Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness!

How the time goes by! March has been a whirlwind of errands, auditions, work, out-of-towners, and changing weather. I apologize to my dear devoted readers for my lack of attention, I swear it's nothing against any of you, but here I am today, yes, finally writing. I hope it's a good one. Today is a Monday, one of my two days-off from the restaurant, usually an audition day, but instead I am giving myself the day off. The Surflight Theatre summer stock auditions can wait until tomorrow. So, here I am, free, my whole day ahead of me, on no one else's schedule but my own. Of course, there is the rather daunting task of moving to be had. I should probably also go re-visit the gym, catch up on my reading (those library books do have due dates after all), and get an overdue hair cut (my hair is starting to resemble an A.C. Slater curly-boy mullet). Last week (or was it the week before? how time flies!), Locale's Liz and I signed a lease for a new place just a few blocks from where I am now and even closer to the train. So, my days at the Crescent house are numbered, one chapter closing and another beginning. I am very excited for the freshly painted walls, dishwasher, and a stone's throw from Rest-au-Rant. Just as the day's weather (currently rainy), I too am in a state of transition, a season of change. And who knows, if I can make it through spring's rains and winds, perhaps there will be a glorious summer ahead. I have certainly survived the coldest winter ever. The first half of this month has seen me auditioning more than ever, earning a couple callbacks, but no booking as of yet. Those audition rooms continue to look crazier and crazier, unreported asylums of insanity. My recent Boston guests Christina and David witnessed a typical audition day at Chelsea Studios, commenting, "Is it always so stressful in those rooms?" Oh, if you only knew. Each morning seems to present its own existential crisis, planning the day's route through the city and what song to sing (I think I have picked the 'right' song about twice in my life). My song of late has been "I Met a Girl" from Bells Are Ringing, which I found out this weekend seems to be the song of choice from most every male who went to AMDA. The never-ending search for material continues (luckily, I don't think any early-20's male can touch my "Poor Unfortunate Souls" or The Ladies Who Lunch," but I have yet to read the casting notice that calls for a 20-something man played as a 40+ woman). Speaking of songs, I have been making good progress with my vocal Will and am starting to develop quite the "book." It even has plastic sheet protectors. If one didn't know better, you could call me a professional.
As spring breaks abound, I have seen visits from IU friends Ben, Esther, and the aforementioned David & Christina, old Academy friends Woody, Fiona, Katie Keenan, and Amy (arriving Thursday!), and even some family, arriving this coming weekend. Combined with my roommates' own visitors, our living room has been busier than a New Castle Days Inn. Perhaps we should get a sign-in book or start a Facebook group for all of them. Ben and Esther's visit included a trip to the piano bar, a tour of a few West Village and Hell's Kitchen watering holes, and walking her uncle's two giant Great Danes through Central Park. I am excited to receive my New Castle visitors this coming weekend (not forgetting my dear friend Amy arriving a few days before), introducing my little brother to my beautiful big city. Though, in the past year, it seems he is the one getting bigger all the time, the city becoming smaller all the time.
The warm weather has brought the return of outdoor tables at Locale with the sun and has made lots of busy-ness and running back and forth. Not exactly bad things, but tiring for sure. Instead of having a lot on my mind today, I feel a little empty, glad that I don't have to think about anything, finding sanctuary from the madness of the audition room and the hectic restaurant. It feels good to just sit in my house with the windows open and just be. More and more, I savor the "stolen moments" of peace, of solitude, of quiet and stillness. A lot of times, I would love to escape to a mountaintop or sunny beach and have nothing but stillness, myself, and God (ok and maybe a glass of wine). I am looking forward to the end of this heavy audition season, job in hand or not, settling into my new apartment, and re-embracing my New York life. Mom recently asked which I enjoyed more, living in NYC or making theatre. Is it fair if I don't know? I'd like to think that they are somehow linked hand in hand. I'm certainly not interested in doing shows in Utah for the rest of my life. Let's just say that, for now, I have a lease until next April and no plans of going anywhere else. I have a feeling the Big Apple and I are only in the beginning of something wonderful.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oh, Oscar!

Well, another wonderful Oscar season has come to a close. After months of movie watching, popcorn chomping, and soda gulping, the race is over, the winners decided, and the pop culture literatti free to move on to new venues and viewings. I found this year's ceremony mostly a blah, a bland albeit glitzy assembly of Hollywood's finest, their outfits, speeches, and schpeels well rehearsed. After what seems an extraordinarily daunting awards season (pushed into March because of the Winter Olympics), the stars have an excuse to look a little worn, their answers and attitudes a little tired, and quite ready to move on with their lives. Following a moderately busy brunch, pal Katrina and I settled in to watch the awards show and unwind after work. This no doubt also meant finding ourselves generously lapping up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc post-haste, followed by a Merlot (we had just gotten off of work after all), which in turn found us cozily asleep well before most of the major awards were given out. Mind you, we do live on the East Coast, three hours ahead of Oscar time. I guess I will just have to a make a trip west for next year's festivities. So, perhaps my judgement of this year's show is a little harsh and uninformed, but here is what I do know about what I actually watched.
