Monday, December 30, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

Merry Christmas everyone! (And happy holidays! Though since Hanukkah was so early this year technically this is the only holiday left I can wish you a happy/merry of. Except for New Years. But I'm too early for that so... :))

I promise I will have a new post up soon! I've been really crazy with pre production for a couple of projects, so please forgive the long absence. But I will have lots of fantastically interesting things to read soon!

xoxo ~Ashley

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Top 5

A director friend of mine asked me to do a blog of my “top 5’s” – my top five favorite/most influential plays, films, TV shows, etc. A few other people have asked me the same question periodically, so I thought I would write them down, with a brief discussion as to why I like them so much. I find that some of my “top 5’s” are somewhat random and obscure, and if nothing else, I would love share them in the hopes that others might check them out.

PLEASE NOTE: These are my personal top five lists. This is not intended to be a list of the shows, etc. I think should be on everyone’s top five list, and I am certainly not arguing that they are the best films, plays, etc. of all time. They are the shows etc. that have had the greatest influence on me, that I love the most, and watch/read again and again. I believe strongly in their artistic excellence, but am writing this as a personal taste list. Not a world wide definitive list. Some are in order of preference, some are not.

Top Five (Non Shakespeare) Plays
(In order – with #1 being my favorite)

1.)   Our Town” – by Thornton Wilder (I was very fortunate to first be exposed to this play by seeing it (when I was about nine) and not knowing anything about it going into it. I think this play can easily get ruined by forced reading in school. Experiencing it live at an early age left a huge impression on me.)
2.)   The Pillowman” – by Martin McDonagh (This brilliant dark comedy about a writer in a totalitarian state being interrogated about the similarity of several recent child murders to the plots of his short stories had a tremendous impact on me when I saw the original Broadway production (several times.) Exploring the nature and power of storytelling this piece left me deeply moved, and thrillingly frightened - and inspired me to literally read Mr. McDonagh's entire body of work.)
3.)   Eurydice” – by Sarah Ruhl (One of the most beautiful shows I've ever seen - "Eurydice" tells the myth of Orpheus from Eurydice's point of view. Set in an Alice in Wonderland-like Hades, in Sarah Ruhl's hands the story becomes about the nature of love between a father and a daughter just as much as between Orpheus and Eurydice. The beautiful scenes where Eurydice doesn't remember who her father is, but he knows her all too well are heartbreaking. And the piece plays with the beauty of language in a way not found in many contemporary plays.) 
4.)   Arcadia”- by Tom Stoppard (Fun fact: the wonderful background music by Corin Buckeridge is the ringtone on my phone) (I first saw this show when it was revived on Broadway in 2011. Oddly knowing nothing about it going in (I went to see a friend who was in the cast,) I was mesmerized by the story and language. Set in the same house following two interconnected stories set over one hundred years apart - "Arcadia" is a challenging play, and that's one reason I like it so much. It intellectually challenges me every time I see or read it. The theme of the things we hold most dear never really being lost is stunningly revealed, and the play elevates math to the stuff of poetry.
5.)   Frankenstein” adapted by Nick Dear for the National Theater of Great Britain. (This adaptation in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller alternate in the roles of Frankenstein and The Creature really goes back to the heart of the source material, but tells the story principally from the Creature's point of view. Genius acting, direction, and design come together in one of the most stunning pieces of theater I've ever seen - taking such beautiful risks (the first 15 min. or so is all but completely silent physical work performed by the Creature - expressed in the script by the single stage direction (paraphrased): The Creature comes to life. This show is part of the National Theater Live series and has had encore performances all around the country. I highly suggest checking it out.

Top (Four) Shakespeare Plays
(I’ve divided it up into my favorite in each genre – hence four instead of five.)

