Saturday, November 29, 2014

A New Side Show Has Much to Offer

Back in 1997 I fell in love with a new musical from the creators of Dreamgirls. Side Show was one of the musicals that developed a cult following in the three months it lasted on Broadway with people loving Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner's Tony nominated performances as the real life Hilton sisters. I bought the CD and listened to it over and over. But as quickly as it arrived, it left New York with many believing Broadway audiences were not ready to embrace a musical about conjoined twins. All of these years later, it is back. And more than a revival, it is a revisal as so much has been rewritten and removed. Director Bill Condon has added new book material to what Bill Russell and Henry Krieger originally had. He has also rethought the work as a director and has given us a grittier look into the world of carnival side shows.

I will admit that I went into this production expecting to not like all of the changes that I've heard about. I was worried I wouldn't enjoy it as much as before. Wow - wrong. Erin Davie (Violet) and Emily Padgett (Daisy) are wonderful as the sisters who want so much more in life. One to be seen as normal and settle down in marriage and the other seeking fame and fortune. The two are believable as twins onstage and yet carry their own personalities to show a uniqueness while strongly connected. Davie plays vulnerable and fragile so well that Padgett's sassy over-protective sister is a layer that
The Hilton Sisters
keeps her own sensitivities well hidden. The two sound amazing both alone and together. Their soaring ballads are very different from what we all came to know from the original cast album, and yet I was moved to tears in their Act II number (thanks in part to a certain direction from Mr. Condon). 

I think Condon's decision to make 'the freaks' truly deformed and different (with amazing makeup and costumes) allows us as an audience to be more sympathetic to the plight of everyone on stage. The 1997 production was met by laughter from the audience because of the twins joined at the hip, but in this new production we see such diversity on that stage - laughter is not an option. We feel the pain and sadness of each person doing what they must in the family they have created. We now get a backstory to the twins life and we internally cheer for them to succeed. Either in love, career, or life. And all of those themes are addressed in this show.

I actually believe the book changes (as well as some of the dropped songs) really help
propel the story and pull us in as an audience. For anyone that has ever felt like an outsider or been thought of to be different, Side Show shows us examples of each of those people from the obvious (the sisters) to some that hit closer to home (Jake: racism, Terry: career changes, Buddy: sexual identity). David St. Louis, Ryan Silverman and Matthew Hydzik all three give wonderful performances as the men in the twins life.

Side Show touches on many themes, but while it is set during a period of yesteryear when people would gawk at those less fortunate - we really haven't changed that much as a society when reality TV and social media allow people to constantly point, stare and comment on the lives of others. Or if Daisy Hilton were alive today, she'd probably be running her own youtube channel to chase her fame and fortune in whatever way she could. Don't miss out on a truly moving and wondering evening of theater. Get to the St. James Theatre to see this one!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Birthdays are Days To Be Grateful

I know that Thursday is Thanksgiving, but I'm so thankful today because someone extremely special to me was born on this day. Someone that without, I wouldn't be who I am. The love and support of my husband, to allow me to live out my creative dreams - words can't describe how lucky that I am for so many reasons.

I've blogged before about people that take risks and make career changes later in life - but what about those that know what they are good at and stick to it. Anthony is one of those people. For over 25 years he has been at the same place serving people in a way that many would find unfathomable. As a radiation therapist, he attacks cancer head-on daily; even when he has lost loved ones to this horrible disease. He is kind, caring and keeps his patients laughing and smiling everyday. I don't know how he manages to keep up that cheerful disposition in his job, but I sure do admire that quality. (And he gets beautiful notes from people thanking him for it.)

Even outside of his job, anyone that comes in contact with Anthony instantly likes him. He can talk about anything to anyone (which means I never have to worry when I take him to a party or an event where we need to mingle). The man can work a room. While we may enjoy some of the same things in life, we also know it's okay to have other interests. Allowing those differences in our lives have kept our relationship going strong; even when at times we have to stop and evaluate. (Ant is a bowler - that's right - he's on the work bowling team.)

