Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How Many is Too Many?

Hello my name is Gregory and I'm a 'project-a-holic'.

I have neglected this blog because there are so many projects currently on my plate, I simply can't get around to everything. And yet...I THRIVE on staying busy and juggling so many. Sometimes, we simply have to stop and re-order our lives. Hit reboot. Prioritize and in doing so, accomplish more by seeing what rises to the top of the heap. That's what is going on with me. While I have several books I want to get around to writing, I just need more time to be able to address those.

The freelance writing has had to slow way down and in some respects, I've had to stop some of those gigs all together. Again - not enough hours in the day.

I've maintained my priority of 'paying-it-forward' which manifests itself via emails and discussions with new authors, people questioning what has worked (and hasn't) for me, assisting indie artist in marketing of their projects from crowd-sourcing films to new books. I really do love to help out others (when there is time).

I've been busy writing another children's book (and I can't wait to share the information on that).

I'm directing the musical [title of show] - back directing for the first time in three years! It is an amazing cast, an incredible show, and one that I feel a true fondness towards. (It opens one month from tonight!)

And there is another huge project on my list that I'm still entirely too nervous to discuss for fear of jinxing it, but as soon as I can...you can bet I'll be blogging about that!

So I'll sit back down at this meeting of 'project-a-holic anonymous' and get back to work.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Therapist Uses Cooking to Communicate with Children

I am so proud to be a part of the ASD Publishing family where such a diverse line-up of books are published.  This week, they have their latest book - therapist/author Allison Carver who has a unique approach to therapy and cooking. With her new book, she is looking to reinvent the 'family meal time' by bringing families back together - something I was used to growing up with in the 70s, but is very difficult for those raising children in 2013. 

In her debut book, "Cooking Therapy: The Recipe for ImprovingCommunications with Your Children through Cooking" (ISBN: 978-0-9853441-8-4, ASD Publishing), Carver gives practical advice for parents looking to involve their children in the kitchen while cooking.

Carver is a Licensed Professional Counselor who earned her Master's of Education and Educational Specialist Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Virginia. But it is the unique business, A Taste of Therapy, LLC, she owns and develops that I wanted to discuss with her: a one of a kind company that combines the power of therapy with the process of cooking. As a Culinary Therapist, she believes that through the process of cooking, one can relax, unwind and connect with others.

I asked her a few questions for my blog and in the middle of her busy launch; she was able to get back to me!

Gregory: Thanks for joining me, Allison! So, when did you start A Taste of Therapy?

Allison: Back in 2010.
Gregory: What made you decide to launch your own company around cooking and food?
Allison: I've always felt that cooking was relaxing and when working with clients in therapy I always wondered if it would help to relax them to. Also I found that in the therapy world there was very little use of creativity in actual therapy practice. I wanted to change that. When working with clients (especially kids and adolescents) I found they enjoyed doing something while talking. And I started thinking...hmm...what about cooking? I felt that keeping them busy helped them to engage in the therapy process more. I always felt that the process of cooking was relaxing and felt that if incorporated properly into the therapy process it would work for many different types of clients! And it did!
Gregory: Where did the idea of mixing therapy and cooking originate?
Allison: Honestly, It just came to me one day. I knew that I wanted to make therapy more approachable, creative, and engaging for people who may feel a little hesitant about therapy. I also wanted to provide folks with a tangible way to relax and deal with life's stressors in the comfort of their own home. Therapy can seem intimidating, and this allows for therapy to come into your home in a fun and calming way. Plus, you have to eat, so why not use that process as a way to help you relax!
Gregory: What is your favorite kind of food to cook and/or eat?
Allison: This is ALWAYS the hardest question for me! I love to cook and eat everything. I find all kinds of food exciting and fun to try. I know that doesn't help. But I do love to cook southern comfort classics, because it reminds me of my past and childhood. But my favorite kind of food to eat that I don't make for myself is Indian food.
Gregory: Lastly, does your husband help out in the kitchen and if so...what's his favorite 'job' that you talk about in your book?
Allison: Yes! He and I always cook together. He's a huge help and we switch up jobs in the kitchen and it actually works well. It's how we get caught up with each other from the day. He always says he's my sous chef and he enjoys that job.

Here is the info from the back cover: Many people hear the word therapy and run the opposite direction. Carver hopes it will have you running to your kitchen. With "Cooking Therapy," she has created a way for families to communicate, connect, and come together all in one location. Through recipes, anecdotes, and therapeutic tips, Carver has mapped out a way to reinvent the family mealtime by bringing everyone together before and during a meal. It is that time at the dinner table and the act of cooking together that Carver believes is the secret to improving communication in the family.

