, day in and day out, with very little affirmation that anything will ever 'work out' for you, as one of our favorite take-home ideas of Jonah Lehrer's book Imagine: How Creativity Works (thank you, Harrison, for lending that great read). Lehrer considers grit to be a unifying factor that all 'successful' people have, and certainly, mental health plays a factor in one's ability to persevere. If you fall into one of the very natural behaviors - dwelling in the past, worrying about pleasing others, etc - it becomes very near impossible to have grit. It can take a lot of mental strength to do challenging long-term work, artistic or not, and more and more I see developing grit as a meditation that can not only empower better creative work but more healthful living in general.
This week in particular was an accomplished one - my improv team broke the world record for longest cage match run by winning our 68th show in a row, Chris and I completed our first full-length album together, and a film I acted in was accepted into another film fest. Each of these 'wins' was the product of no less than 68 weeks of work, with the album being a two-year project, the feature having been in development since at least 2008, and countless friends giving their time and enthusiasm as audience members each week. Thousands of hours of work have been put into these endeavors, and I am so humbled by the generosity and talent of everyone involved in each collaboration. However, also this week, my manager announced he was transitioning into becoming an agent and no longer able to work with me. My overwhelmed ego was majorly bummed by the loss of a great ally and valued member of my team, and while I know his decision was not colored by any love-loss for myself, it rattled my foundation a bit. I already have bomb agents I love working with! I just completed some majorly long-term goals! Someone I think is great is moving on up with his career! Yet a sense of apprehension over the change at hand dominated my thoughts. I was at a loss as to how to manage my emotions on the matter.
What's important to remember, I always realize in hindsight, is that mindfulness and mental flexibility is a process. One week I may excel in one area while falling flat in another. I may have all cause in the world to celebrate yet feel compelled to worry - and that's okay. Number 13 on the aforementioned list is that mentally strong people avoid "expecting immediate results." The desire to have mental strength is very different from attaining mental strength, and so it must become a practice, with small steps along the way. The ability to "regulate your emotions, manage your thoughts, and behave in a positive manner, despite your circumstances," as Morin describes, is learned over time, not willed or forced into fruition. Crafting a career as an artist can be confusing and contradictory - we must practice being open and sensitive, expressive and accepting of emotions - while very often needing mental fortitude to dream past what feels like rejection and set-backs along the way.
Thankfully, Amy Morin also created a list of 5 Powerful Exercises to Increase Mental Strength. I sure do love lists, and this one is especially great because it encourages you to practice tolerating discomfort and celebrating your progress while reinforcing some feel-good philosophies I already know to be effective. I highly recommend checking it out and hope you will join me in developing some stronger mental muscles in the New Year.
As always, thanks for reading. Happy Holidays and drop me a line with your thoughts!
This year marks the first time in a decade where I didn't wear my Naked Suit to celebrate the Halloween holiday. I've been a Never Nude, a Flasher, Eve (of Adam & Eve fame), an "Artistic" Nude - I sure do love wearing that suit - but decided to fulfill a year-long dream of playing Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys instead. Shout out to my trusty old Ben Nye make up kit for proving useful in creating Chris' goatee - he made an uncanny Julian, also from the Canadian TV series. One of the best parts of this costume was finding hundreds of other people's photos of Trailer Park Boys costumes on Instagram. I highly recommend looking them up as we were in good company this year - if only Mr. Lahey and Ricky would've shown up at our party!
It's been a month since we released our first single, Next Day, off our forth-coming self-titled album. We've been featured on music blogs, added to friends mixed CDs, and recently gave our good friend permission to use the song for a film, which makes me very happy indeed. If you haven't yet, you can check out the video for the track below - our deadline for album completion is quickly approaching and I can't wait to share the rest of the music here soon!
After a brief visit to the LA Indie Improv Festival this weekend, I finally let down my guard and went to check out the new Top Shop, a store I first fell in love with in London and just knew would be trouble when it finally opened in LA. While not as dangerous as I had initially imagined, I did end up leaving with some mint jelly sandals with heels - marginally practical, definitely ridiculous, and just the sort of oddball piece to get me excited for summer.
I found myself thinking, "Will I get blisters from these silly plastic shoes, clomping around Hollywood for Fringe?" and another wardrobe constant concern (WCC), "Can I do improv in these?" Yes, and Yes, I decided, but damnit, the next month is gonna be amazing and I just don't care.
The feeling of excitement and anticipation - of experiences, performances, people, and new places found only on foot in Hollywood during the month of June, aka the best month of the year - is a familiar one to me, four years old now. That first year, 2010 I suppose, I hung around iO West for the first time making in Fringe videos, wrote daily reviews for LA Theatre Review, and watched in awe as an incredible group of smart, innovative, and really cool people built an uncensored arts festival that all of LA could be proud of. Having produced at Prague Fringe in 2008, I was elated to have a similarly progressive, spectacular, fun-filled festival right on my doorstep, with challenging, exciting work in it. Everything I loved about the Theatre was there, and it was there by the bucketload.
