Monday, June 30, 2014

Artistic Spaghetti

I've been known to dabble in many creative worlds - not wanting to be told I can only do one thing. (Who really likes to be told anything?) Recently I've said I was just throwing things against a wall to see what would stick and a friend dubbed it as artistic spaghetti.

I LOVE my artistic spaghetti.

It makes me so happy to keep my mind going in a creative realm, whatever that may be. I realize how lucky I am to have a spouse that supports all my desires to be in the artistic world and June has been an amazing time in that world for me.

SPT Reading
I officially started my new job as the Theater Manager of the historic Irvington Town Hall Theater in Irvington, NY. There I get to start new programming while being surrounded by creative people coming and going as they present wonderful productions and event.

I had a reading of my play Well With My Soul at the Seeing Place Theater in NYC and then turned around and submitted it for another contest dealing with LGBT themed works. The value of hearing your work come alive can't be measured. My hope is to get it into the hands of a theater willing to take the time to develop it fully.

NJ Film School
I signed up months ago for a crash course in filmmaking as I wanted to be able to talk shop with my director on the film HE IS GONE while she was busy filming the teaser for our film and we're in fundraising mode. I've always wanted to do more film work.  We've been expanding ASD Publishing to ASD Media & Entertainment to allow for film, theater projects and other creative endeavors. That class at the NJ Film School opened my eyes to so much. As a theater director for years, I am now certain I want to direct my own short that I've written based on my book Proud Pants. And who knows what will come next!

And Chicken Boy continues to fly and keep me creatively involved in the autism world. I was involved in a fun twitter party with other MeeGenius authors as we discussed their author challenge they are doing again. I'm taking the books to Cape Cod next month to share with children there. And some other things may be in the works that can't be discussed publicly yet, but once I can - naturally I'll share them.

Yes - like an artist with a huge canvas that I've thrown paint on, I'm waiting for that one thing to stick and stay on the wall. But I also enjoy the process. It's not always about the finished product. I love learning and experiencing new things. If I stop learning and trying, I think that's when I'll just dry up. 
So this non-Italian will continue cooking spaghetti until he's done!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Random Acts of Kindness

When you think of an act of kindness, do you suddenly picture a boy scout taking an elderly woman across the street? There are numerous ways to show kindness throughout the day. A please. A thank you. Words can go a long way in treating someone in how you would like to be treated.

And then there are those pay-it-forward moments. We hear of those on social media. Someone pays for the person behind them in line. Leaves a note on a car window. Even using social media to share someone's story that may be trying to raise money to get an operation for their child. 

Some of those things don't take much of your time or effort. And guess what? It really DOES make you feel good doing something for someone else that is selfless and without prompting. Try it and tell me if you don't get a warm place in that chest like the Grinch!

Recently I stopped into a quick-stop Mexican eatery and noticed a long line. Yet the person at the cash register was working over time to make every customer feel special, at ease - going above and beyond. Her attitude also trickled down to the other employees working that line. I discovered she was the owner of the store and dealing with so much that day. The soda machine had given out,  water was leaking all around it, and she was using a smile and occasional queso and ice cream samples as apologies to customers. Her staff was working hard to keep water soaked up while serving customers, yet the owner wanted people to remember their experience and not the mess of the day.

After finishing my meal, I stood around waiting for her until she asked if she could help me. I just felt the need to tell her how great it was to watch her. I even said I wished I was on Undercover Boss and could tell her she was getting some great gift, but I just wanted her to know what she was doing was not going unnoticed. I threw some money into the tip jar for the hard working people, we exchanged names and she said said she hoped I would tell people about her place and I was on my way.

A small thing to do, but so many times we just move on with our day not even thinking about all the 'stuff' someone else may be dealing with. 

Random acts of kindness; paying-it-forward…it really doesn't take too much of our time to do it now and again.