Tragedy – “Hamlet(The David Tennant film is my all time favorite) (I mean, it's "Hamlet." Is there anything to say? This play gets to the heart of the human condition in a way nothing else does.)
Comedy – “Twelfth Night(I like my comedy a little dark and tragic - and "Twelfth Night" is anything but fun and games. The show opens with Viola having lost her father and brother, and having to dress as a boy just to survive being alone in this new land she finds herself in. Olivia is in morning for seven years because she has also lost her father and brother. Malvolio ends the play quite tragically - there is no happy ending for him. Viola is almost murdered, and the show ends with the heart wrenching reuniting of Viola and her twin brother Sebastian. And yes, there's comic hilarity in between. I like my comedy with a little tragedy and (like in "The Pillowman" - my tragedy with a bit of comedy.) 
Romance – “Cymbeline(Literally Shakespeare does "Snow White.) (This is a beautiful, tricky play that is terrifically close to a fairy tale. And personally, I think Imogen beats Rosalind as one of (if not THE) strongest female character.)
History – “Richard III” (Check out “Looking For Richard” by Al Pacino) (Richard III is unique as a Shakespearean villain. He's not out for revenge, like Iago, he's not manipulated like Macbeth, no, Richard III does what he does because he's bored, and he can. He reminds me of Moriarty from the BBC's "Sherlock." He's incredibly smart, charming, and gets off on manipulating, and bringing down the people around him. He makes the audience complicit in his actions, tells us exactly what he's going to do, and then manages to manipulate us TOO as he's doing it, then turns to us and says: "See what I just did! Wasn't that awesome?!" We don't sadly watch him ruin his life, we, somehow, enjoy the destruction he causes, even as it destroys him. 

Top Five Musicals

1.)   Wicked(This is a very personal show for me, and had a great impact on me for a lot of reasons when I first saw it with the original cast. I know the show has gotten some flack, but I just think it's so beautiful, and explores a type of crusader-like character that we don't get to see very often.)
2.)   Into The Woods(I mean, it's Sondheim does fairy tales. Who's surprised here? :) )
3.)   Damn Yankees” (The first “adult” musical I ever saw, and ever performed in. The show that introduced me to Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, and the idea that musical theater could be a serious, adult art form – and didn’t just consist of shows for children (my earlier experience with musicals had been, appropriately, “Annie,” “Peter Pan,” etc.)
4.)   Pippin(A beautiful, moving, commercial but experimental show that brings together two of my favorites - Stephen Schwartz, and Bob Fosse.)
5.)   I’m still saving this spot ;) Haven’t decided yet.

Top Five Films
(In order – with #1 being my favorite)

1.)   Pan’s Labyrinth(I don't even know what to say about this film. It's so beautiful. And I really appreciate that it doesn't shy away from (what I term) a "Lord of the Rings-esque" ending. To me, LOTR has the best ending of any story I've ever read - because it's beautiful, but real. You don't return from a great trial unchanged. Things don't go back to the way they were. There is hope, and love, but there is also a truly great cost. The ending to "Pan's Labyrinth" is joyously bittersweet. And I think expresses a part of the human condition that is incredibly difficult to explore. I saw this film multiple times in the movie theater - and that's a very big deal for me.)
2.)   The Lord of The Rings” – esp. “Return of the King” (See above.)
3.)   The Little Mermaid(This is my all time favorite story, and was my first exposure to the amazing Howard Ashman. Enough said.)
4.)   Tie between “Apollo 13,” “A League of Their Own"Heavenly Creatures" and “The Wizard of Oz.” I know, I’m cheating. (These are all just really good, brilliant films.)
5.)   Mirrormask(Like “Till We Have Faces” (see books) – you will either love this movie, or hate it. There’s no in between. It’s a little “trippier” then the films I tend to generally go for, but in this movie, it really works.) ("Mirrormask" was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. Asked by Lisa Henson to do a "modern day "Labyrinth"-like film" Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean have come up with a remarkably out of the box film. Where as "Labyrinth" is so bad it's brilliant, "Mirrormask" is just brilliant. I think it mixes one too many stories together (it's kind of "The Prince and the Pauper" meets "Alice in Wonderland" meets "The Wizard of Oz") it's a testament to the film that I don't really mind.

