Monthly Inspirations, June 2014

I’m starting a new posting series about inspirational stuff I see each month. I think it’s so important to stay active and inspired as an artist, and if I can help give more exposure to things I believe in, all the better! Here goes! :)


 

Phew! June is such a crazy month out here! Festivals galore! I volunteered for the Dances with Films Festival and helped out with an award for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, so I had the opportunity to see MANY films and plays in June. Here are some special ones:

Dances with Films first…

Personal Day

From their FB page: “The story of two disgruntled office workers who (by complete coincidence) choose the same day to bring guns to work and ‘resign’.” I watch a lot of things that I feel like could be a lot better after one or two more drafts. This was not one of them. What a great feeling to be watching something and thinking “This is just perfect.” They took a topic that’s so timely and so heavy, yet but an interesting, exciting, smart twist on it and made it INCREDIBLY funny. Can’t wait to see what these peeps do next.

https://www.facebook.com/personalday

Targeting

Wow. Soldier comes back from Afghanistan to her family and civilian life and becomes obsessed with a guy she sees in her hometown, believing him to be connected to some shiz that went down back in Afghanistan. I really loved the story and was completely captivated in that “Oh shit what’s gonna happen?!?!?!?” way that I absolutely love. Tajana Prka carries this movie and did such incredible work. It’s so wonderful to see a female character who’s such a badass and still extremely emotionally complex and troubled. Her troubled-ness was magnificently executed, and damn it’s so exciting to see such rich inner life become exposed through great acting.

Targeting

http://targetingthemovie.com/

Missing Child

From the website: “A young woman, who never knew her parents, discovers that she resembles an age-progressed photo in a “Missing Child” listing. After she meets the man who could be her father, her journey takes an unexpected turn. She uncovers secrets and lies in an attempt to find closure to her own disturbing past.” Some amazing acting Kristen Ruhlin in this one. It looks like she’s been in some great projects, and I really hope to see more of her. Luke created a great, suspenseful vibe that was both creepy and exciting. I am always super impressed when actors in the film are also directing the film and do a great job of both.

http://www.missingchild-movie.com/

Druid Peak

I cried during this more than I’ve cried during a movie in a long time. And I cry a lot during movies. Honestly, even watching the trailer again just now I cried. This film is about a kid who’s having a rough time and goes to live with his estranged father who monitors wolf packs in Wyoming, and then finds himself while learning about and tracking these wolves. Not only is this film totally beautiful to watch because of the landscape and wildlife, but it’s also an intensely heartfelt and touching story. I think there’s just something about seeing someone who is hurting so much and having such a hard time with life find something that fills their heart and brings them a sense of purpose. Spencer, the lead actor, was AMAZING and gave an absolutely masterful performance in this film. Watch out for him. I can’t believe he’s not being cast in every movie right now.

If this shit doesn’t get a theatrical release, I’m going to lose all faith in the film industry.

http://www.druidpeak.com/

Druid Peak

Casey

It’s hard to talk about this one without tons of spoilers, so here is what their FB page says: “Casey is about a young girl who struggles with her mother’s misguided attempts to show love. She finds escape as an MC in an underground hip-hop club and must decide between taking a stand against her mother, or watching her owns dreams drift away.” Very touching, great characters, and I love how they play with expectation. Very personal connection to some of the material in here and would love to see what they do next.

https://www.facebook.com/caseyfilm

 

And now for two wonderful productions at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (admittedly both featuring friends of mine!):

No Homo

A great exploration of sexuality which brings up many interesting questions about relationships, sex, how we like to categorize, and so much more. Funny, but still sensitive. I love seeing plays that explore something I haven’t thought about before. Won hella awards at Fringe, which was well-deserved.

http://www.nohomoplay.com/

No Homo

Friends Like These

Written by the illustrious Greg Crafts (one of the most hard-working, earnest people I’ve ever met), this play focuses on the interweaving of high school cliques, the isolation and otherness we’ve all felt, and the feelings that lead us to violence. We actually had a reading of this play at my house two years ago and it was so awesome to see it fully realized. They have a really excellent production here with some equally excellent acting work that opened up some great conversations at the Q&A after the show. It’s at San Diego Fringe Festival now, and I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll see of this show. Check it out at the SD Fringe if you’re in the area.

https://www.facebook.com/FriendsLikeThesePlay

 

Until next month!

