Thursday, October 31, 2013

My New York Branch, Year Two: "I Got A Rock."

This is actually not my building, I am in its twin
next door.
Just about everybody I know, who has moved to New York City from elsewhere, knows the exact date of their arrival, and takes at least passing notice of that date every year.  There must be something about this city which causes people to remember such a thing;  I am not aware that other folks who move to other cities commemorate the exact date of their arrival. 
The lobby displays in my building continue to impress.  These are real pumpkins, all carved differently by who knows whom.  From the frequency with which the lobby display changes, according to season and/or holiday, there must be someone employed full-time to handle it all.
I certainly do not know the exact date I moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles back in the early 70s, nor do I know the exact date I moved from LA to Salt Lake City in the early 80s.  I do not know the date I moved back to LA from SLC, nor do I know the date I moved from LA back to Atlanta in the late 80s.  Nine months after that, I moved back to LA, but I do not know the exact date I did so. (Are you detecting a pattern? It sometimes seems, looking back, that I never really knew where I wanted to live...) 
I am now unsure if always following the sign is a good thing.
I don't know the exact date I moved cross country to South Carolina, and I don't know the date I moved from Columbia to DC.  But I DO most definitely know the date I moved (at least part-time) to New York.  It was exactly two years ago.  By sheer coincidence, the day was Halloween.
I was surely lucky to snag a place at Manhattan Plaza two years ago.  I wonder if that luck has run out?  I don't get many presents from my NY life these days...
Last year, I wrote a bit about how my first year as a Manhattanite (part-time) had gone.  Tonight, as I listen to sugar-hyped children charge up and down the hallway of my building, I'm trying to clarify, for myself, how my second year has gone.  Well, I am much better at negotiating my bi-urban lifestyle (a term I invented to describe the fact that I live, simultaneously, in two cities).  I spent a lot more time in NY this second year, and have become comfortable here.  If I spend a long while in DC, as I did at the beginning of 2013, I actually miss my view out the 29th floor of Manhattan Plaza.
My homelife at ManPlaza has been dominated this year by: these guys.  The complex is undergoing some major structural realignment, so all year long, teams of workers have hauled themselves up the sides of the building and drilled, baby, drilled.  I'm not kidding you, on a daily basis, and depending on where the guys are located, the walls shake and the noise drowns out even your thoughts.  Unless it's raining, the work runs non-stop from 8-4.  I've learned if I want to take a nap, it must be from 11:45 to 12:45, when the workmen take their lunch.  It sounds, and feels, like the building itself is having a root canal.

Posters for my 5 NY shows are the only things
adorning my wall.  They are concrete reminders
that I am doing something here.

The view inside my apt hasn't changed much in the past year.  As opposed to my DC Branch, whose walls are crammed with all sorts of photos (of me, natch), posters, and other paraphernalia, I have kept the NY Branch remarkably clutter-free.  Above my desk, I have hung posters of the shows I've done since arriving in NY, and on another wall, a lonely digital clock reminds me that, well, the clock is ticking.

While the outside world ignores me, I continue
to nest.
My flat screen TV was actually purchased in the early days of my life in NY, but for the first year, I steadfastly refused to add a cable bill to my monthly nut.  I hooked the thing up to the building's antennae on the roof (16 flights above me).  Though there are about 1600 tenants in this building, I was apparently the only one who was using the ancient relic, and it was woefully inadequate. 
I spent all summer in NY, working outside. My
apt faces East, so the sun shines unmercifully.
I finally ordered drapes to try to mask the sun.
Note the aptly named tiebacks I use.

I got ABC and PBS only.  This year, I bit the bullet, and enrolled in a very basic cable service;  I still don't get any news channels or even basic ones such as TBS or Lifetime, but I do now get the broadcast networks, plus about a dozen local stations in foreign languages.  This might be a good time for me to learn Spanish or Mandarin.