Top 5 Books/Stories
(In order – with #1 being my favorite)
Note: This is a REALLY hard one for me to pick only five.

1.)   Till We Have Faces” – by C.S. Lewis (This book will either become your favorite book ever, or you’ll hate it. There’s no in between.) (A retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche (the earliest basis for "Beauty and the Beast) - Lewis considered this his greatest work. A study of sacred vs. profane love, I still don't think I fully grasp this book - and it's one of the reasons I re read it so often. And it describes certain emotional experiences in a way I've never heard better described.)
2.)   The Little Mermaid” – by Hans Christian Anderson (actually, lets just list all the classic fairy tales – collected works of the Grimm Brothers, and Anderson esp. as #2) (This is pretty much the only fairy tale that doesn't have a happy ending. No, she doesn't get the Prince in the end. This is a beautiful story about the true nature of love, and sacrifice, and it's always spoken to me in a very special way. And as we all know, I adore fairy tales in general.)
3.)   The Giver” – by Lois Lowry (This book does two things stunningly right - it creates a truly seductive distopian world that, ironically, kind of works. Yes, it's a distopia - meaning there are a lot of dark things hiding below the surface, but this is a world that has successfully gotten rid of poverty, hunger, unemployment, class, and race distinctions. At the same time it explores issues of the power and danger of choice, and the nature of emotion and humanity. There are no crazy chase scenes, no trying to topple a regime - just a little boy who has to learn how to feel. And must decide whether feelings are in essence dangerous, or liberating.
4.)   The Great Divorce” – by C.S. Lewis (A short book - you can read it in one sitting. This story dares to explore the idea that the damned are in fact damned by choice. What could cause someone to chose a life in hell? Turns out, for reasons that are uncomfortably relatable. Whatever your religion or spiritual beliefs, this is a brilliant book that gets to the heart of what sin and salvation are - and it's much more complicated then we like to think.) 
5.)   Never Let Me Go” – by Kazuo Ishiguro (This book has some of the most emotionally moving passages I've ever read. I won't give away the plot - big twists and spoilers, but in essence it concerns three life long best friends: Cathy, Tommy and Ruth who live their short lives from beginning to end through out the course of the story. Having, or not having time is a big issue - and the relationship between Cathy and Tommy was so moving to me, I even named a character in one of my plays in honor, and reference to the Tommy in this book. There is a film version - that I must recommend for the beautiful performances of Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield - but important parts of the plot, and much of the language are left out - so please read the book first.)

Especially honorable mentions: “Matilda” by Roald Dahl, (If you ever want to know what I was like as a child, read "Matilda.") “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, “Walking on Water” by Madeline L’Engle, “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, “The OZ Books” by L. Frank Baum, “A Wrinkle In Time” and “A Wind In The Door” by Madeline L’Engle, “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Top 5 TV Shows
(In no particular order)

1.)   Dead Like Me(A sadly short lived series, Georiga Lass is a rather sullen eighteen year old who ironically is forced to get her life together only when she dies and is recruited as a grim reaper. Beautifully deals with life and death in a tragi-comic setting. And did I mention it stars Mandy Patinkin?)

2.)   Slings And Arrows” (A send up of the Stratford Shakespeare festival in Canada - each season follows one main, and one secondary show being put up by the festival - and real events backstage mirror the themes and events of the Shakespeare play being put on (season 1 is "Hamlet" - in which the ghost of the old artistic director begins haunting his successor and protoge Jeffry Tennant, season 2 is "Macbeth," and season 3 is "King Lear." The show stars brilliant Canadian actors (including a beautiful Rachel McAdams before she was famous.) And if that's not enough to convince you, check this out: 

3.)   Sherlock(A modern update of the classic "Sherlock Holmes" stories - you must see this show to understand it's brilliance. Each season consists of three hour and a half length episodes - so it's more like three movies a season then a series of episodes. And it stars Benedict Cumberbatch (see "Frankenstein" above.)
4.)   United States of Tara (Starring Toni Collette this show is about Tara - a kind, smart American wife and mother who has multiple personality disorder. Also a tragi-comedy, the show gives Collette the opportunity to play characters as diverse as a slutty teenage girl "T," to a gentlemanly red neck man named "Buck." A tour de force performance. Brilliant, and deeply moving.)
5.)   I’m using #5 as my collective “Sci Fi” category – including: “Star Trek: The Next Generation,”Stargate Universe,” and “Dr. Who” (spec. the David Tennant years)