I returned in 2011 with Girl Band in the Mens Room and as a Theatre Criticism panel moderator with Bitter Lemons and literally had the time of my life. The only way make the Hollywood Fringe even more fun is to attend it as a grungy rock star, I learned. My friends and I were supported by the friendly, resourceful Fringe staff, and the amount of talented artists in LA I admired and came to know grew with every day spent near ArtWorks Theatre. Everything I loved about life itself was there, and looking back, I see it very much as the impetus for so many subsequent projects, including much of my work in music. Nothing like writing a fake grunge song to inspire a love affair with recording, I do believe.
2012 saw me futzing around with FringeTV, LA FPI, Bitter Lemons and my beloved Four Clowns as I clung to any fringe-related task and hoped for any excuse to hang out at the amazing new Fringe Central Station. I experienced Life Changing Clown Show (LCCS) for the second time, which is a different story for another day, and witnessed so many ways Ben, Stacy and everyone on Fringe Staff put their love, intelligence, and time into making Fringe incredible for artists and patrons alike. I have yet to find a community as caring, well-organized, kind and FUN as the HFF community (sorry, LA Improv scene but ya just can't compete yet).
For three years now, my expectations of Fringe have been exceeded, with new technologies, support, and outreach integrated into a festival that makes me so proud to be a part of LA's theatre community. It's not easy to run a festival of this size, to deal with unshowered artists lugging around a prop urinal, or with theatre critics and journalists (or the lack thereof), or to do so many things well and with a smile on your face all while fostering a positive community, or NOT write a run-on sentence when listing all the positive attributes of Hollywood Fringe, but somehow, Hollywood Fringe does it. Seriously, read their press releases.
As much as I wanted to make sure my footwear was prepared for the year's shenanigans (and am grateful I was able to afford new shoes this summer), I wanted to help make sure Hollywood Fringe can keep making LA summers amazing, with all the bells, whistles, and PBRs it needs. That's why I wrote this little reflection/love letter to Fringe, and why I am contributing to the HFF13 Fund before June 12th. It's the least I can do for something that has been a huge part of my life, a guaranteed good time that has helped shape me and my city for the better, and the breeding ground for so many of the relationships I hold dear.
If you agree and want to donate to the Hollywood Fringe, please do so by June 12th by clicking here!
I will be writing about the Hollywood Fringe on Bitter Lemons, a wonderful theatre site which is also doing its part to keep our artistic community together. Check it out if you haven't yet done so, or send me info about your fringe show at email@example.com. June is also the time for LA Improv Festival at iO - Robot will be performing and there are plenty of workshops to check out, so hopefully I will see some good friends around there, too! See you this summer + donate if you can!
This week is chock full of improv with THREE performances of my beloved musical improv troupe, ROBOT TEAMMATE AND THE ACCIDENTAL PARTY!
Tonight, we vie for WEEK 40 of the Cherry Crush on the mainstage at iO West!
Thursday, we commence our hour-long monthly ROBOT TEAMMATE AND THE ACCIDENTAL PARTY SHOW! We have some new forms coming your way and are stoked to entertain for a full hour every month on the mainstage at iO! 2 for 1 tickets available with a coupon on the event page, free tix for industry.
Saturday, we participate in the LA Indie Improv Festival. Don't have an event page up for it yet, but we go on at 2pm. If you're around the festival, let me know, I'd love to catch some more fun friend teams!
Hope to see some of you at the theatre this week! Rock. On.
I am elated to report that after 8+ months of rockin out on Monday nights in the Cherry Crush at iO West, our musical improv troupe Robot Teammate was given our very own slot last night. We played to 60+ incredible audience members - really, the audience was as supportive, attentive, and energetic as you could ever hope for as an improvisor!
The event was also exciting because we opened our set with a new improvised form we've been developing using acoustic guitar and 9-part harmony and debuted our 25-minute musical form with "Science: The Musical". I can't wait to explore and create more with the wonderful folks who make up our team!
Thank you to all who attended or sent their well-wishes!
Hey, folks! I'm back again with the second installment of life lessons learned/remembered/reinvigorated by a recent adventure to Southeast Asia with two of my best friends from grade school, Chrissy and Teresa (pictured above en route to LAX - Tokyo - Kuala Lumpor - Bangkok). Aren't they cute?
Read PART I of this post here. Let's continue with the countdown....
5) Socks w/ flip-flops is a-okay!
chrissy demonstrates the style, wearing her geisha socks
There are certain truths in life that a person takes for granted. It will snow on Easter in Cleveland. Politicians will lie. Socks with flip-flops is not cool. Knowing these things makes it a little easier to move forward in life. You can make assumptions and be safe.
You can imagine my chagrin then when not only many people, young and old, hip and homely, were sporting the socks-with-flops fashion in Southeast Asia, but also my very own best friend had assimilated the look into her wardrobe. Hitherto, it had been my understanding that this look was a laughable offense, one reserved for old folks and teenage girls after soccer games. I wondered how it could be possible that my capital-T Truth could be so shaken.
The truth of the matter is, it's a big world out there. Most places we visited didn't have flush toilets, internet after midnight, or any sort of restaurant codes or regulations, and STILL this flip flop thing was the most startling "norm" to have shattered. I realized that if this is true in Southeast Asia, there may be many more parallel universes in which all sorts of "rules" are broken. Underpants may be worn as outerpants somewhere. Picking your nose and eating it could be a local dietary staple. The outfit you're wearing right now might get you put in jail or stoned to death.