Let's face it, the major, in fact only, reason for me to be juggling a bi-urban lifestyle (see how that term's catching on?) is professionally.  And along those lines, I must face the fact that my career has not progressed very much since last year. 

I added three more shows to my New York resume, all of them artistically satisfying but financially embarrassing.  I have put off the biggest chore an actor has when relocating to New York: acquiring an agent. 
I started my 2nd year in a
wintertime production of

I know very well that my professional career is not going to expand much without one, yet I confess that I've used every excuse in the book to avoid the arduous (and deflating) task of getting one.  That really has to be my next big priority, if I intend to continue living, even part-time, in New York.

So what HAVE I been doing here the past year?  By my count, I have attended 35 cattle call auditions, including the one this morning which may sum up the quasi-uselessness I am currently feeling. 
Two outdoor shows kept me in
NY all summer.

I visit the Actors Equity casting website at least once a day, and whenever there is a general audition for a show, or a theatre, or a season, which I feel may have a possibility for me, I print out that announcement and add it to my calendar.  Two weeks ago, I did exactly that, for a bus-and-truck tour of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  They were looking for, among others, the exact roles I played a few years ago in DC, so I optimistically thought there may be a chance at snagging this gig. 
I don't audition for many musicals
in NY, but having played this role
before, I thought there might be
a chance.

The audition was scheduled at one of the many rehearsal/audition spaces in Manhattan, but because the audition was basically "first come / first served," I awoke early and schlepped downtown to wait in line to snag an audition slot.  I was surprised when I arrived.  For a project such as this, there is usually an onslaught of people crowding the room to be seen;  today, there were only an handful.  I waited over an hour for the Equity Approved Monitor to arrive to begin to sign up actors for slots, at which time I discovered that this was not an audition for principles, as the website had announced, but a chorus call.

So, a wasted morning.  Is this a metaphor for my past year in New York?  I hope not. 
In DC, I have a large pendulum clock which
comfortingly ticks and chimes and does not tell
time. In NY, this digital timepiece makes no noise,
and keeps perfect time,
but whenever I look at it, it reminds me:
the clock is ticking.  Time is passing.  Am I wasting it?

I did two more shows in Manhattan in the past year, and it looks likely I will return to some of those haunts next spring.  But if I intend to begin to book projects which pay more than subway fare, the next step is the most distasteful to me: finding representation.  Stay tuned for those horror stories.


Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Bye, Bob!"

I've fallen out of the habit of writing obits in these pages, but the loss of this funny lady has struck a chord with me.

Marcia Wallace
Marcia was born and raised in Iowa, and moved to New York as soon as she graduated college.  Her time in New York was spent primarily in the improv scene, though she supplemented her income with commercials:

During her time in Manhattan, she was one of the many semi-regulars appearing on Merv Griffin's talk show.  When Merv moved his show to Los Angeles, he asked her to move with it. (I wrote about watching Merv's show as a kid here, when Griffin died.) 
That circular reception desk in Bob's outer office
 was the scene of countless
hilarious moments.

It was a smart move for our heroine, as her continued appearances brought her to the attention of TV mogul Grant Tinker, who was hunting around for a companion sitcom to compliment his wife's new hit, The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  He invited Wallace to become part of the ensemble of the show he was creating around standup comedian Bob Newhart. 
As part of the CBS Saturday lineup (which included All In The Family, MASH, Mary Tyler Moore, and Carol Burnett), it was the job of The Bob Newhart Show to hold onto Mary's audience and deliver them to Burnett.  As such, Newhart's show was the red-headed stepchild of the MTM family.  Extremely well-written and performed, it holds up today as a shining example of the ensemble sitcom.  And it gave birth to a college drinking game, though I did not know it at the time.  Every time someone on the show said, "Hi, Bob!" (which was frequent), you were to take a shot. There were lots of drunk college students watching CBS Saturday night.
Carol Kester became Mrs. Bonderant in the show's
final seasons.
The role of Carol Kester was written for Wallace, and she played the wise-cracking receptionist to the hilt.
This screen grab is from the 90s sitcom Murphy Brown, which included a running gag: Brown could never hold onto a secretary. Most episodes included her meeting her new assistant. It was a nice tribute to Marcia Wallace and Bob Newhart when Murphy's new secretary was "Carol," a transplant from Chicago.