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#TIL: The One-Headphone Secret

Here’s an Instagrammed up picture of our at-home studio set-up (yes, I finally got on Instagram, at maureenchesus) that we used to record some music for my singing reel:

Recording

I feel the need to impart some wisdom from recording today: Mariah and Christina and all those other folks you see wailing away with the headphones half off and their right hand diva gesticulations– they are NOT just being divas and trying to show you how into the song they are. Well, actually I can’t speak for the gesticulating. I don’t know what that’s about. But what I DO know is…

As someone coming from a musical theatre background rather than a recording background, I’m used to hearing myself sing live. In musical theatre, you’re taught to sing for the space; to fill the whole room. You’re using your voice to give love and emotion to the entire theatre, all the way to the back row. When you’re recording, it’s all getting funneled pointedly into the microphone. The mic doesn’t care how full and luscious the sound is as it reverberates throughout the room. It can sound much thinner and weaker. Alex kept telling me that that’s why there are producers who take the recording and work their magic to make it sound full and luscious again. However, the psychological damage this can do while you’re recording is not to be underestimated!!! If you’re used to hearing that fullness, listening to your own playback can be really disorienting and, potentially, very disappointing, which then messes with your head and can screw up your focus on your performance. I tried taking one headphone off to see if it would help to hear my actual voice in the room rather than what the recording was picking up and voila! I was able to hear myself sounding normal again. For the rest of the session I felt way more confident and stopped doubting my abilities.

So, don’t judge when you see photos of people in the studio like that! They’re just trying to help themselves do a good job! Oh, and don’t burp into the microphone, because if you do, your boyfriend will keep it and hold it as blackmail.

 

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The Suit and Peter Brook

I can’t remember when I first learned of director Peter Brook and his work. Maybe it was reading The Empty Space in college, maybe it was before then, but after coming back from my year abroad in London (where is name was certainly thrown around frequently), I dug into his history of work, reading Conference of the Birds, scouring the internet for images and details of his past productions, all because I had become obsessed with ways to combine multiculturalism and theatre. To this day, I have a hard time finding a way to combine the two in a new way, but that’s another story. I always thought it would be sooooooo incredible to work with Peter Brook on these daring productions and admired him for being so incredibly prolific. As you can imagine, I was thrilled by the opportunity to see The Suit while it was here visiting UCLA on it’s world tour, directed by Peter Brook himself.

The Suit, From the Afridiziak Theatre News website

The Suit, From the Afridiziak Theatre News website

As was expected, the story was beautifully put together. Scenes weaved in and out very organically, the use of the fourth wall was very appropriate to the type of show/story, and the performances were extremely focused and strategically nuanced. The three actors, Jordan Barbour, Ivanno Jeremiah, and Nonhlanhla Kheswa, gave masterful and captivating performances. The music was a absolutely a fourth character, playing almost constantly. The musicians (a guitarist, a trumpeter, and a guy switching between an accordion and a piano) deserve just as much praise as the actors.

I would go on and on about what made it so fantastic, but I’m not trying to write a review, AND they’ve moved on to a different city and I don’t want to tease you. What I wanted to explain about the impact of this show is that as I move more fully into the film/tv realm (never letting go of theatre, though!), The Suit was a great reminder of powerful it can be to experience a show that’s best and only possible incarnation is live performance. To film this piece would strip it of all that makes it so lovely– the amazing flow of energy in and out of scenes, the feeling that you get hearing these instruments played live as if just for you, the palpable connection between audience and storytellers, the way that subtle emotions make you lean in to read the feelings on an actor’s face… It just felt special. And that, my friends, is what I love about theatre. No matter what caliber of venue, company, or production you are partaking in, a well-executed piece of theatre will feel like you have experienced something unique and personal– like that performance was made solely to feed the souls of the folks who came that particular evening.

Thank you, Mr. Brook, for reminding me of this, for directing another show at 89 years old, and for creating such a wonderful celebration of my favorite art form.

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A Late Love Letter to Peter O’Toole

When I was in high school, most of my favorite movies were old movies: Casablanca, On the Waterfront, The Philadelphia Story, that kind of thing. As kind of a pre-hipster who hated to like anything that people my age liked (thanks, Santa Cruz), and movies like From Justin to Kelly and Gigli coming out during that time, you can see why I favored the classics.

Two of my favorites that I still have on VHS to this day were How to Steal a Million and Lawrence of Arabia. Though very different in tone, they both tell great stories with a charm and subtlety that you don’t often see in films coming out today.

Despite my convictions, I was still kind of a weirdo for liking them at the time. I remember trying to make a group of high school friends watch Lawrence at my parents house. It didn’t take long before they got bored and wanted to do something else, causing me to be offended, take it extremely personally, and wonder if they were really the type of people I wanted as friends if they couldn’t handle watching a masterpiece of film, even if it was almost four hours long.