Also a very special honorable mention must go to Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theater." (Starring the likes of Robin Williams and Vanessa Redgrave - yes, in EVERY EPISODE, "Faerie Tale Theater" masterfully tells the classic fairy tales - and ones you've never heard of before, highly accurately to the original source material.

Top 5 Authors (not playwrights – for that, see top plays)
(#1 is my favorite. The others are in no particular order)

1.)   C.S. Lewis
2.)   Madeline L’Engle
3.)   Neil Gaiman
4.)   J. R. R. Tolkein
5.)   I am still debating who should take this spot ;)  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Happy Ending"

Hey everyone! The acoustic demo of my new song "Happy Ending" is now up! It's an independent piece, but may wind up in a show I'm working on. :) Check it out!

Monday, May 27, 2013

How To Write Women

So, a male screenwriter friend of mine asked me to do a blog entry on suggestions for writing women. I thought this was an awesome, very astute, and sensitive thing for him to ask. And then became a bit daunted by the task.

Writing women, especially where film is concerned, has become a very important topic. There has been numerous discourse about the fact that, percentage wise, many, if not most women are relegated to the “damsel in distress” arm candy role – pretty, hot girls whose only function is to be the “reward” the guy gets at the end. The first “Transformers” movie, and the role Megan Fox portrays usually serves as the first example cited. If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel Test (a test that helps identify gender bias in mass media) this is it:

Take a minute and think through some of the most recently released films. Start with “The Avengers.” Do they pass?

SIDE NOTE: There are times when it is totally justified that a story not pass the Bechdel test. Someone brought up "Romeo and Juliet." I would argue that the conversations between Juliet and the Nurse do actually pass the test - although Romeo/Paris are important to all their conversations, they are not talking about "OMG - he's so cute. I want him!" "No I want him!" They are using those men to explore deeper issues about their relationship - and about Juliet's life choices. In the "The clock struck nine when I did send the nurse" scene - the nurse basically talks about everything BUT Romeo for the vast majority of it. And keep in mind - though "Romeo and Juliet" is a love story, at it's heart it's a story about the tragedy of blind feuds. But in essence, the Bechdel test is good generally - and it's really good for talking about the majority of Hollywood "moneymakers." But it's just a guide - and no simple guide is going to solve the problem. But if you choose to not follow it make sure it's exactly that - an informed choice. 

The discussion gets more complex when you start looking at films like “Sucker Punch” – which claims to be a movie about female empowerment, but which depicts said females as “erotic fan boy stereotypes.” Personally, I actually really liked “Sucker Punch” – and I think it had some positive things to say, even though it may not have accomplished it’s “female empowerment” goal as successfully as it could have.

The point is, I think most of us can agree that women are not always portrayed well. We can’t all agree on how best to rectify that. I’m not really totally sure myself. Sometimes it’s more difficult to talk about how to write what you ARE then what you’re not. But for what it’s worth, here’s my two cents.

First of all, take a brief interlude, and go watch/read the following:

Ted Talks: How Movies Teach Manhood


                  (And no, "but there are more women in the second one" is not the right answer.) 

No, seriously, go. I’ll wait.

You done?


Well, I thought I’d start by trying to think of some examples of well-written female characters. And I thought the most effective way to do that would be to start with the female characters I’ve identified with the most through out my life. This is a personal list – this doesn’t mean that these are THE BEST female characters. This doesn’t mean that every woman will identify with these characters. It just means that I do. This includes films, stories, musicals, etc.

