Thursday, May 18, 2017

Another Opening, Another Show

            It’s that time every actor dreads… TECH WEEK. Time to make sure all the pieces of the show fall together, meaning the props are made, the costumes fit, the set is finalized and all the lights and sound come on when they are supposed to. Up until this point, you’ve played “make believe” with a lot of the details. Don’t have REAL cupcakes? No problem. I’ll just pretend I’m eating one, or I’ll buy some munchkins at the Dunkin Donuts and eat those instead. It works (and they’re delicious too)! Don’t have that sign you’re supposed to hold up as part of a punch line? It’s okay. I’ll just grab a phone bill from my purse and use that instead. But now the moment of truth has arrived, when we find out if everything really DOES work. And maybe it’s just me, but it’s f**king scary!

            And it’s a bit more intense when you do a lot of what I like to call “guerilla theater”.  I should note that guerilla theater is a term traditionally reserved for shows which are performed on the streets and deal with political and social issues, but I fully believe the term applies here too. To me, it should apply to ANY show where you have to dig in the trenches with your fellow artists and do what needs to be done! Remember those movies where Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney would excitedly exclaim, “Let’s put on a show!” and then they’d proceed to throw up a show in their backyard? No surprise they were called “backyard musicals” and they were wonderful. (Check out “Babes in Arms” sometime and you’ll see what I mean.) When you do guerilla theater, it’s much the same. It’s the ultimate in DIY. And it’s not to say that it’s unprofessional. Some of the productions I am most proud of have been launched in such a fashion. An actor isn’t just an actor. A director isn’t just a director. We are all working as a team to make sure everything comes together by opening night.

            Just last weekend, I was making rice crispy treats at 10:00 o’clock at night for a rehearsal I had the following morning for the show I'm currently doing, Farce This! These treats are used as one of my props, and I wanted to start practicing with them. As it turns out, my PRACTICE props will probably be the ACTUAL ones I use in the show.  They’ll be a week old by opening night, but hey, who hasn’t eaten a stale dessert in real life? I just hope I don’t crack a tooth in the process. Just kidding. Sort of.

            I had my first official run through last night of the show, and I felt those magical moments on stage that remind me why I love acting so much. I feel blessed to be working with such talented people, who are also a part of my acting studio, Matthew Corozine Studios. There is a camaraderie and trust already built in because of the common experiences we share. But with live theater, there are also moments of panic where you think “What the HELL is my next line?” (even though you’ve drilled them FIVE TIMES IN A ROW right before the run through and you not only know YOUR lines but your partner’s too). The slightest reaction from the audience can make you pause and wonder if you are in the right place in the show! That said, it’s only a slight hesitation and luckily the “Theater Gods” (or whatever you want to call them) as well as my amazingly talented castmate, Cali Daby, are always there to push me forward. Having a partner you believe in, who believes in you, makes all the difference in the world. (And it helps keep my “fear gremlins” at bay!)

            So tomorrow night, as I stand backstage waiting to enter and be my best Midwestern Mama, I will remind myself why I do this. Because I LOVE it. And there is nothing in this world that makes me happier. And for those of you around this weekend, please come by and check us out: Maybe I’ll even make a fresh batch of rice crispy treats to say thank you for attending. Merdé!  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Someone May Be In The Kitchen With Dinah, But It Ain’t Dina!

            Remember that old song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”? We all sang it at summer camp as kids, and somewhere in the song the lyrics talk about Dinah being in the kitchen. She was probably cooking up something delicious… a delectable meal certain to make our mouths water. Then there’s me. I try to avoid the kitchen as often as possible, unless I’m making coffee or heating up soup. People talk about how cooking makes them feel relaxed and how therapeutic it is. Ummm…. what? If I could afford eating in restaurants and ordering 555-takeout every night, I would seriously consider it. My feelings have only intensified while witnessing a friend (who has been staying with me) cook for me.