If these possibilities are true, and we are so fortunate as to wear whatever we please without corporeal punishment, then it is also true that we have a responsibility to own whatever we so choose. Hungry to be an artist but scared of what your family might think? Stuck in a relationship you know is unhealthy but you cannot seem to eek out of? Afraid of failure, in its many multitude forms? Well, its time for boldness, my dear reader. Somewhere, in a parallel universe or a not too distant future, there can be you - free from whatever subjective rule you have allowed yourself to be blocked by for too long. You too can rock flip flops and socks, or whatever fashion you imagine. Do it, I dare you.
4) It's okay to be (a little) afraid
Flip-flop rule aside, it really is okay to be (a little) afraid sometimes. A little fear is not only natural and healthy, it is also helps amp you up for an amazing, well-deserved, flush-of-a-payoff.
Take this photo for example - one of my favorite shots ever, let alone from the trip. The morning we rode elephants, I woke up in Chang Mai, Thailand, with a curry-frog-street-soup-extra-large-Chang-beer hangover of frightening proportions (I hate puking and avoid it at all costs). I left my belongings under the supervision of the front desk staff at my guesthouse and hopped into the back of a covered pick-up truck for a 1.5 hour drive to the jungle outside of the city center. I've since learned that merely stepping foot in Thailand increases your chance of a vehicle-related accident 100%, but I had a sneaking suspicion this might be true while I was there, so my apprehension kept rising. Once we arrived at the camp, we attempted to memorize the commands which direct the massive animals to move forward, back, stop and raise and lower us. As I said, my brain was a little Chang-soaked, so you can imagine my confidence. The whole morning was one overwhelming thing after another! I was -eek! - afraid!
Once I was up on the elephant, though, my legs wrapped around its neck, I understood the mahouts and how one can become close to such a large, lumbering animals. I was clumsy and awkward taking command and more than a little afraid of falling off but damnit, I was alive. The elephants started doing tricks, turning their trunks into swings and lifting us into the air, huge smiles seemingly spreading across their faces and most certainly plastered upon ours. We rode them through a village to a watering hole and bathed and brushed the animals, and it wasn't until they started shitting balls of feces the size of my head that I remembered exactly where and what I was doing. We got back onto the elephants and rode them back to the dirt field we began in, communicating only in pop songs with the teenage elephant handlers who guided us along the way. It was the stuff inspirational movies are made of.
Yes, I was right to be a little afraid - I was stepping outside of my comfort zone, trying something completely new (and potentially a little dangerous). I believe though that everyday we should be so fortunate to be in that situation, to get to choose to do something which frightens us, makes us grow, and plasters a look of bewilderment on our faces. At very least, it would make Facebook and Instagram so much more interesting.
3) Litter is for losers
Littering is for Losers, always and forever. So many beautiful vistas, small alleyways, rivulets and soft-sand beaches throughout Southeast Asia were tainted by trash, it was depressing. With no pensioners or street sweeping to remedy the situation, it will likely take things getting a lot worse before action is made to clean up the mess.
Since I've returned from my trip, I've come across a lot of 'psychic litterering,' where people selfishly dump their trash - anger, insecurity, jealousy, etc - anywhere they feel like it. It's the same as throwing a plastic bag into the wind, and I believe it's high time everyone take responsibility for how they contribute to or pollute the world, in every word, action and intention. That shit adds up, and its much easier to preventatively act than clean up the mess afterwards.
2) The journey is always better with friends
on the 14 hour sleeper/party train from Bangkok to Chang Mai
When your journey gets confusing and the road gets rough, there is nothing in the world like a best friend or two to help smooth your ride.
I spent one day alone in Bangkok while I waited for Chrissy and Teresa to return from Cambodia, darting between komodo dragons and massive clumps of power lines which drooped down onto the sidewalk outside the Arts of the Kingdom exhibition, and can attest to the loneliness one feels in a foreign place. It's the same feeling I get sometimes in LA, or have had after a break up, or after an argument with a loved one. It's not that I am completely lost or terribly worried or even afraid - it's just that I know things would be a hell of a lot more fun if they could be shared with someone I love. With a friend, dodging sidewalk enemies becomes a game of Frogger. Work becomes play and intellectual discussion becomes salon, a luxurious journey of the mental sort. Every ideal is more attainable, every moment more fun.
I am so grateful for my friends and think it is vitally imperative to value friendship, to nurture relationships, and to take advantage of time spent with friends. This trip in particular was an amazing way to reconnect with Chrissy after she spent 2 years teaching in South Korea, an adventure I had to take advantage of whether it was pilot season in LA or not. When you're the only people speaking English on the back of a crowded truck-taxi chugging through Ubon Ratchathani, giggling about boys is all the more hilarious. Clinging to Teresa's shoulders on the back of a motorbike, terrified of the winding road and a 6 hour journey, a discussion of career is put all the more into perspective.
What's even more exciting is that you don't need to spend money and go all the way across the planet to get quality time with people who love you. Just gotta make the time, show up, and keep proving you're game for the journey. Simple. Awesome.