The Red Carpet seemed to lack its usual flash and sparkle, no dress particularly wowing me. Jennifer Lopez and Zoƫ Saldana's outfits seemed too much, clumpy constructions meant to be breathtaking. And who keeps letting one-time Oscar winner Charlize Theron show up looking a mess at the Awards? It also seemed especially amiss of Big Stars. Where was Julia Roberts? Brad Pitt? Angelina Jolie? Tom Cruise? Jennifer Aniston? Will Smith? Nicole Kidman? Halle Berry? Somehow Amanda Seyfried, Taylor Lautner, and Miley Cyrus just don't have that oo-la-la and old world grace (not to mention actual style) to leave us feeling breathless and in awe (instead, I am mostly puzzled how they scored invitations). My fashion favorites for the show were Up in the Air's Vera Farmiga who, besides looking a little high on the red carpet, looked a genuine star in a bouquet of red fabric and shapes, as well as Ms. Blind Side herself, Sandra Bullock. Outfitted in a tight, sleek, gold leafed dress, Ms. Bullock channeled the poise, position, and je ne sais quoa most of the other guests seemed to have missed out on. From the moment I saw her working the carpet, I knew things were not looking so good for my friend Meryl (or any other woman in the house for that matter), as Bullock followed up her amazing year in film with the best dress and the award for Best Actress. Am I sad my prediction was not right? Not at all. Ms. Bullock looked genuine and humble, yet dignified, a true winner in my book, and honestly, it bodes well for performers like me to see an actress mostly known for her comedic roles to snatch up a golden statue (on that note, let's not forget Mo'Nique who also deserves kudos for both film and fashion). And besides, what further form of recognition does Ms. Streep need? I'm betting she still has a lot more Oscar glory to come.
The host and format of the show for the most part left me just as bored as the fashion. The show's opening, starring an all-to-nervous Neal Patrick Harris, failed to make much sense and called for the presence of a Big Star (Nathan Lane? Elaine Stritch? Liza Minnelli?), a bill Mr. Harris unfortunately could not quite fill. As for hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, their performances seemed forced, tasteless, and uninspired. In this case, it seems two (plus a musical introduction) is not better than one. While these hosting duties are by no means an easy task, I was hoping for more from these masters of comedy (and less of Ben Stiller in blue makeup). Perhaps they should just let Meryl Streep host next year's awards. She certainly knows her way around Oscar and in most people's eyes can do no wrong (though I am still scratching my head at last year's Mamma Mia!).
The evening's biggest winner was The Hurt Locker and Kathryn Bigelow, who certainly put the 'Hurt' on ex-husband James Cameron (whom she sat right in front of). In the end, it was the riskier film, the grittier film that took home the prize, perhaps the film whose intentions indeed had the most heart. The film's wins are victories for independent features to come and Ms. Bigelow becomes the first, but hopefully not the last, woman to hold the Best Director trophy. The Hurt Locker's painfully honest portrait of the war in Iraq is a searing glimpse into our America psyche, exposing our secret shame, stinging us more poignantly than eco-friendly Avatar or recession-heavy Up in the Air. As for James Cameron, if in defeat he finds himself sad or lonely, he can always go home to count his Avatar millions (not to mention those from Titanic). The Hurt Locker was a difficult film for me to watch, both gruesome and debilitating, one of the few films I did not see in theaters, but rather on DVD. Though difficult to watch, it deserves taking a look at, through neither rose-colored or 3-D glasses.
So, while the award show itself was a bit of a dud, the reason for Sunday's celebration, the films themselves, still shine and inspire. What a brilliant crop indeed of fine directing, acting, writing, and filmmaking, of inspiring, heartbreaking, hilarious, and thought provoking stories. Though the destination was not what I hoped it to bed, the journey itself was well worth the effort, each film sharing with me a little piece of its brilliance, encouraging me to push forward and continue to attempt art myself. My late winter movie binge was a great escape for me; safe in my cushy seat I was able to find relief, inspiration, and most importantly catharsis.