Ofelia – “Pan’s Labyrinth”
Joan of Arc
The Little Mermaid (original Hans Christian Anderson story)
Elphaba – “Wicked”
Matilda – “Matilda” (the book)

And, there are male characters I identify with as well:

Frodo – “Lord of the Rings”
Katurian – “The Pillowman”

are just two examples. When someone asks me who I’d love to play in the musical “Into The Woods” the answer I want to give is The Baker, or in “Pippin,” Pippin. Two male characters.

Yes – there are major themes connecting all these characters. Those are the themes I most strongly identify with personally. Everyone has their own.

Interestingly, there are many articles discussing the fact that since there are usually more male characters in a story then female (often there is just the “token” female,) most women grow up learning to identify with a male character. “Ok, no women I relate too, I’ll just relate to him.” (Please note: This, as with points made through out this entry is not a hard and fast rule. In fact, sometimes trying to "break" gender bias convention ends up causing more of a problem. There are more women in "Oz The Great and Powerful" then in "The Wizard of Oz." But it's still a far poorer film at portraying women.) It’s the same with any under represented group. So sometimes I wonder, when and how do men relate to female characters? Does a little boy watching “The Wizard of Oz” more strongly relate to, say, the Scarecrow – because he’s a boy, or to Dorothy – because she’s the protagonist? I tend to relate more to Frodo then Arwen, or more to Spiderman then Mary Jane. I remember being in great turmoil as a child because I could never decide if I would rather be Peter Pan or Wendy. I’m still not sure.

And I think that’s an interesting place to start. If you’re unsure how to write female characters – or just want to get better at it, make a list of all the female characters you identify with. For example, if you were an actor, and a woman, what roles would you like to play?

Then really start thinking about WHY you relate to that character. Why do you like them? What do you identify with? The truth is, both genders can be stereotyped. Think of same gender characters you really don’t relate to – and figure out why. Now think of opposite gender characters you don’t relate to – and figure out why. Take physical characteristics out of the equation. Imagine playing that part. Would you want to? Why or why not?

A really hot topic right now is female empowerment, especially in film. Now, I’m all for female empowerment. But the second I, or anyone else tries to write an “empowered female” – that being the sole goal – I’ve probably just killed any chance of ACTUALLY writing an empowered character. First and foremost you have to write a good, well-rounded character with an arc. The truth is, the vast majority of politically correct female characters I’ve seen recently, actually feel more offensive, and politically INcorrect to me as a woman. I’m a huge fairy tale fan (that’s a blog in and of itself.) I found the Snow White character in “Snow White and the Huntsman” – you know, the supposed “bad ass” Snow with a sword in her hand FAR more politically incorrect then the Snow in the original story. Putting a sword in her hand doesn’t make her a relatable character. And you’ve completely missed the METAPHORIC significance of her journey in the original story. I found that Snow White to have no personality, no real want, and really, nothing I could relate to, or empathize with. Where as I do with the Snow in the original story - even though her character is far from fleshed out. On the flip side, I find Ginnifer Goodwin’s Snow in the T.V series “Once Upon a Time” to be both an empowered bad ass, AND to have all the metaphoric elements inherent in the original story. But that’s because the creators of the show did more then just put a sword in her hand (which they do within the first five minutes of the pilot) – they gave her a well rounded character with strengths and flaws and wants and thoughts and feelings. She has an arc to her character. She grows and changes. She’s strong, she’s funny, she’s vulnerable. Yes, I said she’s strong AND vulnerable. Women, just like men, can have contradictions. It makes them interesting. Just like real people. And being vulnerable doesn't make her weak. 

"Snow White and the Huntsman"/Traditional Fairy Tale
                                                       Ginnifer Goodwin - "OUAT" 

What does empowerment mean for a woman? Is it different then for a man? I’m not sure. All I know is that simply transposing a masculine stereotype of “empowerment” onto a woman is not actually empowering that woman. I find the final scene of “Pan’s Labyrinth” – in which a young girl (Ofelia,) confronted by her abusive step father who is holding a loaded gun refuses to hand over her infant baby brother to him to be one of the most empowering scenes I’ve ever seen. A simple word: “No,” with the brave acceptance of the consequences such defiance will incur does more then an armory of swords and guns ever could. Simply giving a girl a weapon doesn’t make her empowered. It can make her a “fan boy fetish” just as easily. I think this can be true for both genders. I find the moment when Harry Potter walks into the forest to sacrifice himself for his friends far more meaningful and empowering then all the epic wand battle scenes.