To Franchise owner, Mia Diprizito at Moe's Southwest Mexican Grill in Paramus, NJ - I salute you for being an awesome owner and all around cheerful person! And if you are in the Paramus area, stop by and feel greeted with -  "Welcome to Moe's!" Know that when Mia says it…she means 'welcome'. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Wyoming Returns to New York

One of the things I love about New York is that in every nook and cranny of the vast city, theatrical productions abound. The city is more than the league of Broadway houses that tourists know so well. Off-Broadway flourishes in a way much different than the rules of Broadway. And then we have off-off Broadway where artist can be artist and one can sense they are in the presence of performers who are there for the love of it.

That's how I felt attending The Seeing Place Theater on West 54th Street.

The company has been in existence for five seasons and have garnered wonderful reviews from their productions. They pride themselves on being an actor's ensemble where performers are allowed to change up their performance each evening - living in the moment. This makes for a unique and different experience and as an audience member - you can actually feel the spontaneity in the air. 

Laramie Ensemble
For pride month, they are in the middle of presenting The Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman and the Members of the Tectonic Theater Project. For those few that do not remember this amazing project, members traveled to Laramie, Wyoming after Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die on a fence - all for being gay. The story took the country by storm - bringing hate crimes and the LGBT community into the living rooms of all on the nightly news. The year was 1998, two years before same-sex marriage first was introduced to the US in Vermont and one month before Hawaii and Alaska passed constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage. In short, the world was different 16 years ago.

Cast of Laramie
And this is one of the reasons I applaud Artistic Director Brandon Walker and Managing Director Erin Cronican who co-directed this production. They understood the importance of history. That one must be reminded so as not to repeat it. And what an incredible production they have in this small space on the 4th floor of a building where the story feels as timely today as when the horrible tragedy first happened. This fine ensemble of actors change seamlessly into different characters as they allow the people of Laramie to tell their story through monologues. Both Walker and Cronican are part of the 8 member ensemble and each actor brilliantly maneuvers their way across the terrain of diverse characters - bringing each to life. This is not a show in which one calls out one over another because they all carry so much weight, so much importance - and not a weak link in the bunch. Traveling to prop tables and clothes racks to morph into different ages, genders - real people…the ensemble is always in character no matter where they are on stage. I was spellbound of how they managed to transport us with few set pieces, string of lights to represent the vast night sky - and that chalkboard wall: wow. Powerful theater.

Jonathan Miles, Elle Emerson, Kathryn Neville Brown
You still have time to see this show. Don't miss it. Even if you've seen it before, you owe it to yourself to witness Kathryn Neville Browne, Erin Cronican, John D’Arcangelo, Elle Emerson, Logan Keeler, Jonathan Miles, Christina M Pastor, and Brandon Walker.  

The Seeing Place Theater located at 314 West 54th Street. The Laramie Project runs through June 29th. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Taking The Stage - Alone

I'm always so impressed with people that can get up and do a one-person show. Cabaret artist do it. They take us away in song strung together with patter/stories and entertain us for an hour to 90 minutes. I've seen plays that may be based on real people, Tea For Three and even Audra's award-winning performance as Billie Holiday. Then there are those that the person performing is taking us on a journey of their one story. Bill Bowers. Man 1: Bank 0. Each of them showing their venerability through laughter and sometimes tears.

Tonight I got to witness the first preview of The Lion - an American Premiere musical at City Center presented by Manhattan Theatre Club. And while it's not opening and I shouldn't 'review' this new work - I just want to say: go see this limited engagement.

I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was a one man show. I knew he was playing his guitar. That's all I knew. Benjamin Scheuer has truly shown us his soul in both words and music. He takes us on the journey of love, loss..of life and he plays - and plays - and man, can this man strum a guitar. Pathos. Pain. Incredible beauty. 

As a reader and a publisher, I am drawn to memoir. I love to see what makes someone tick. Why they are the way they are and especially what they have learned from an experience. I always want a 'take--away' at the end of the chapter, and Mr. Scheuer gave an amazing take away tonight.