Follow Carver on her websiteFacebookor Twitter to learn more about this unique form of therapy.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

When Murder Can Be Hysterical

There is nothing like being asked by a friend to join you at the theater when you really have no idea what you’re seeing. I knew it was a show at the uptown Second Stage Theatre, but that was about it.

What a treat I received with Murder for Two!

This musical mixes an Agatha Christie type murder mystery with a Carol Burnett sketch comedy routine. Two actors tell the story of an investigator who arrives at the scene of a crime to decide ‘who-done-it’ when meeting all the suspects at a party. And all the suspects are played by one actor. As an author, I loved that the premise was set around the killing of…an author.

I have always enjoyed Jeff Blumenkrantz from How to Succeed… to A Class Act (to many other shows). But I never realized how incredibly talented he is until after this show. He plays every suspect, switching back and forth (many times in the middle of a song) - male and female without ever changing a costume.  I was completely exhausted for him by the end of the 90 minute show. (And I thought doing Das Barbecue was a hard show! Wow!) I left with such a newfound appreciation for him.

The writing team
I don’t know Brett Ryback as he has done much regional theater work, but I think New York has a new star on their hands. Charming, talented, perfect comic timing, amazing voice – and a wonderful ‘yin’ to Blumenkrantz’s ‘yang’.

This musical comedy is cleverly written by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair. Both wrote the book and Kinosian supplies the score which covers a wide range of old-time genres which Blair has a knack for writing perfect rhymes that makes this former BMI Musical Theatre writer smile.

The two actors are also composers in their own right, so the sense of the evening has a feel of actually watching the creative team who put the entire thing together. (Almost like when Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen allowed actors across the world to start playing ‘them’ in [title of show].) While I loved the actors by night’s end, I actually felt I was getting to know Kinosian and Blair as well; something that doesn’t happen every time you see a musical. (Many people forget the writing team.)

The set design by Beowulf Boritt is kept simple in this musical, yet every single piece on the stage is used at some point. (I love the nod to the board game CLUE.) I would not want to give anything away, but let me send out kudos to the sound designer Jill B C Du Boff who (for me) was another character in the show. Scott Schwartz has directed this 90 minutes as a face-paced romp that never let’s up or allows an audience to even think of an intermission.

And did I mention the main piece on the stage is a grand piano. A piano that both men play…yes, they are the ‘pit’ in this musical. It is stunning to watch the choreography as they switch back and forth to accompany themselves or each other, often in the middle of a song. And when they sit and play together and smile at the audience, we are pulled right in as they say to us “isn’t this the best time you’ve had in a long time?”

Yes. I think it is.

Thank you, Second Stage for another great night of theater! The show only runs until August 25th. Get to the upper West side now! 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

When Personal Views Play Out on A Global Stage

The situation in Russia over LGBT rights has been playing out in my mind so much lately. From the proposed boycotts, the Olympics, the views of Putin, to the citizens taking the law into their own hands and harassing and beating people assumed to be gay – it sometimes seems unbelievable this is happening in 2013.

Depending on where you live, you are able to take so many things for granted. Walking safely down the street as a couple is one of them. I will never forget the first time I was walking down the street in Rehoboth Beach at night holding the hand of my partner, and hurled a gay slur that not only stung, but caused real fear.  As I watch more and more states in the US putting equality over hate, I am overcome with joy. But when a country like Russia allows for citizens to seek out gays to humiliate, beat, kill or turn over to the authorities, my heart is broken.

When I visited St. Petersburg, Russia in 2008, luckily my partner and I traveled with a female couple and even then we felt the need to 'pretend' to be heterosexual couples. I now realize I could never safely go back to that country. When you travel abroad, we are always taught we abide by the laws of that country. The same when visitors come to America. And yet I’m reading where the LGBT community is being told to visit Russia next year during the Olympics to make it ‘the gayest Olympics ever’. That doesn't seem wise to me. To blatantly break a law of a country in which you do not reside doesn't seem logical.

Instead, I believe the world needs to view this as human rights – not gay rights. As Americans deal with ‘walking while black’, I also feel no person should be attacked for simply walking down the street and to have the appearance of being gay (and in Russia’s case, promoting pedophilia which makes my skin crawl to equate the two). No matter where one may stand on the issue of gay marriage in your own country, what gives people the right to treat other humans in this way? History has shown it time and again and until the world holds a country accountable, a boycott of vodka or a small group of protesters are not going to match the power of an entire country.