The sun is finally shining here in New York, and I could not be happier about it. Yesterday was a big day: I attended two auditions (one of which I am called back for), had lunch with SNL's Rachel Dratch (ok, I sat beside her at Curly's, but I could hear her talking), and signed a lease for my new apartment here in Astoria. It seems the ice has melted and both my personal and actual winter are for the most part over. I am looking forward to new roommates, new work, and new possibilities.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Weekends Are For Working

A week has come and gone, and I find myself still trying to finish the same blog entry. March has not started well for a season of writing. I suppose I have been rather busy of late, working when I can, rushing to auditions, trying to learn new music and read new plays, all the while attempting to avoid the McDonald's (mostly successful) and Chinese takeout (mostly not; one pint triple jade + 1/2 fried chicken w/sweet plantains = amazing) and find the gym. I am again settling into my weird nocturnal schedule, the reciprocal regimen of most everyone else. I feel like I am back on the ball, somewhat back to normal, making motions to move on with my life. Because of my non-traditional schedule, my world seems so bizarre sometimes, an uneven reality. Tuesdays have quickly become my favorite days. The past weeks have seen me working more often at Locale, while still trying to make it to auditions (there were over 400 people at the Spamalot open call on Monday, shoot me). Looking at another Friday, I grimace a little and hope the weekend is not too crazy at work (but crazy enough that we make some cash). As Sunday fast approaches, I have been doing my best to sneak in all the Oscar contenders before the actual ceremonies. This week's efforts have centered on the Best Picture race, a showdown between Avatar and The Hurt Locker, James Cameron and Kathyrn Bigelow, ex-husband and wife. It is interesting that this year's top contenders for Best Picture (including the dark horse Inglorious Bastards, and left field entry District 9) are all war movies, pictures mostly concerned with effects, camera shots, and mood rather than acting or dialogue (between the three films, there are only two acting nominees). While the two leading films are both about war, about strangers in a foreign place, they are not easily compared. For starters, the medium and look of each film is so different, Avatar utilizing groundbreaking 3-D and animation technology to create a futuristic, alien world, The Hurt Locker relishing in gritty, subtle camera shots, creating ugly, oftentimes disturbing images rather than fantastical, sweeping views. While Avatar centers around a soldier's journey into the unknown, a military juggernaut bent on exploiting a new world, the film also has a strong spiritual influence, a celebration of life, nature, and family. The Hurt Locker is a Nihilistic portrait of war, devoid of God, of hope, family, where all seems lost and your mission is to die. Avatar lives in a world of dreams, while The Hurt Locker is an inescapable nightmare. We experience Avatar through the eyes of young Jake Sully, while The Hurt Locker is a documentary-style film, watching the action, but never truly seeing inside the characters' heads. Who will win Best Picture? Your guess is probably as good as mine, though I am going with Avatar, the animated juggernaut that has earned more money than any other film in history. The 3-D glasses, the hype, the box receipts, it seems hard to pass up. The Hurt Locker's best bets lie in the Best Director and Best Screenplay categories, where artistry and ingenuity are valued over awe and award campaigns. Ms. Bigelow's intentions and craftsmanship (or womanship one should say) with the camera, are what shine most brightly in this dark, heavy, and at times troubled film. Surprisingly, her film is the most masculine, macho contender at this year's awards show (followed by Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Bastards), clearly a different creature than the oftentimes girly, earthy work of fellow female directors Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers. Interestingly, Bigelow-engraved prize for Best Director, would make her the first woman to accomplish such a feat, and we know how much Oscar likes to make history. On the other hand, Avatar not only manages to cash in our lust for war, but also our fetish for the primitive and uncivilized. From their slender frames to the painted bodies and minimal clothing to the long dreads, the fictional Na'vi seem an obvious reference to Native Americans and Africans, people removed from their lands in order to siphon its riches. The Na'vi's version of the Holy Spirit, Ey'wah, seems a conspicuous mashup of Yahwe. For me, that is the defining flaw of James Cameron's work, his lack of subtlety and oftentimes tact (remember "I'm the King of the World!" let's hope he is properly muzzled and PR-ed on Sunday). However, in this case his broad strokes and excessive sensibilities have paid off, in creating a unique, thrilling, and original film. Its dazzling animation and inherit humanity make it the most universal of this year's films (except for possibly Up), while many of the other films feel compartmentalized, catering to its individual audience (i.e. Precious, Nine, Bastards, The Blind Side, etc). If I had my pick, I would probably opt for Precious, a simpler, grittier film, living in the world of Harlem rather than distant planets, desserts, or the sky. For Precious, its appeal lies mostly in script, cast, and characters, making it a serious contender in other categories, but small when compared to some of this year's more sweeping films. For me, it is also one of the movies I would easily watch again (along with Crazy Heart, A Single Man, and, of course, Julie & Julia). Yesterday, I was interviewed on the street for my Oscar picks (you can supposdely see it on, my choices coincidentally coinciding with amNY (Avatar, Bridges, Streep, Waltz, Mo'Nique). We shall see if I am right. Plans include making black bean soup with Katrina, lots of red wine, and hopefully lots of laughs at co-hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. Due to one of the best film crops in recent memories, the newly instated 10 Best Picture nominees, and what seems like an especially epic awards season, this year's Academy Awards should be something to remember and enjoy. I am ready to celebrate the triumphs and finally know the winners, then lay to rest this year's awards season and my recent film infatuation.