No one can make me laugh like Anthony. We literally sit at home at night cracking each other up with those stupid things that only couples can do.  We often say it was good we found each other later in life because we knew who we were as people by the time we met and that has been wonderful for our relationship. We can usually detect when the other needs something and try as much as possible to accommodate it. (No - we are not perfect in this area, but who is?) 

Still - he has ended up on stage for me in a show I directed when he would never in a million years thought of doing anything like that, produced our short film together, travels with my family, and puts up with my picky eating.  Yes - I am very grateful this Thanksgiving week to have such a person that I can call my other half. And today, I am so thankful he was born all those years ago so that one day we would find each other.

One thing he hates is his birthday. I'm sure I'm embarrassing him with this blog.  But after spending over 14 years with him, I think I should get to embarrass him now and again. Happy Birthday, Ant. I'm the luckiest man to celebrate with you and wish you many, many more ahead. Love you. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Are You Finished?

Last Saturday I announced on social media that I was done. 

I meant that the editor gave me the final DVD of our short film MOTHER. I was excited. I was sad it had come to an end. I was thankful for the amazing people that have come in my life during the past several months (and have blogged about them before). Another project that I could put that check mark next to on the TO DO list as completed.

Then I realized…I'm not DONE. It's just beginning. 

The point of making a film (just like writing a book) is that you want to get your work out to people. In this case, we want to submit this film to festivals and that work has already begun. There are tons of film festivals all around
the country and the world. Finding the correct ones for your own project means tons of research. Seeing where filmmakers you admire have gone. Looking at the festivals to see where you believe you or someone on your team can attend (if chosen) to represent the work. Luckily, I started all of this during post-production and had my spread sheet made. I knew that I had missed the cutoff for some festivals, but working hard to make the deadline for others. So many occur in April and those cut-offs are happening now. Then there will be more in summer and next fall and I'll go through this process again to meet those deadlines.

Marketing has also begun. One would think you may not need that media kit until you know if you've been selected for a festival, but if you use one of the online film submission sites - it is best to jump on it now and start writing. Synopsis. Stories about the process. Bios. Photos. There is so much involved. And it's a wonderful tool to use to make yourself think about your film, the process, the stories you want to share and to help with any kind of 'buzz' you need to start on your film. For me, it has been an amazing process that I know already has touched so many people involved with the film. Now I hope that audiences will feel the same way when they see it.

So to answer the question…I'm not sure when we're ever really finished.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Broadway Has  Holiday Gift with Love Letters

There are many reasons people attend a Broadway show: the spectacle of lavish costumes and setsthe wonder of watching a favorite film that has been turned into a musical, or star power. Sometimes, it's simply to hear the powerful words of a playwright and to be transported  by a story. The producers behind Love Letters offered that very thing when they opened their show on September 18 with the decision to rotate the two leads. Strip away the trappings of huge technical shows and Love Letters provides audiences a gem of a gift wrapped up in a small bow. 

The power of hearing two people speak via the lost art of letter writing is something important --  Audiences in 2014 should put down their numerous technical devices and pay close attention. There is a reason that many of the romantics of time past are captured in letters written to lovers. They were not instagramming photos or writing 'limited word' tweets. They were pouring out their heart and soul on paper in words of adoration and love. That is what author A.R. Gurney has done with his play first written in the late 80s. The story shares the story of Andrew Makepeace Ladd III and Melissa Gardner as they correspond over 50 years, sharing the ups and downs of their lives with that long lost love.   

While it is beautiful in its simplicity, it is complex in covering so many years in the lives of these two people. We grow to know them and care about them. Like the play/film "Same Time Next Year", this show also takes us to different points in the lives of the characters as we watch them grow and change. I also find it amazing how timeless it can be. Melissa wants them to use the phone to speak instead of writing letters; much like today's texting has replaced people connecting on the phone.  