1) respect those who have gone before you
I'm used to seeing headshots lined up on a wall at a casting office or theatre lobby, but nothing could have prepared me for the entire floor of a building dedicated to double-sided walls of genocide victim portraits. These beautiful men and women were photographed before they were tortured, imprisoned, brutally beaten and left to rot in the killing fields of Cambodia. Their eyes belie confusion, anger, fear, and resignation. In the audio guide from the Choeung Ek Killing Field outside of Phnom Penh, the voiceover earnestly implores the audience to learn from history, to recognize warning signs and acknowledge that horrible atrocities can happen anywhere. The genocide in Cambodia left nearly 3 million people dead, only 30 years ago. It was a tragedy, like many others, I never learned about in any history class.
The responsibility then (as always) to learn from human history is an individual endeavor; one cannot rely upon an educational system or skill-training program to outfit you with every perspective needed to be a discerning citizen or qualified decision-maker. It can be hard to find trustworthy sources, or even be motivated to research, but if you are an artist, a business person, or anyone hoping to have an ounce of influence on humanity during your time on this planet, you owe it to yourself to spend some serious time first looking backward.
I am not the first American to travel to Asia. I am not the first vocalist to wrestle with medium and message. I am not the first improvisor aspiring to use the form to aide communities with skills such as communication, confidence, and acceptance. I am, however, humble enough to look back to those who have pioneered before me and learn from all of their wisdom. I can stare at the faces of those needlessly killed by greed and corruption and recommit myself to leaving this world a little better for me having been there. I can think and act on behalf of those who cannot do so themselves, and I can respect the fact that I may never have all the answers. Not only Can I, but I Must.
Well, that's it guys, my list of 10 things I learned while backpacking Southeast Asia. I will write more soon on the topic, I'm sure, and am happy to answer any questions or listen to any feedback you have if you leave it in the comments section. Thank you for your time and interest in my travels, I wish you many happy voyages a
Okay, if I were to honestly title this blog post, it would be something more like "10 things I was reminded of/that encouraged me/that helped fortify my journey/made me excited to be an artist" while traveling in Southeast Asia, but who wants to read that hokey shit? The truth of the matter is that nothing I write can adequately encapsulate the experience of being in a completely new culture with amazing old friends. In the short 2.5 weeks I was in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia with my best friends, I struggled to journal, e-mail, and speak about how I was feeling - a rare experience for a normally very verbally-oriented, expressive person such as myself. So I've decided to go slowly, writing after-the-fact, posturing my observations in neat little lists or comparisons such as this one. I hope you enjoy reading some of my thoughts and would love to hear from you, too!
10) cash is king // credit is imaginary
500 Riel (about 13 cents USD), 2000 Kip (25 cents USD), 20 Baht (67 cents USD)
In Thailand, there is the Baht. In Laos, the Kip. In Cambodia, they accept Cambodian Riels, Laotian Kip and US dollar. Huh?! Whatever the currency, one needs to figure out the value and keep it on hand, because credit cards are not accepted anywhere. It took a while to get used to it, but now I see this cash-in-hand thing is relevant to day-to-day living. I would argue that regardless of ones' creative or life-long pursuits, you have to pay your dues and put time and effort into things, and that currency is paid in cash only, my friend. There's no way to put shit off and pay later... and that can be a really good thing! When you have to work with what you got, you end up spending only that which you have. You learn and create and produce and consume at a sustainable pace. You are realistic about what things cost and appreciative of things once you have them. You become indebted to people and the opportunities they gave you - not to some credit card company. And while it may take a second to figure out how to work things, find balance, and budget, in the end it's pretty awesome and fulfilling.
9) Leave your expectations at the door
Excerpt from my journal 2/23/13 "Travel from Laos into Cambodia is reminiscent of hell on earth." (I may have been a little overdramatic about the experience. Just a little bit.)
Think you have a plan for a neat, convenient day of travel across borders in Southeast Asia? Nice try. Just like going into an improv scene or starting a jam with a predetermined idea in your head, nothing ever goes as "planned". You will wait in 100 degree heat with a ditch for a toilet and very politely ask every bus driver if its their bus you are supposed to get on and it will not affect the fact that your itinerary said you would arrive at destination 6 hours ago and you've been waiting for 3. Your scene partners, your band mates, and your friendly foreign bus drivers aren't out to destroy your good time - it's just that reality is a combination of multiple perceptions. It is a shared experience, perhaps towards a shared end, but still subject to many unforeseeable factors along the way. Better to ride the wave and live in the moment than cling to how you imagined things to be.
8) There is no easy way
At the previously mentioned border crossing I remember feeling very sad to see some 50-something British folk be kicked off an overcrowded bus only to attempt to get onto ours, fail and get shoved back into the first crazy-crowded bus. Oy. Clearly they had money, some semblance of power and the wherewithal to plan a holiday abroad - but they would still be left at the border if they didn't calm down and settle in to a very uncomfortable bus ride along the unpaved Cambodian roads.
I'd never take back the experience of moving from Ohio to LA, working three jobs, seven days a week to make ends meet, and experiencing sometimes daily rejection, well, because I'm used to it now, but also because now that I do have a little savings and lots of creative free time, I find it doesn't make much difference. I can afford classes and resources important to market and develop my talents, but I still have to work my butt off to get shit done. Similarly, rich, powerful, and narcissistic people can buy their way into success but that only goes so far. They may be on a nicer, more spacious bus, but they're still subject to the potholes and fishtailing ride of an unpredictable industry and world. In short, there is no easy way - and I'd rather have the poems, lyrics, and inside jokes such "challenging" experiences inspires, anyways.