Thank you for sharing it and as always, thanks to MTC for presenting such wonderful works.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Celebrate Gay Pride with Ex Gay Minister

Book Release Party Oct '11
Yes, you read that blog title correctly. Many people thought I was crazy as a gay man to write about an ex gay minister, but it was his internal conflict that drew me to him and wanted to share his story. And now, I get the chance to share his story in a totally new way. 

I am so honored to have a reading of my play Well With My Soul presented at The Seeing Place Theater in NYC as part of their TSP Unplugged Readings Series. My play about a conflicted self-professed "ex-gay" man joins two well known titles presented in their series,  in conjunction with their main stage production of The Laramie Project, to kick off Gay Pride Week in NYC on June 23rd…I am beside myself! Honored. Humbled. Blessed. So much thanks to this company that presents challenging and sometimes controversial subject matters.

The Unplugged Reading Series is a FREE AEA reading and will take place on Monday, June 23rd at 7pm (arrive by 6:45 to get a seat) with a talk-back after the reading at ATA's Sargent Theater (314 W 54th Street…4th Floor) Between 8th & 9th Ave in NYC. (Also - do not miss your chance to see The Laramie Project presented during gay pride month.)

Those that follow this blog know that WELL WITH MY SOUL was my first novel published in fall of 2011 after years of writing it, but some may not know it was written as a play first (with a small reading held in '07). After not touching the play version in years, I returned to it last year - diving into the 15 years covered in the book to find a new way to tell this controversial story. A story that very few know is actually based on more truth than fiction. And now with James Franco getting ready to tackle the story of "ex-gay" Michael Glatze in a film and marriage equality gaining stronger momentum daily, the timing felt right to share a story from the 80s that is not really that long ago in the LGBT history. A story that many people in the LGBT community have lived in one way or another. I can't wait to hear the Seeing Place Theater's patrons constructive thoughts after the reading.

National Coming Out Day '11
So if you are in NYC, please come and join us and give me your thoughts on what you hear!

About the play:  Jacob Garrett, a transplant southern minister living in New York City in the late 80s, believes he is doing God's will by trying to get a young gay man to pray away the gay. But while sharing stories of his past that included drugs, homosexuality, and an arrogant lifestyle, Jacob's own life as a married father seems to have more turmoil than peace. Told in a non-linear way, Well With My Soul captures two lifetimes battling within one soul.

Here is a list of the Seeing Place Theater's full FREE reading series for Gay Pride Month:

Mon, June 16 & June 24 (7pm)

The chilling epilogue to THE LARAMIE PROJECT which asks the question, "How does society write its own history?" By Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project.

Tue, June 17 (7pm)

Moises Kaufman uses trial transcripts, personal correspondence, interviews and other source materials to tell the story of the downfall of the great man of letters whose artistic genius has long been overshadowed by the scandal surrounding his imprisonment.

Mon, June 23 (7pm) -
WELL WITH MY SOUL by Gregory G. Allen
This new play explores the story of a man who becomes a pastor to try to "pray away the gay" in others and in himself. Told in a non-linear way, WELL WITH MY SOUL captures two lifetimes battling within one soul.

Tue, June 24 (7pm)

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quiet Please - There's a Lady on Stage

If you attend many cabaret shows, you know you are in for some songs with stories peppered throughout all cleverly rehearsed with a casual feeling to it. In a sense, that's what those stepping into the Circle in the Square Theatre are in for with the three piece band playing and smoke setting the mood. Only Billie Holiday didn't stick to a rehearsed script, instead singing songs as she would feel them and sharing a few more stories than those around her wanted her to share. Most of the time, while strung out and not always clear of what she was saying or singing.