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen recently stepped into the roles of the two loves and what a wonderful couple these two make. With careers that span multiple decades, the two have done everything from TV to film to stage. No one can deliver a monologue like Mr. Alda and I loved every word he said. He tends to stay in the book more than Ms. Bergen, yet that doesn't bother me in this production.  In contrast, she uses her face throughout the performance as she looks into the audience, reacts to the letters he reads and lives in the moment as she takes us on a journey of this wonderful character. Not allowing actors to rely on movement and blocking and instead focusing on  the written word makes for a glorious 90 minutes of live theater. Something like this comes along very rarely in the New York Theater scene, but the holiday season where we think of family and love is a perfect time to take in this show. You can't help but be pulled into the lives of the two characters and you'll be amazed that simply listening to people read letters could affect you in such a way. That's what makes this show so incredibly special. Audiences have nothing else to concentrate on (or be distracted by) so you have no choice than to be swept away by…love. 

Up to now, my favorite romantic play has been Say Goodnight, Gracie - a one man show about George Burns. I must say, Love Letters is right up there. The amazing thing is that both of these show talk about love in a very unique way and both cause you to leave the theater thinking about your own relationships.

The show is running through February and will have other actors switching into the roles. Check out their website to see what couples are going in and give yourself the gift of stepping back in time, away from 2014 and enjoy the love that A.R. Gurney has poured onto the paper.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A True Lesson in The Elephant Man

The Elephant Man is a story that many people have known for years. Either they saw the 1980 film or perhaps have seen a stage production of it at some time. Being a theater kid, I recall doing scenes from it in school, witnessing other schools do it at play competitions, and have seen numerous productions over the years. I will admit, I was apprehensive about 39 year old Bradley Cooper - Mr. Hollywood and People's Sexiest Man Alive taking on this iconic character. 

Boy was I wrong!

From the moment he steps on stage, as Dr. Treves shows us photos of the real Joseph Merrick (called John by many), Mr. Cooper transforms in front of our eyes without make-up, words, or much of a costume on his body. It is pure acting and this actor tackles this role head on with such gusto, he had me in the palm of his over-sized hand. I was moved to tears a few times from Mr. Merrick's plight. The fact that I forgot I was watching a movie star on stage is a testament to what Mr. Cooper is doing nightly in this role that he originally played at Williamstown.

Director Scott Ellis has made a name for himself with both musicals and plays on Broadway and keeps this show moving at a fast pace. So much that Act 1 is over before we even know it. Beautiful costumes, simple lighting and sets (all moved by a well-oiled ensemble) ground us in the late 1800s. The entire cast assembled work as a wonderful ensemble (including the delicious Anthony Heald and multi-talented Scott Lowell) in this show full of outsiders all wanting a piece of the MAN.

I would be remiss to not mention the wonder that is Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola as the actress Mrs. Kendal who tears down the walls that surround Merrick and the doctor who takes him under his wing as a family member. Both care for Merrick in different ways and these actors give extremely powerful performances in their own right.

Knowing this is still in previews and things could change, if I had any complaint, it would be that Act II should be tightened up to match that experience that Act I rushes over us in such an extreme way. I was taken on such a journey by intermission that I wished Act II could match that same feeling. Perhaps it is the play itself or it could be director's choices, (but there were things that definitely felt different to me than what I had been used to in seeing other productions). The play originally opened on Broadway in 1979 and was revived in 2002. Some may question why a show would return just 12 years later, but after seeing it - questions should cease. Something is in the air this season with American Horror: Freak Show on TV, the musical Side Show back on Broadway and The Elephant Man all teaching a story of diversity and to not be fearful of those society shuns. Perhaps that is a lesson that we shouldn't put an expiration date on of how often a story should be told. 

Usually I would not write a review for a show that is still in previews - but I want those reading to know they need to grab up tickets BEFORE it opens and reviews come out. If you can get tickets before this limited run ends February 15, 2015 - do yourself a favor and do it NOW to experience real love. By that, I mean Mr. Cooper's love of the character he is playing and the love you will feel for the man that society had pushed aside.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Journey into Crowd-funding

What a ride.