7) Knowing What You Don't Want is an important step towards Knowing What You Do Want
Chang + mango sticky rice. Yum!
It's hard, knowing what you "want" out of life. What to pursue, and how to go about pursuing, is both a real-world challenge and one an actor must consider when approaching a character (witness how casually I am fitting in my artistic analogies). It is also important when choosing food as a pescatarian in Thailand, Laos or Cambodia. Yep, first-world problem, I know, but after a few sick tummy feelings, it was clear I had to scale back on my frog and street-food consumption to keep moving forward healthfully on my trip (yes, I am aware frog is not considered a fish).
The good thing is, you usually have a pretty strong reaction when you don't like things, arguably more so than when you enjoy something or do something "right". You puke. You retreat. You vow to never, ever eat/do/say/think that thing again. These are all wonderful clues leading us towards whatever will make us happy, whichever choice that may be. My diet largely turned to coffee, beer, crackers, veggie fried and mango sticky rice for the duration of my trip, but I never got sick! I learned what to not want, and in exchange got what I wanted! What a freeing experience...and one that extends to so many other decisions in life.
6) The Things You Love Follow You...everywhere
I'll admit - I'm a big wimp sometimes. I was terrified on a motorbike. I cry when I'm really hungry or really tired. There were times on my adventure I wondered why the hell I had purposefully subjected myself to a particular situation. And being 8,000 miles away from LA, I really really really missed my boyfriend Chris and the comfortable, fun life we have built together.
The good thing is I quickly realized that the love and support he and my family and friends back home were sending me was still palpable. Once I calmed down, I knew that comfort, food, affection and fun were all still a part of my life. If I needed to, I could conjure up an image of his smiling face or something fun and simple we had planned, and I knew deep within I would experience that soon. The people I love are always, always with me; they have shaped me, and pushed me forward, and inspired me to go out and see the world. Chrissy and Teresa joined me on this particular adventure, but they've been with me already, every day, for over 20 years now. How fortunate am I to be surrounded and loved by so many amazing people?
I can't wait to walk into my next "big, scary" TV audition with this notion now alive in me. All the nerves I have ever felt seem so insignificant compared to the strength of those who love me, anchoring me from within. I know that is a somewhat mushy way to explain things, but understanding this "capital T" Truth is a powerful way toward being closer to comfort with myself and how I choose to spend my time, and I won't apologize for it!
coming soon... things i learned, part II
I went on a bit of a music blog bender today, doing some research for the studio and for my own selfish music-related interests. Beginning with this master blog list from the nice people over at Pretty Much Amazing, I clicked and scrolled my way through hundreds of sites and many terrible blog platforms to discover some great gems and a whole fat list of new artists to scope out.
I realized a couple of things along my journey I'd like to share here on my own silly little blog:
1) Being a music blogger can be soul-shattering. I've no idea how old PMA's aggregate list is, but a good third of the links I clicked on led to abandoned blogs with depressing missives about how sucky writing about music has become. Worse still was the bloggers who hadn't yet realized the soul-suckage and dedicated multiple pages to How To Not Piss Me Off guidelines. I get it, as the social media gatekeeper to a Hollywood recording studio I am more than aware of terrible marketing tactics of the majority of idiots pushing music in the twenty-teens. But if your love for an art form has turned you into a pretentious scenester with a perma-grimace (see above) you should probably turn to fashion blogging. Its acceptable there.
2) I know some awesome, dedicated, talented people. I already knew this, but turns out it is also true when it comes to music writing. My friend from my days at CMH Records, Seraphina Lotkhamnga, has been steadily fighting the good fight for LA locals and non-natives alike alongside Kevin Bronson over at BuzzBands.LA. Katie Pierce over at Jack in the Pocket has been snagging exclusive interviews with incredible artists over the last few years out of Columbus, Ohio. And while they're a very new web/print start up, the folks at Leveled Mag have consistently curated an eclectic and intelligent mix of music, art, and intersections therein. These are standout destinations amidst a sea of untamed sites. Bookmark 'em, visit them often, and show these guys some love!
3) There is much too much. Forget arguing the ethics of bringing a child into the world - what we need is more discussion of bringing your mp3/blog/band/music/remix into the universe. I'm only half-kidding, and yes, I've had the conversation myself. There will never be enough time to read/see/listen to everything worthy of an audience, so please, writers/musicians/tastemakers/etc, do your best to innovate upon the form/function/perspective or at very least, stir the pot. If a theatre blog can do it, so can you! Burn out is otherwise frighteningly easy (see point number 1).
Ok, enough observing, I gotta get back to surfing. I'd like to thank Pontone, Scissorkast and BBC 6 for providing the soundtrack to today's roaming. If you have a favorite music blog or a writing project on anything Art, please leave links in the comments and I will give it some love!
Chris, my and my Mom in Creed's room at the Cleveland Museum of Art - I love that you can see my dad in the reflection on the window here.
On a recent visit to Cleveland, Chris and I caught Martin Creed's "Work No. 965: Half the air in a given space" in one of my favorite rooms of my favorite art museum, the Cleveland Museum of Art. The interactive exhibit - consisting of a giant room half-filled with thousands of deep purple balloons - was so much fun and such a unique experience, we decided to replicate the piece in a spare bedroom in our home in LA!