Essentially, Lonnie Price has wonderfully directed a one woman show that is an intimate concert including "Strange Fruit" and "God Bless the Child" - but is oh so much more. Lanie Robertson has written a peek into a world many of us never experienced with the talented and broken Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill.

That Audra McDonald can maintain the 'character' for an entire evening is a credit to the brilliance that is Ms. McDonald. She deserves every single accolade she has received for this role. The moment she entered the room, she is already walking crooked and 1/2 baked. And yet she still has so much further to go and more to share. She never mimics Ms. Holiday-no - she inhabits her. Channels her. At times I felt I had been transported and was watching the real person there in the dark room (with wonderful lighting effects and images presented behind a scrim). Not only does an actress have to carry an entire show, but she sings, smokes, drinks, curses,  takes us on a roller coaster in one evening as her moods can shift on a dime. At times, I was uncomfortable and exhausted for her. Brilliant is not an adequate word to describe what we are witnessing on that stage. I've always known she is an incredible performer. She can sell a song like very few singers - always acting her way through it. But here, she is an actress - and the Tony committee was right in putting her in the play category and not musical. Ms. McDonald is acting in such a way that we never see her acting - even as close as many people are to her. She interacts with audience members, works with a dog, and always seems as if she is living in every single moment - never ACTING.

I was so blown away and so glad that I saw this limited production. There is a reason that if she can not go on, the show is cancelled. She is the show. There are those that say they saw Ethel Merman on stage or Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl…I am so happy to know I'll be able to say that I witnessed Audra McDonald portray Billie Holiday. Thank you for the gift of your sheer talent. New York is lucky to be living in the period where Audra McDonald can grace a stage now and again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dolly & I Believe It's Ok to Be Different

I grew up on country music in Texas. I remember my mother listening to Dolly Parton and Porter Wagner along with countless other royalty of the country music world. I've always loved Dolly, but listening to her interviewed on Sirius Radio for a Town Hall session from May 14th by Kathie Lee Gifford and my affection grew even more. It's her attitude mixed with her incredible talent that makes me smile. She mentioned how her song "Coat of Many Colors" is her favorite that she performs and what a message that has today in the world of bullying that it is ok to be different. (There is even a children's book written based on it.)
Dolly, like the exact words I have on my own website, is not one to be 'placed in a box' and told she can only do one thing. I always thought I was a freak for putting my hands into so many projects the way that I do. Even as I recently started a new job as a theater manager in Irvington, NY - someone there mentioned that I have such a varied background. At first, I felt the need to apologize for it. And yet there was Dolly on the radio talking about her songs, a fragrance line, writing music, writing her memoir for a Broadway play, working with children - the list goes on and on.
I loved it and I smiled so brightly driving down the road as she spoke.

This inspires me to reach for it even more. I'm a tiny spec in this huge world trying to make a difference with my creative arts, my children's books on autism awareness, attempting to work my way into the film world - 
NOTHING compared to what all she has done. And yet, as her song TRY says, you have to allow yourself to go for it!

"I have chased after rainbows
I've captured one or two
I've reached for the stars
And I have even held a few
I've walked that lonesome valley
Topped the mountains, soared the sky
I've laughed and I have cried
But I have always tried
'Cause I've always been a dreamer
And dreams are special things
But dreams are of no value
If they're not equipped with wings
So secure yourself for climbing
Make ready for the sky
Don't let your chance go by
You'll make it if you try."

I am so blessed to have been able to talk to thousands of kids the past two years because of my book. A book that shares a similar message: it's ok to be different. Don't fear someone with autism because they aren't just like you. And don't let someone make you feel you are less than simply because of that difference.
Guess I've always thought of myself as the outsider, but if I can even semi-imagine myself in the same perfectly mis-shaped box as Dolly Parton - heck, that is just fine by me.

Thank you, Dolly for sharing your story. Thanks to Kathie Lee for the great interview. I caught that interview today just when I needed to hear it…and naturally wanted to pay-it-forward & share on my blog.