Once her time with Bob was over, Marcia maintained a presence on television as a guest star on various sitcoms, and as a reliable celebrity on various game shows. 
Wallace's early career in improv came in handy
 as a frequent guest on Match Game.

I  may be in the minority for remembering her primarily from The Bob Newhart Show, as Wallace's obits have mentioned her relationship with The Simpsons far more often.  I do not watch The Simpsons, but she has apparently been playing a recurring character for many years, and even won an Emmy for her voice work in 1992.
Marcia voiced a recurring character on The Simpsons for over 100 episodes.  In 1992, a new category was introduced at the Emmys: Outstanding Voice Over Performance.  The award was juried, which meant that any number of actors could win, and that year, a whopping six did exactly that.  All the winners were from The Simpsons, including Marcia Wallace as Bart's teacher Edna Krabappel.
Marcia's memoir details her struggle with
breast cancer.
Marcia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, and became a vocal activist on the subject for the rest of her life.  As of this writing, it's unclear whether she died from cancer complications or from pneumonia, as has been announced by her son.  It really doesn't matter.  I spent every Saturday night with Marcia during those 70s years when she was part of the CBS lineup which dominated the TV Nielson ratings. 
The Bob Newhart Show won the Legend Award from TV Land, but when it was running, it received very little acclaim.  Throughout its six seasons, it received only two Emmy nominations, losing them both.  The show lasted only one year after Mary Tyler Moore left the airwaves, and its final episode poked a bit of fun at its big sister show.  MTM's final episode featured the cast singing "A Long Way to Tipperary." Bob Newhart's final episode featured their cast singing "Oklahoma."
Marcia continued to work as she battled cancer, guesting
on Columbo, Magnum P.I., and Love Boat, and
including a recurring role on
 Full House (above).
With her bright eyes and red hair, her wide smile showing huge teeth and lots of gum, and her precise comic timing, Marcia
Wallace was another example, to me, that actors "in support" had the most fun.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

15 Years

Today is a special day, and it deserves a special Dance Party;  sadly, it carries a somber tone.  Today marks the 15th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, about whom I wrote five years ago.  This gay college kid was brutally assaulted in a field in Wyoming, strapped to a fence and left to die, because of his homosexuality.
In response to Matthew Shepard's murder, playwright Moises Kaufman took his theatre company to the scene of the crime and interviewed the residents of the town where the brutality took place.  The result was The Laramie Project, which has become a shining example of the docudrama genre.  And it's back in the news:  a college production at the University of Mississippi was disrupted last week by a student audience which shouted epithets during the show.  There were football players involved, and as Ol' Miss treats their sports stars as gods, there is unlikely to be any serious penalties for their brutish behavior.  The pic above is not from that production;  instead, it is from the current production at DC's Ford's Theatre, surely one of the highest profile venues this show has seen in a while.  Bad news there too:  Ford's Theatre is operated by the federal Parks Dept., so the building has been closed during the government shutdown.  Ford's Laramie Project is now homeless, and has been presenting a few performances at a nearby church.
Coincidentally, yesterday was International Coming Out Day, designated to commemorate the anniversary of the Great March on Washington which took place in 1987 in support of Gay Rights.  That march, attended by about half a million people, came at the height of the AIDS crisis, as an indictment of the Reagan administration's refusal to acknowledge the ongoing epidemic.
This actor was completely unknown to me;  apparently, his major claim to fame was as a star of a TV show called Prison Break.  He recently came out, and tells the story of his own thoughts of suicide as a teen.
So many lives were lost to the disease back then, and today, death still haunts our tribe.  It's more likely, these days, that a gay youngster dies as a result of bullying.  The fatal attack on Matthew Shepard is a prime example of such homophobia, and since that atrocity, many many teens and young adults have taken their own lives as a result of persistent bullying.  This special edition of the Dance Party features a little video created to honor those kids.