With help from LA Balloons and a few roommates and friends, we blew up 1300 blue balloons by Christmas morning. The rumors are true - helium is a rare element these days - but thankfully we only needed air in our balloons and thus rented an air-pump machine to assist our blow-up process. I'd guess it took about 6 or so hours total for all the inflation.
The results were spectacular, a soft ball-pit-sea of blue and white in an already colorful space. As waves of guests arrived at our home throughout the holiday week, we ushered them past the tapestry doorway and into our very own balloon room, where you could run around, create a whirl-pool affect, hide under the layers of latex, dance up a storm, and listen to the electric magic of balloons moving from motion to restfulness.
After fully realizing the investment of time and money a balloon-room takes, and in an attempt to capture some of the magic of the space, we decided to double-up on the fun and shoot a music video. Filming in a sea of balloons comes with its very own challenges, but as I've been editing I am confident the work will have been worth it! More on the video when it is released later this year :)
We popped all the balloons a week later to make room for our new roommate's arrival, a process which was also very enjoyable and a task which was shared by the whole household - dogs included (highly supervised, of course). My gratitude goes out to Christopher, Robin, Emma, Dave, Adrian, Rachel, Sadie-dog and Penny-dog for their help and patience in making the balloon room possible!
I highly encourage you to check out the Cleveland Museum of Art if you are ever in town. Although Work No. 965 ended November 25th, CMA consistentently excites and challenges - and visit Martin Creed's website for more art and even some music from the prolific and inspiring artist.
I recently had the pleasure of working with Erika Flores and Jayne C. Lee of Riotous Films LLC on the short film, Double Barrel. The ladies wrote the script and produced the shoot, with Erika rocking the lead role.
Everything - from audition to table read to filming - went smoothly and was a lot of fun. I even ran into an OU friend Nick Rumancik on set. I look very much forward to seeing the finished project and am grateful to have been involved!
Watch the trailer here: http://vimeo.com/51702897
Give Riotous Films a Like to stay updated on the film's success here: Riotous FB
On a recent trip to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, I came across a really neat-o 'zine independently published by WeIRD in A baD way PRoduCtions while perusing the aisles of Mac's Books on Coventry. Inside, editors "Lauren & Nicole" explain the 'zine started as a joke but, "sometimes you join an imaginary band and things just spiral to new directions." I liked these girls immediately.
The Miser is one of the few publications I've ever come across where I fall more and more in love with each page. After a candid Letter from the Editor, there's a short story/obituary to a local poet, a sampling of the late poet's writing, photography, watercolor drawings, some quotables, suggestions for sustainable living, and even a page for the reader to color on. OK, it's 2 pages. That's how cool this thing is.
Beautiful drawings by Kent State alum Nicole Lundberg
I love that everything in Miser is authentically Cleveland; meaning to me, everything feels like to Cleveland. The poems are somber, but hopeful. The photography is gritty, but colorful. The language is straightforward and unapologetic, rooted in a kind-hearted yearning. When James Mason describes the artwork of an immigrant grandparent in his piece, "Rain Drops," I am reminded of the so many exhibits I've come across in local galleries and my favorite art museum in the whole world - The Clevaland Museum of Art. It's a beautiful thing, to experience the world of these artists in such a thoughtfully-curated, unpretentious, and playful way.
I may no longer live in Cleveland, and I most definitely wrestle with my relationship to the city, but I'm grateful for these artists and happy to have found something so earnest and evocative purely by chance.
Thank you, Miser Magazine! You're a Great Find!
Follow Miser on Facebook here.
i've had the great pleasure to being able to follow the band son ark around LA over the past year or so (i swear, i'd love them even if i weren't dating their bassist) and was very honored when they asked me to be a part of their music video for a song I love - Going to the Woods! after a lot of work from some very talented people, the video is premiering today on buzzbands LA!
click to view:
we shot the video in studio one at eastwest studio and in a house and some woods near northridge. you can read the credits on buzzbands, i just want to say i'm really proud of everyone involved and very very excited to dance with everyone at their video release show this saturday at the echo!
all the details are here, come boogie w/ me!
A few months ago, my multi-talented friend Bryan Cain posted that his musical improv team was having auditions. Looking for a performance outlet to couter-balance my time with Laughter for a Change, I went out for it...and subsequently discovered an outstanding group of unique, hilarious performers working to perfect an incredibly fun art form - Musical Improv.
Our team, Robot Teammate + The Accidental Party, has been rehearsing and performing ever since, achieving a degree of success on the main stage over at iO West at their Monday night Cherry Crush matches. We've won audience favorite for the past 11 weeks - a really rad feat, if I do say so myself!
So what makes the improv musical, you ask? Well, we begin with an audience suggestion from which we improvise a brand-new, never before seen musical theatre piece, including music, melody, lyrics, choreography and a multi-act story structure. Our accompanist, Shawn Grindle, plays the keys, and we somehow manage to bust out something coherent. The audience suggestion can be abstract (My Asymmetrical Face) or more, um, straight forward (The Hairiest Balls in Japan, anyone?).
As a long-time improvisor and a life-long singer, I am obsessed with the form, and still pretty shocked at what a perfect combination of all my favorite things Musical Improv is. How could I have missed this all these years?!