During such an influential time, when my passion for acting was continuing to grow and develop, Peter O’Toole and his contemporaries were my icons and I got my inspiration and drive from watching them.

While doing a report on Audrey Hepburn for my U.S. history class (you know, like you do) and looking up her birth and death dates. At that moment, I realized that out of all of my favorite actors in those movies, Peter O’Toole was the only one still living.

Given this new information, I thought a lot about writing him a letter. If he was still around, I should take advantage of it and let him know how amazing I thought he was. I would tell him that I’ve seen many of his films and admire them very much, how they had been very special and influential to me as a young actor, praise him for his acting abilities, and thank him for being so inspiring to me.

Sadly, I promptly came up with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t write this letter. I convinced myself that it would probably be too hard to find an address, and that if I did find one that it would go to some kind of secretary/gatekeeper who would probably throw it away, and, most importantly, that it would be too dorky. I figured he’s probably surrounded by people who think he’s amazing, so even if I could make it work, one little letter from me isn’t going to mean anything.

For years after, the idea of writing a letter to Peter O’Toole kept popping back into my head. Knowing that he was getting older, I thought maybe I should say something before he’s gone, but I still kept telling myself that it would be lame and that he probably wouldn’t even read it.

When I woke up and saw the news this morning that he had passed away, I cried. Not just for the fact that we’ve lost a great contributor to American storytelling, but that I never sent that letter. I’m still not sure if he would have ever personally read it or not, but now I’ll never know.

From here forward, I will challenge myself to share my admiration for someone whenever I can, because people who do great work deserve to hear about it, even if it’s via their secretary and even if they’ve head it a million times. Who knows what happens after we die, but if there’s some chance that he’s hearing this, I hope he will know how much he meant to a young girl in a small town who wanted to be an actor.

My Peter O'Toole VHS Movies

 

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WRNG is Coming!

It’s hard to believe that over a year after completing filming, the first few episodes of WRNG in Studio City are about to premiere online! The webseries is about a news team who lose their funding and decide that the only way to survive is to make up the news. I play Janeen, who works at the station and quickly climbs the ladder to newscaster.

We’ve got a bunch of episodes coming out in the next couple of weeks starting TOMORROW! It’s super silly, and has a lot of similarities in sensibility to Community.

Watch the super cute trailer HERE.

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Yep. This.

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SAG/AFTRA-Eligible / LA Producers League Vote

Two very exciting things happened for me this week! Porter Kelly must be psychic, because after posting on Facebook that she had a feeling that good things would happen this week, I got some kind of good news every day following. Mysterious…!

The first was a letter I received from SAG-AFTRA letting me know that I am now SAG-eligible! I know that the step to between eligible status and actually joining will be a big one, but it feels great to be moving in the right direction!

Another exciting moment was the ‘yes’ vote to establish by-laws for the theatre producing community of Los Angeles! I was in attendance for the vote Monday night at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, alongside many excellent and well-known LA theatre producers, to support the early stages of the LA Producers League. I attended with the talented and bright Mary Kimball and we were the only non-producers there! How cool are we! :) There is more information about the developments here on the LA Stage Alliance website. I think this is the start of some wonderful, positive movements for the theatre community and it was great to be there to support it. I hope to get involved from the ground up and learn more about producing theatre in LA.

Can you spot Mary and I in this picture? :)

From the LA Stage website, photo by Dani Oliver

From the LA Stage website, photo by Dani Oliver

Here’s to more good news!!!

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Absolute Core Truths of Theatre Personnel Management

Maureen:

Great. Real and to the point. Things to work towards when I become an artistic director someday. :)

Originally posted on Bitter Gertrude:

Image

My husband and I out in front of our theatre. Photo by Cheshire Isaacs.

This is something I wrote for Theatre Bay Area‘s Chatterbox blog in 2011. If you’re a Bay Area theatremaker or theatre company, you need to be a member of TBA!

You can see this post in its original setting here. I recommend going there to click around the blog. There are some really excellent articles there. Velina Brown‘s posts with advice for actors are particularly excellent.

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THE ABSOLUTE CORE TRUTHS OF THEATRE PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT

This season marked my 10th anniversary as artistic director of Impact Theatre, and my 15th with the company as a founding member. When I became Impact’s AD, I quickly became aware of the fact that there’s no AD boot camp. There’s no Handbook for New ADs. Some local people were very helpful—Patrick Dooley at Shotgun Players was…

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