                              Ofelia - "Pans Labyrinth"                   Megan Fox in...something

On the flip side, (as my screenwriter friend pointed out) many writers write women as damsels in distress even though they don't realize it. Since often women aren't the protagonist of the film (or sometimes even when they are,) they end up being written as reactionary, and passive instead of proactive. Stuff happens TO them. They don't DO stuff. Interestingly this is one of the issues I have with Kristen Stewart's Snow White in "Snow White and the Huntsman." Check out the film - then tell me what she actually DOES to advance her story. Yeah, she's a little feisty. She tries to escape those who are trying to hurt her - but she is in reality basically lost and confused until she meets a bunch of guys who are like: "follow me, I'll show you where to go." Then these same men go: "You're THE ONE - you have to lead us to victory." And Snow just goes along for the ride. Even the moment where she defeats the Evil Queen is basically an accident. This Snow - even though she has a sword in her hand, is really at heart a damsel in distress. "The Wizard of Oz" is the opposite. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion - the "side kicks" are all given moments to be proactive. Even the Lion - who is kind of depicted as a male damsel in distress for most of the movie - has moments of driving the action forward.

And now I come to my most important point.

Above all, there must be a care, and empathy for your subject whenever your subject is “other” then yourself. This is true of a character who is another gender, race, age, ethnicity, etc. Portray women as human beings. Think about your mothers, your sisters – what are their deepest fears? Secrets? Dreams? How do they process and express their feelings? How is it different then you? I’ve had to do that in reverse to write my male characters. And it always stems from empathy. Taking the physical out of it, what do I love about men? How would the men in my life process X differently then me? I’ve never had to deal with the pressure to “be a man” in contemporary society. But my friends have – and I can empathize with that. I may never have to deal with needing to prove my masculinity, but I have had to deal with feeling like I needed to prove myself to be “worthy,” “strong,” “what I’m supposed to be” – and I use that to inform my characters. I think when we stop thinking of women as objects in life – they’ll stop being portrayed as objects on film.

So here’s what it boils down to:

1.) Unless there is a GOOD reason why, make sure everything you write passes the Bechdel Test. And even if your plot demands that not all three elements can be met, you MUST give your female character(s) something that’s driving them besides a man. I think the films of Miyazaki (“Princess Mononoke,” “Spirited Away”) are brilliant examples of stories where there is a romance, AND the stories pass the Bechdel test with flying colors.

2.) Give every character you write an objective, and an arc. No matter how minor they are. Have at least five adjectives that describe every character.

3.) Tell a good story first and foremost. Don’t TRY and empower/make politically correct/etc. women. Tell a good story with good characters. Everyone will disagree on what empowerment is. But if you tell an effective, moving story – you can’t have gone too far wrong.

4.) Make your women active. Even if they're not the primary driving force behind a plot, give them thoughts, ideas, actions. Don't make them purely passive and reactionary.

5.) Most importantly empathize. Writers have been taught for years to understand and empathize with their characters – no matter how “evil” they are. Well, do the same for gender opposite characters. Care about them. Understand them. Empathize, and relate to the real women around you. Talk to them, ask them questions. Then write real characters. There are no hard and fast rules. There can be damsels in distress. There can be attractive women. Just like there can be dumb tough guys. But the point is, that can't be ALL they are. It's difficult sometimes to understand the opposite gender. It's also difficult to understand an alien, or a murderer, or a fairy. But that's our job as writers. Care for women in real life. Do your best to understand the women around you. Then you can start to write female characters that will matter to everyone. 

On a side note - this was recently brought to my attention. Thought it was worth adding to the discussion:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Shout out

Hey everyone!