Our next show is Monday, Oct 22 at 10pm at iO West. Details are all here - and watch one of our shows below!
I sang a cover of a Canned Heat song, "Let's Work Together", for the Harvard Pilgrim "Count Us In" ad campaign by Hill Holliday. The spots are currently being broadcast on the East Coast and marks my first multi-platform collaboration with the talented dudes at Skyrmish 'bespoke music and sound design'.
The whole campaign is about the amazing things that happen when people work together, using homemade YouTube videos and our take on the 1970s boogie rock tune. I really dig the aesthetic, the message, and everyone involved in the project, and it's pretty rad to hear my voice on a broadcast ad - check it out why doncha!
Keep an eye out if you're on the East Coast, watch the whole campaign here - or watch my favorite video, Barn Move, below!
there was a fire
smoke filled up the air
we left the place burning
and no one even cared
There were fires in Los Angeles yesterday, creeping up along the Sepulveda Pass and clouding the skyline view seen all the way across town in Hollywood. Thankfully it doesn't seem to be an arsonist, like the fires of last winter, but still - the brush fires of LA are an odd thing for an LA-transplant. The idea that at any time, any dry patch in LA could catch fire is wild to me. I remember leaving Shakespeare at Barnsdale Park one time and seeing the hillside directly opposite from us on fire. I thought at the time "How frightening", yet I went on with my evening and was hardly bothered at all. A curious objection to worrying, but I assure my out of town loved ones that it really isn't that concerning for us neighboring denizens. The traffic is the worst of it, if you're not a property owner.
All this fire talk of course reminds me of a track we wrote called A FIRE, still one of my favorites we've written because of the magic involved in its creation. Sitting on the front porch at Ben Ave, Adrian came up with the guitar melody. Chris had to go to band practice or something for a while, so I went to Martel for a jog and while running the lyrics and melody flew into my brain. For some reason, the phrase I secluded above stuck strongly in my mind as the crux of the tale. We reconvened a little bit later that night and hammered out the track, later adding Jacob on violin and Robin on the trumpet, and the next day, Adrian tracked the delicate harmonies I love so much. In less than 72 hours we had this really interesting, moody track, which came completely through some magic combination of the people, the late summer sun, and the desire of song to exist in a recorded sense. Apologies if that is hokey but sometimes songs really feel like they were waiting to be born, just on the other side of existence until someone or something sets it free and brings it into our physical realm. Plus, my love for Chris was catching fire at the time, which only served to sweeten the experience a million times over. More hokiness, I know...
I later edited together some footage I had gathered around Christmas time in Cleveland, New Years out in Joshua Tree, a work trip to Vegas and bits of LA to create my very first editing project, a music video of sorts for "A Fire". My sister and parents, Robin and Chris, myself and my grandmother all make cameos, which makes for a very special home video/collage I enjoy very much. The actual editing could use some work, but again - its the magic of the moments I captured in the video that are important to me. Plus those giant snowflakes are really fun to play with during editing.
Check out the video above or listen to the track here and let me know what you think!
Consumption is a dirty word. Sounds a little too close to 'dump' for my liking. Dump is a dirty, dirty word.
But consuming is a vital part of existing in any particular ecology. A teacher wouldn't teach without first going to school. A server wouldn't hock a menu without first trying the items being served. Ok, maybe these are bad examples but often we create whatever it is we artists create - music, theatre, film, comedy - so doggedly that we neglect to continue to consume. We are SO diligent and SO determined and SO used to hocking our own artistic wares we forget to see the forest for the trees.
It's easy to say that living in LA or NYC or whatever metropolis you moved to in order to pursue your art is SO expensive that it is hard to get out. That is a lame excuse, and any artist worth his or her salt can find ways to thriftily take in their surroundings. Unless we're talking about getting tickets to Book of Mormon.
In LA, it is easy to say it was SO hard to get to this or that side of the 405, or out of your bedroom for that matter. This is also a lame excuse. You know why.
You may try to say you are too busy to get out + see other peoples art. In some instances, this is a valid argument, but if you are not on tour, doing 16 hour days on set, or parent of a newborn child, I'm not buying it. Schedules can be built, time can be made, and chances are there is some nonsense which you regularly partake in which will not help you as an artist as much as getting out and seeing other artists' work. Firsthand.
When's the last time you allowed something to touch you deeply and then followed the rabbit hole to see where it led to next? When is the last time you experienced something brilliant and instead of sharing it, meditated on it? When is the last time you stepped outside of your chosen medium and took in a poem, a clown show, an art film, a piece of interactive theatre, an orchestra?
It is hard to see everyone's everything - I'm vague-blogging towards you, Friend who does a different play every single month - and certainly that is a vain pursuit, but I hope this little pep talk inspires you, Friend who says They are uninspired/exhausted/broke/stuck on the other side of the 405, to get out and scare yourself a bit. Get intimidated. Become a fan of other artists. Stop ramming your head into the same exact spot in the wall and scoot over an inch.
And let me know how it goes!