Remember this guy? Tyler Clementi was a student at Rutgers who was secretly videotaped in his own dorm room by his roommate, having a sexual encounter with a date.  The encounter was live streamed on the Internet by the roommate, causing Clementi such humiliation that he posted on his Facebook page "jumping off the GW bridge.  sorry."  And then he did.  The roommate who secretly pointed a webcam at Tyler, Dharun Ravi, was never charged in the death.  He was found guilty of other minor charges, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.  He served only 20 before being released. His actions directly caused the death of Tyler Clementi, and he was jailed for less than 3 weeks.
The star of the clip below, if you can call him that, goes by the overly precious name of Davey Wavey. 
This is what Davey Wavey looks like in most of the videos I've come across.  Several years ago, he posted a personal video on YouTube, describing the day he looked out his window and caught his neighbor masturbating.  Naturally, the video went viral, and an Internet star was born.
In the years since he posted his voyeuristic video, Davey Wavey has carved out a career as a gay rights advocate, fitness guru, and self-help specialist in the online gay community. 

Activism has its perks, if you look
like this. Davey now has his own
line of underwear.

The video below is one of the only ones I have found in which Davey is fully clothed, as he is famous for his shirtless videos (see above).  But I applaud his efforts in this clip, which was created several years ago, in the midst of what seemed to be an epidemic of gay teen suicides. 
Asher Brown was repeatedly bullied at school,
so much so that his parents made numerous
complaints to the administration. No action
was taken. Asher shot himself. He was 13.

Such suicides have been happening for decades, of course, but for some reason a few years ago, many of them became high-profile cases covered by the mainstream media.  The suicide of gay teens has not subsided (LGBT kids are four times more likely to try suicide than their straight counterparts), but publicity regarding them seems to have slacked a bit.
This is Joe Bell.  His son Jadin was yet another teen victimized by anti-gay bullying, and he committed suicide in February.  Jadin's father Joe began his Walk For Change, to raise awareness about bullying.  Despite the fact that he has two artificial knees, his plan was to walk across the country;  he began in Oregon and got as far as Colorado.  This week, Joe was run over by a semi-truck, whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel.  Joe was killed. This special Dance Party is dedicated to him, too.

In the video below, you will see Davey and his friend inflate and then release balloons.  This practice dates back to the countless AIDS funerals of the 1980s, when it was common to release a balloon into the sky, signifying the release of the deceased's spirit into the heavens. 
This poignant playlet, filmed for PBS, used
"memorial balloons" to great effect.

The sheer number of balloons which Davey prepares here is saddening, as each represents a gay youth who took his or her own life;  I shudder to think how many more would have been added in the years since this video was made.  In honor of all those kids, and in honor of Matthew Shepard, here are those balloons.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Dance Party: The Country's In The Very Worst Of Hands

When I appeared in this show in college, I was required to smear my torso, arms, hands, and face with something they called Texas Dirt. I even had it on my ankles. I rubbed myself raw every night, trying to wash the stuff off, so I wouldn't have to go to class the next day looking as if my tanning lotion had gone bad.
Believe it or not, the government shutdown and debt ceiling showdown were not the only news items which concerned DC residents this week.  There has been, for many years, an ongoing discussion regarding the Washington Redskins, an argument which is resurrected, like clockwork, as soon as the first kickoff happens in the new NFL season. 

Using the image of the Native American isn't quite as bad as
calling them "redskins." The rebranding of the team is as
controversial as ever; the Washington Warriors has been
suggested as a more suitable moniker.
Why in the world the team doesn't just change its name is a mystery to me;  "redskins" is racist and antiquated, and if major sports teams can actually change CITIES and often their name along with that change (such as when the Montreal Expos moved to DC and became the Nationals), why not change an offensive name to one which isn't?