I've heard it said if gay Olympians do not travel there next year, they will be seen as cowards. I disagree.  Fighting authorities/the law in a country in which you do not live is very different from being a citizen of that country and taking a stand. Naturally I feel terrible for those Olympians that have spent their lives training for their big moment and now that moment will be spent in a country that not only views them as less than equal, but can arrest them for simply being gay.

So what are they to do? What are we to do as we look towards winter of 2014 and how are countries that allow same-sex marriage supposed to protect their Olympians? 

I wish I had an answer. I wish there was an easy decision to be made. But I feel this will not be easy for anyone involved. NBC and advertisers that support the Olympics will be viewed as anti-human rights. Countries that have legalized same-sex marriage will seem hypocritical if attending the Olympics. Personal views on both sides will play out in a way that will only cause strife for many involved – and give television panels hours worth of talking points.

But in the end, human rights are human rights. I realize I still live in a state that doesn’t see me as equal, but at least I don’t think I’m going to be beat up on the street because of who I am. And if I am beat in a hate crime, I want to believe the laws and leaders in my country will be on my side.

This blog offers no answers. Only hope that countries will not put their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is happening.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pippin Carves Out His Niche in the World

As a proud member of the theater community, I must admit I’ve never seen the musical “Pippin” on stage. Sure, I know the music (we sang it in third grade choir and I sang “With You” at a wedding in the early 90s), I saw the TV version with ‘The Greatest American Hero’ in the 80s – but I’ve never really thought “oh, I need to see that when it’s playing somewhere locally”. It is truly a concept musical where players take on the roles to give a tale to an audience. Songs don’t always have as much to do with the plot as they do with giving a theme/message/lesson. When it appeared in the early 70s, it made a statement about war and where our country was at that moment.

The revival that opened three months ago on Broadway and won numerous Tony awards is full of the magic and miracles mentioned in the opening song. What a production! What a cast! Director Diane Paulus has a vision of the journey she wanted to take her audience on and boy…does she take us! While she still incorporates the legendary Bob Fosse moves (via her choreographer Chet Walker), she has ‘tamed down” the sex and made it a family-friendly circus with the aid of Gypsy Snider. The environment they have created with spectacle and breath-holding stunts done by performers can match the falling chandelier a block over with no problem what so ever.

So much has been said about a woman playing the Leading Player – both from purist and others. (I actually spoke to a female director friend of mine who did the same thing several years ago when she directed it.)  There really is no reason why this role must be male or female. Patina Miller is an incredible ring master in this circus: singing, dancing, doing stunts and then showing some great acting chops towards the final scenes of the play. Matthew James Thomas is an adorable Pippin (that has gone blonde since starting the show and looks much more like a boy band member now). He has an incredible voice and makes us want to root for him on his quest to discover his purpose in life. I do wish the music director would not have been so lenient on back phrasing when he sings. We know these songs, so the fact he gets so behind the measure makes it sound like he is off. (Personal pet peeve, I’m sure – but it’s very noticeable.) It was wonderful to see Terrence Mann and real life wife Charlotte D’Amboise working together as Charles and Fastrada. I’ve always been a fan of both and they do not disappoint. (And they have plenty of examples of their own kind of magic acts throughout the show.)

Andrea Martin is fabulous in anything she does. The fact this 66 year old woman (my own mother turned 67 the day before I saw this, so that blew me away) can do ALL that she does in this show is incredible. And the audience knows it. Applause that goes on forever when her song ends with several jumping to their feet shows the appreciation for her work, as does the awards she has won for the show. But I have to say my favorite ‘secondary’ actor had to be Rachel Bay Jones as Catherine. What comic timing. What a beautiful voice. And what depth of acting to show a range of emotions needed by this character. I was blown away by her and wish she had been acknowledged more when it was awards time.

This is the most well known work of Roger O. Hirson who wrote the book. A story that draws from real life characters and spends its time teaching audiences while it teaches Pippin. Stephen Schwartz knows his way around great songs. He has proved it over and over. This score (naturally) speaks to the time it was written and has a real 70s sound, but he still gets the premise that by a second song in a show – we should know what the main character WANTS. With “Corner of the Sky” – we know exactly what Pippin is after: the universal theme of seeking out something different, something better. Striving to be extraordinary in an ordinary world. I see nothing wrong with that message.
There is a nostalgic feeling for this piece with those that hold it near and dear to their heart (because they have done a college production or because they can sing every song). You get that sense from the moment the show starts and people are clapping and screaming for every single 'moment' when it starts. Thank you, Ms. Paulus for believing it was time audiences heard that message once again and for giving us your take on this forty year old story.