            First off is the shopping. I can’t STAND shopping—whether it’s for food, clothes, toiletries… you name it. Shopping makes me feel like a mouse trapped in one of those mazes, who is desperately trying to get to the other end so he can eat his little piece of cheese as a reward. I am absolutely miserable as I push my shopping cart up and down the aisles trying to find what I need, comparing prices and ingredients, the latter of which I have trouble understanding because they sound too sciencey. Is acesulfame-K going to kill me? How should I know? I can’t even pronounce it! And what about the long lines for the cashier? As I stand there waiting to pay, I seriously consider starting a food flight, and throwing everything in my cart at the other customers. There’s also the problem of how fast the food runs out. My friend will inform me: “We’ve run out of everything.” My response: “How is that POSSIBLE? We were just at the store the other day! How can it all be gone? You mean we have to go back to that horrible, HORRIBLE place AGAIN?” At least with take-out you know what you’re getting. It’s a self-contained meal that is enough to satisfy you for that day and perhaps the next day too if there are leftovers.

            Once I buy everything I need, it’s time to PREPARE it. Prepare WHAT? I don’t know how this stuff all goes together! My cooking skills extend to making scrambled eggs with some black pepper and cheese mixed in. When it comes to major meals, I am completely lost. As I watch my friend remove the groceries from the bags, I get anxious wondering what he’s going to DO with all of it. How is he going to put it all together to make an edible meal? Truth is, I really don’t want to know. I just want to eat the end product and enjoy it. Most cooks tell me they use their “gut” to figure out how to combine ingredients that will go well together and it’s all about experimenting with the food. What is this, a science project? (There goes that dreadful word science again). I’m an excellent baker BECAUSE I follow detailed instructions telling me exactly WHAT TO DO and precisely HOW MUCH to use of each ingredient. You ever ask a cook how they made something? Their answer: "Oh a little bit of this, a little bit of that." What the HELL does that mean?? Cooking sounds more like witchcraft, where you just stand around a cauldron and throw random things from your refrigerator into it, cast a spell and hope it all turns out okay.

The cleanup is perhaps the only thing I can tolerate in this whole process. I actually like to clean and I enjoy doing dishes. HOWEVER, it does not mean I want to spend forty-five minutes cleaning up afterwards. That is more time than it took me to consume my meal! And how is it that EVERY pot and pan has been used to create a meal that takes up only a tiny amount of space on my plate? The stovetop looks like a bomb went off and the sink is so full that I can barely reach under the faucet to wash my hands. How does this all seem worth it?

Yes, naysayers… I know that cooking is a way to ensure exactly what you are eating and for health reasons, I should start to be more aware of what I am putting into my body. But when my next-door neighbor started telling me about her healthy stew made in a crockpot with hormone-free chicken, I felt that anxiety creep back in. Is hormone-free the same as organic, and is that the same as free-range? Why don't I know these things??? It seems so overwhelming and I start pondering if there’s a 555-HEALTHY-TAKEOUT option out there somewhere. However, as I continue to use Weight Watchers as a means to lose weight, some cooking is definitely in order. Am I ever going to be someone who opens my refrigerator with excitement, thrilled by the challenge of what items to use to create a delightful meal? (Ask yourself “Do donkeys fly” if you’re not sure of the answer.) I don’t think there are any gourmet meals prepared by yours truly in my future, but I DO think I can manage grilled salmon with asparagus or turkey burgers with a sweet potato!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Making of a Midwestern Mama

            Growing up on the East Coast in small-town New Jersey, the closest I got to the Midwest was watching “Footloose” repeatedly. (Yes, the film is apparently set in a fictional town in the Midwest).  It wasn’t until I was an adult in the “big city” that I was exposed to a vast assortment of people from all over the globe. I began to encounter Midwesterners more and more, and truth be told, I kind of developed a “thing” for them. And now that I have been cast in a new play, “Farce This!”, where I get to play a Soccer mom from the Midwest, well, the time has come to highlight some of the things I’m trying to channel in creating my character.

            I should start off by saying that much of my experiences have been shaped from the time I spent in Minnesota as well as the Minnesotan man I dated for over three years. But I have also worked side by side with several people from Wisconsin as well as having a close friend who grew up on a cattle farm in Nebraska. And I continue to meet more Midwesterners, including my castmate as well as the playwright (both of whom are from Iowa), so my opinions are not based solely on one person, or one place.