Looking back over my blog entry Women in the Arts: A Question I wanted to give a shout out to an awesome female writer/actress/friend of mine - one of the only female writers I know: Stacy Osei-Kuffour. Not only is she a fantastic female artist, she also beautifully deals with the black experience in her work. Most recently she's created a web series called Blacktress. Check her out.

And if you have any thoughts regarding my blog post about women in the arts - I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Official Website is up!

Hey everyone!

My official website just went live! And it's very cool. You can get all the information on my various projects, see video clips, hear some of my music, and see some all around cool photos. Come check it out!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Ivy League of Physical Comedy


Hey everyone! Those of you who read my blog entry The Power of Laughter know how highly I think of Joel Jeske. He's my collaborator/co writer on Wonderland - believe me, I do not decide to co write with someone lightly. I've only done so twice in my life (see Guide To Collaboration) and would only do so with someone I think is truly exceptional, and brilliant. And Joel is. 

Many people have asked me where they can study the kind of physical comedy/clowning I've discussed in some of my entries. Well - here's your opportunity! (And for straight actors, musical theater performers, singers, dancers - this would be awesome for you too!) 

Joel, along with Mark Lonergan - artistic director of the Drama Desk nominated Parallel Exit, will be teaching a fantastic comedy master class the first two weeks of April. 

Here's all the info. And please follow Parallel Exit on Facebook to stay in the loop on their future classes.

                                                 PARALLEL EXIT’S 
                                               COMEDY ACADEMY 

With your trusty professors: Joel Jeske and Mark Lonergan
From Cirque du Soleil, Big Apple Circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey!
Come to play. Come to learn. Come to be funny.
COMEDY ACADEMY is the Ivy League of physical comedy! Open to all levels!
Through eight unique classes you will gain practical knowledge and technique that WILL make you funnier as you develop and perfect your own performance, material, character, and style. 
Parallel Exit, the Drama Desk-Nominated physical comedy experts, blend classic and modern styles into performances that have sold out around the world.            
Actors: Find the physical “hook” for your audition and infuse scene work with human nature and humor.
Singers: Find the touch of humor that allows you to access emotion and expression in music.
Improvisers: Discover a physical element that brings a new dimension to your work.
Writers: Writers: Discover new-found depth by adding physicality to your work.
Variety Artists: Gain inspiration and further develop material and your unique character.
New to comedy: COMEDY ACADEMY is the supportive environment to gain your comedy confidence.
Attend one class or all eight. Take the class every night or skip a day or two. 
April 1, 2, 3*, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11
Location: 520 8th Avenue (btwn. 36th and 37th St.) 3rd floor (*April 3: Location to be announced.)
1 class            $75
4 class FlexPass            $250
8 class FlexPass            $500
Work with experts who can get “laughs by simply breathing!”  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Artistry of Youtube

Hey everyone! This is an article that I wrote a while back for the Curator. It's called: "The Art of Youtube" - a history of the medium, and analysis of it as an art form. Check it out! 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Women in the Arts - A Question

                                                                Women in the Arts
                                                                       A question

Some of my favorite (contemporary) women in the arts. From left to right: Sara Ruhl, Jane Espenson, Rina Mimoun, Tina Fey

Ok, so this is the blog entry I never thought I would write. I feel like I’m throwing my hat in a ring that others have thought much longer, and harder about then I have. I also, I suppose through innocence, was not really “rallied to the cause” as it were until recently. I’ve never considered myself a huge feminist, though of course I believe in equality of women, but, well, I’ll start at the beginning and go from there. I wanted to write this more as a conversation starter then as a theoretical analysis. I would really love your opinions on this topic. It’s something I really started thinking about a couple years ago but I guess the metaphorical “final straw” came a couple days ago when I was hanging out with a female friend of mine – who is brilliantly funny – and I suddenly realized that I have two, count ‘em TWO female friends who are strong comediennes. I have many wonderfully funny guy friends but, (and keep in mind, I am a professional performer, and the work I’m currently most well known for are comedies) I have only two female friends who are funny as part of what they do for a living. In addition to being a performer, I am also a professional writer – specifically playwright. I don’t have any good female friends who are playwrights. What?