Jeff modeling the fantastic OJ shirt I picked up for him at a thrift store in Cleveland years ago, flanked by the fake playbill for the meta-theatrical OJ Simpson musical mockumentary we are wrapping this weekend
I love how on CastingAbout.com, they describe the premise of every TV comedy in a few short words and then insert the phrase "wackiness ensues", as if every comedy were just a collection of wacky people. That is LIFE, folks! You make plans and then...wackiness ensues! Ahh!
Speaking of wacky people, me and a bunch of friends from OU + LA are wrapping filming on Orenthal: The Musical, a feature mockumentary comedy, this weekend. I play Elaine, a conservative arts administrator who ousts Eugene Olivier when I discover the true nature of the play he is putting on in our hallowed theatre. This film has been a passion project of my wacky friend Jeff (see evidence of wackiness in photo, below) for a few years now, and features Jordan K. Kamp, Malcolm Barrett, Larisa Oleynik, Owiso Odera, Mimi Michaels, Jonathan Slavin, Sarah Hagan, Paul Scheer, Bianca DeGroat, Jessica Andres, Eric Martig, Eddie Steeples, John Atzberger, Tom Myers, Ben Begley, Ewan Chung, Katie Skelton, myself and many other awesome people!
I am so stoked to see this project come full circle, filming has been so far has been a blast, the premise is absurd and theatrical + it is always amazing to work with good friends! I've heard some wonderful feedback from the rough cuts so far, so I will keep ya'll updated on any wackiness that ensues re: festivals, distro, etc.
This morning I jogged past a high school and caught someone talking over the PA system for what seemed like a ridiculously long time. It was the sort of teacher-on-Charlie-Brown, roller coaster attendant, inattentive pilot mumble-drone that makes you giggle and question whether the person talking is actually serious. There's no way anyone can understand that shit! I can't even begin to type the gibberish I heard.
The sensation I had listening to that announcement is very similar to the sensation I had recounting my week, a sort of what-the-hell-was-that-feeling.
Beginning Sunday, I filmed two days on two separate projects, had 2 musical improv rehearsals and one live performance, recorded four demos of a cover for a commercial music project, went to two live music shows, edited two short videos, and helped run house at one live theatre/clown show. Its the sort of fantasy week full of creative/fun projects that, if I hadn't also put in 32 hours working at the studio, might have sated my artistic hunger, but instead left me completely pooped come Thursday night. I pathetically whimpered over the phone to my equally-busy boyfriend, I'm so confused. I'm so tired!
Why am I sharing this, you may ask? Well, first of all it is my blog and I'm allowed to talk to myself in a public forum if I want to. Also, as a friend on Facebook articulated this week, we often only project our shiny, happy, most-glowing selves online. When we're far away from family and friends and people who care about us, and too busy to catch up on the phone or in a letter, those VIPs buy into the broadcast wholeheartedly. While I am by no means a proponent of depressing, passive-agressive status updates, I think its important to share a variety of emotional colors, and a blog is an appropriate place to do so. So this is that. Somewhat.
This is also a promise to myself that I will quit droning on, throwing my energies in all sorts of directions all at once. It is a somewhat necessary component of this stage in my career, but if I keep at it to this degree I will start to become just as enthusiastic and clear-intentioned as that person on the loudspeaker this morning. And no one can listen to that shit without giggling.
I'm cutting some fat, simplifying what I can, and taking the weekend to relax with one of my very favorite VIPs, my sister Michelle. Still keeping my fingers crossed on those demos, but dammit, it's time to show gratitude and rest up for next week! I wish you the same good-sort-of-giggle fun this weekend and thank you for reading... xo
in last week's post, i toted the value of process over product. in theatre, i feel, it's important to ask "What Can We Do?" and then offer up solutions, pushing personal, political and aesthetic boundaries to offer up something new. i was surprised that many readers, while they agreed with my ideals, brushed that manifesto off as too lofty.
i've observed much of the same regard for process over the past year and a half when it has come to making music. for me, the entire series of events - from creating music to writing melodies and lyrics to getting behind a microphone and arranging a song - is completely new. yes, i've been making up songs my whole life, but to record, collaborate, and share that music takes a great deal of confidence and a surprising amount of coordinated effort. it's kind of terrifying, really.
in the following video, i may not be innovating the art of music, but i am quite literally asking "Can I do this?". chris sousa, genius handsomepants + partner in crime, has given me the music, i have written the lyrics, and now i have video'd myself singing the melody before we go into the studio, a sort of temp vocal track for the engineering-impaired. i have to ask myself: does this work? are the words i've written terrible + cliche? am i even a singer at all? why do i keep looking up at the ceiling?!
i thankfully was not overwhelmed with self-doubt on this track, and we later went into our friend Wil's closet-vocal-booth to record vocals and EastWest studio 2 to track and mix what ended up sounding like this: Houdini. we'd like to do a remix of the track before we properly release it on our album, but i wanted to share a little bit of the process of things now, while i was on the topic.
i feel pretty shy about sharing both versions, because they are both works in progress and because working on them pushed my personal boundaries quite a bit. i'd love to have a completely finished version of the song which i am 100% in love with, but just like that first reading of a new play, or a rough edit of a film, these steps along the way to completion are valuable and worthy of sharing. and while i know in my own harshly-critical way that not all works-in-progress should be universally heralded as valiant efforts to create Art, this one is. it lives up to my ideals. it forced me to grow, scare myself a bit, and learn. achieving that was not too lofty, now, was it?