I don't follow football, and never played it, but still, as usual, I've found a way to make this discussion about me.  Back in my undergraduate days at Cal State Northridge, I played a Native American character, back when we called them Indians.  To my shame, I used every stereotype Hollywood had offered us for playing such roles. 
Ugh. I even said, "Ugg."
I cringe at the

Back then (around 1975), nobody even considered that the Hollywood image of Indians might be offensive to an entire race, so I will cut myself some slack on that one.  The role was Lonesome Polecat, and the show was a large-scale production of a brassy old musical from the 1950s, Li'l Abner.  It is from that musical that this week's Dance Party is plucked.
I actually like this film version, though must admit, the libretto is pretty hackneyed.
There had been several attempts to bring Al Capp's popular comic strip to the musical stage over the years, back when comic strips were actual forms of entertainment.  Rodgers and Hammerstein once wanted to produce a version, and Lerner and Lowe were supposed to be working on one when their musicalization of Pygmalion took over and became My Fair Lady
The Tony wasn't enough for Edie Adams
to keep her role in the film. She appears
in a very sweet, moving Dance Party

The task finally fell to pop songster Johnny Mercer, who provided a zippy score to what most people today find to be a lackluster book.  With Michael Kidd at the helm, though, the show was a success in 1956, winning a Tony for Kidd and for his leading lady, Edie Adams.
One of the few numbers cut for the movie, "Oh Happy Day" celebrates the triumph of science over humanity. It's really a throwaway song, but the version at CSUN was a showstopper.

In their infinite wisdom, Paramount Studios discarded their Tony-winning star for their movie version, replacing her with one of the reigning sexpots of the period, Leslie Parrish.  Original Mammy Yokum Charlotte Rae lost her role in the film to one of her replacements in the Broadway cast, Billie Hayes. 
"I Has Spoken!" And indeed, she had.  Billie Hayes snagged Mammy Yokum for the film, besting original star Charlotte Rae.  The latter went on to a surprising TV career, becoming a much bigger name, while Hayes is largely remembered for her kids show performances on Saturday mornings. You can catch her own Dance Party from several years ago here.
Otherwise, the stage cast remained substantially in tact for the movie version, which was filmed in front of presentational sets to attempt to recreate the feel of a comic strip.
Parrish (right) was one of only two major players who replaced their original creators (Stella Stevens was the other; she replaced a pre-Gilligan Tina Louise as Appassionata von Climax).  That's Julie Newmar at center, making the most of her bombshell physique as Stupifyin' Jones, and on the left, character actor William Lanteau, who had a lengthy career in support (remember him as the mailman in On Golden Pond?)
I have a soft spot for Li'l Abner, as it was the first musical in which I sang anything solo.  It was only a verse of the opening number, but the experience gave me the confidence to pursue other musical theatre roles. 
Lonesome Polecat lived in a cave with his partner, Hairless Joe, where they mixed up vats of moonshine called Kickapoo Joy Juice ("it's heep Grade A!").  It has since occurred to me that these dudes must have been the first same-sex couple to appear in an American musical.
Our version was directed by a faculty member at CSUN, Maryellen Clemons, about whom I wrote a long while back, when she died.  (I had an awkward relationship with her, which you can read about here.)  I give Maryellen credit, though, for recreating a huge amount of the original Michael Kidd choreography. 
In her younger days, Maryellen had been in the dancing chorus of one of Li'l Abner's National Tours, so she was intimately acquainted with the style, and all the steps, of the show.  Here she brings her signature intensity to a discussion with our leading man.
The clip below brings back lots of memories for me;  our version of this number at CSUN was an almost step-by-step copy of Kidd's moves.  I watch it and wonder how the hell I ever moved like that;  it's the most athletically challenging choreography I have ever accomplished.

And I am always a fan of any screen adaptation of a stage show which preserves the original's performances, as happens here.