Like I said, lets start at the beginning.

I was extremely blessed to be raised with the firm belief that while girls and boys may be different, they were completely equal – and both could grow up to be anything they wanted to be. I was raised by a beautiful, strong, and very intelligent mom, and had wonderful female role models growing up. My first acting teacher went on to become a head writer for the WB – and (when she was in high school and I was about eight) I remember watching her work on her scripts during rehearsal breaks and thinking how cool she was, and how cool it would be to do that myself. The theater company I grew up at was co run by a female and male artistic director. The majority of theater directors I worked with growing up were women.

When we started learning history in elementary school the thought never entered my mind that women weren’t being properly represented, or had been kept from doing things men did – I firmly believed that, well, at that time in history, statistically women just happened to be interested in other kinds of jobs then, say, being President, and the people that were elected were the best person for the job, and by coincidence, they happened to be men. Now if I ran for President, I’d take ‘em all down. ☺

There’s a line from the movie “Selena” that Abraham says to his daughter (Selena) “No female has ever made it and now you’re number one. You cracked the Tejano market wide open. You walked into Mexico and they don’t even accept Mexican-Americans and they love you…all the barriers that have stopped people before…and you went through them like they didn’t exist. Maybe for you they don’t exist.” That kind of summed up my way of thinking. They DON’T exist. Who’s to stop you? Maybe thinking they exist makes them exist.
But my thinking started to change when I started getting my first tastes of success as an adult in the entertainment industry.

I would walk into meetings with important industry professionals – producers, directors, even writers, and I would be the only woman in the room. I’d also be the youngest one in the room – but that’s another topic.

If you’ve read my blog post “The Power of Laughter” you’ll know that I didn’t grow up with huge aspirations of being funny. But somehow, I am funny, and it’s something that I enjoy using in my art. Suddenly I’m reading articles about how women aren’t funny – and realizing that I have two female friends that are professional comedians. And suddenly, I’ve become highly aware of the ratio of men to women directors, writers, producers, and comedians.

And I keep asking myself why? And I really don’t know. Was the fact that I was never aware that my being a woman might have anything to do with the job I would ultimately end up doing the lucky blessing that made me blissfully unaware of any hindrances in my path?  Are women being intimidated out of these roles? Are men in power making unfair decisions when it comes to hiring? I’ve been incredibly blessed to have brilliant male mentors for whom gender differences mean nothing (in the best sense.) I know other women who have had horrible experiences working with men who didn’t think their work had value. I do think there are differences between men and women when it comes to the arts – but no more so then any two people with different life experiences might have. An African-American writer might (and I emphasize the word MIGHT – this is only for the sake of argument, not compartmentalization) be more interested in exploring the African-American experience in their work then, say, a Caucasian writer who was raised by European immigrants and wants to explore the changing European mentality in the United States.  A man may default to having a male protagonist, where as a woman might default to having a female one. Someone who’s been through a divorce might be interested in exploring the ins and outs of romantic relationships, where as someone with dysfunctional parents might want to write about that. Because at the end of the day to be an artist you have to explore your personal truth, and it is different experiencing the world as a woman or as a man (I say this as a comment related to the subject matter, and general tone two different people might gravitate towards, not that women can’t write male characters, or talk about the male experience, and visa versa.)

Shouldn’t it be about the PERSON? Sometimes I wonder if we were all given numbers instead of names, and never applied for a job in person, would the demographics be the same? Is it that men feel challenged by women in a position of power? Does funny equal power? Why was it such a revelation for Tina Fey to be funny AND sexy? Some of my friends who primarily direct comedy based shows say they always feel like they’ve hit the jackpot when they find a great, funny woman – and that they’re always the most challenging to cast. Why can I practically count on one hand the number of female playwrights and directors who have been featured on Broadway in the past five years?

In essence, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on. Thoughts? What do you think accounts for this dichotomy? And how can we go about changing it?