The fundraising campaign that annoyed everyone that follows me anywhere on social media has finally come to an end. Those involved in any type of independent, non-profit, or charity work can attest to how hard it is to raise funds to accomplish any project. I've worked in all three areas in my life and depending on the kindness of others can be daunting and satisfying at the same time.

I set out on the journey unsure of what would happen. Would I meet my goal? Would anyone care? I mean, after all, I'm not Zach Braff or Veronica Mars…both of which raised tons for their projects. Then I found other projects that were crowd funding success stories.  I thought there was no way we'd hit our goal, but if you don't try

Well - was I ever wrong! People came to our aid and it was amazing. Either seeing the stills from our shoot, watching the video with our cast/crew talking about their moms, or seeing the trailer our editor finished before the end of the campaign - something caused people to get excited and come onboard. It's always amazing when a stranger gives to a project simply because something in that project speaks to them or they want to pay-it-forward in some way. But for the most part, our funders were friends of people involved in this project and I am extremely grateful to each and everyone of them. 

We met our goal!

We continued working during the entire campaign with our post-production team and in the next 7-10 days - we will have our film completed and begin the process of submitting it to festivals.

The last 4 months from pre-production through now have been so fulfilling to me in numerous ways. I've gotten to work with amazing people and grow my network of a film family that I hope to cross paths again in the future on other projects. 

Thanks again to everyone that helped us get to this place. Sincerely. We could never have done this without all of your help.

Now we put that film out there and see what happens next. Fingers crossed that some festivals will accept it and want to screen it for film-goers. My hope is that this short film will touch someone else's life as much as it has touched each person's that has worked on it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Adapting a Work

Recently I was watching my new favorite show on TV and a character told another that everyone has one novel in them. I instantly thought back to when I first started to write novels as I thought I only had Well With My Soul inside of me - dying to get out. All these years later and a few more books under my belt and I find I'm returning to familiar territory. I recently used a book of mine as the basis for a short film. I adapted the novel Missing by Drake Braxton into a feature film screenplay and now, I'm attacking a story of mine that I believe should be on screen.

Very few people read Cool Side of the Pillow. I'll admit, when released, I tried something new with only placing it on the Kindle as an eBook (which cut out many readers right there) - but to be frank: it bombed. Had it been a book released by a major publisher, they would have yanked it from the shelves after the first month of sitting there collecting dust. Yet I'm so proud of that book. In some ways, I related so much to the main character in search of who he would be in the second half of his life and in other ways - this stay-at-home Jewish dad was completely foreign to me. Even as I wrote the novel, it was always a movie in my mind. I could see every scene. I can visualize the eccentric character that is Ginger Charman - the aging actress that completely turns Zach's life upside down. And now, I've plunged head first down that rabbit hole again to turn it into a screenplay. Sure, that screenplay may sit in a drawer forever (or at least on my computer's hard drive), but I believe I need to get it written so as to have completed that goal. (I'll take overachiever for $500, Alex.)

Here is the hard part of adapting something for film: everyone always loves the book more. And there is a reason, when we read - we create our own movie in our mind. Plus, there is so much more texture and layered backstories that can be in a novel. Think about it - do you really want to sit in a three hour movie? I know my butt got tired during Gone Girl with its running time of 149 minutes because they wanted to keep that book/story intact. But usually, you try and keep movie scripts under two hours. That means scenes, characters - so much needs to be cut and you must get to the root of the story and tell it in a new way.

I'm finding that difficult. Time has passed since I wrote this novel, but as I go back to it now - I can't help but look at moments that I LOVED and now think "dang, that has to go for the film". And that's where I am. Killing off moments as I adapt so that the story can possibly have a new life in a different medium. It's a challenge. It's a risk. And ultimately, it will be rewarding. For now though - at times I get overwhelmed and walk away from it until I can look at it with fresh eyes and not allow the novelist to get mad at the screenwriter. (Then the screenwriter tells the novelist that adapt means to alter, make it fit…to change something up and the two of them go at it!)

The one good thing about this is - no one read the book so I won't have to hear that the book was better! See how I found that silver lining?