            First let’s talk about the mannerisms. People from the Midwest tend to be polite, and they smile… a lot. Secretly, they may want to curse you out and punch you in the face, but you’d never know it. On the outside, it’s all about proper manners and kind words. Midwesterners are also much less frantic and fast-paced than we New Yorkers. You walk down the streets of even a city like Minneapolis, and no one seems to be in a rush. People would never shove you out of the way because they have somewhere they had to be five minutes ago. People actually WANT to help you and they SMILE (there goes that smile word again) as they do it. And there’s something about the way they talk in general… I feel such a gentleness in their voices that reminds me of an episode of “The Donna Reed Show”.  Note to self: I need to sound less like a fast-paced diner waitress and start channeling Donna ASAP.

And of course I must discuss their activities. Can anyone say football? You think it’s big on the East Coast? It’s a way of life in the Midwest. These people go to games in the middle of a snowstorm! They are hard-core! And there’s also the state fairs. When I was a kid, the only state fair I knew of was the movie musical that starred Pat Boone. Well, it is a BIG deal in the Midwest. I happened to be in Minnesota during their annual state fair and it was all the rage on every radio and television station. Their slogan is “The Great Minnesota Get-Together”, so state fairs are big time. There are performers, livestock competitions, rides, food contests (I’d enter the pie contest… I make a mean strawberry apple pie with a lattice top!), not to mention all kinds of treats you can eat on a stick. I don’t even know if New Jersey has a state fair… or if anyone bothers going if they do. My play is set at a fair, sort of.  In actuality, the setting is a bake sale to raise funds for my children’s school. Bake sale? I can’t remember the last time any of my East Coast friends told me about a bake sale they were involved in for their kids. And I know my mom never participated in one either. She barely knows how to turn on the oven!

            Speaking of the oven… oh how I love the food of the Midwest! Have you ever had cheese curds? Astorians will relate when I say they remind me of Saganaki, a greek dish which is essentially fried cheese. I love cheese. I love fried food. The result? Yumminess on a plate. Then there’s “hot dish”. I don’t know what the hell is in there; I think it’s more a case of what’s NOT in there. I think they just throw leftovers from their fridge into a rectangular pan and bake it. It somehow always tastes delicious. And I can’t forget about my beloved beer cheese soup. When my Minnesotan boyfriend told me about this, I was astounded. They take beer AND cheese and combine it into something I can dip a loaf of bread into??? Is that too good to be true? Fortunately, it isn’t. Trust me when I say, it ain’t just wine that goes well with cheese! Maybe there’s room for some cheese curds on my bake sale table in the show? Or at the very least maybe I can get some in the dressing room backstage?
            I must also mention the effort people put into seeing one another. One night, my Minnesotan man and I drove ONE AND A HALF HOURS each way, just to have dinner with his friends. This apparently is NOTHING to Midwesterners. Everyone is so spread out; you don’t have much of a choice if you want to have a social life. I’m up in arms if I have to go anywhere that doesn’t involve me walking down the block to the nearest bar. Here’s me: “Are you kidding? I have to take the train all the way into Manhattan and then transfer to TWO more trains until I get to Brooklyn? Forget it, I’m staying home!” In my defense, that whole trip takes the SAME one and a half hours as the drive I did in Minnesota. It just feels like a bigger ordeal in NYC than it does in the Midwest. I somehow need to adapt this willingness to travel anywhere in order to fully embody a Midwesterner. I AM traveling into the West Village today for rehearsal all the way from Queens… does that count?

            Suffice it to say, I love these people. They are who I’d like to be at moments when my feisty nature gets the better of me. I’m ready to dive into this character and see exactly how much life can imitate my art. I don’t know if I’ll ever be as cool as Donna, but I will certainly try! Perhaps I’ll see you at the show:, and you can tell me what YOU think.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

If Timing Is Everything, I Might Need A New Watch

            We’ve all heard the expression. What’s more, we’ve probably all used it. “Timing is everything” is one of those things you hear when someone offers you comfort over the job you didn’t get or the guy that can’t date you because he’s already dating someone else. (Both have happened to me.) It can also be used as a gentle reminder to “get over yourself” when your devastation is at epoch levels upon discovering the tickets to Phil Collins’ reunion tour were already sold out by the time you found out about it. (Did not happen to me… or did it?) It’s an expression that makes us grit our teeth and want to punch the person who’s uttering it right it in the face after he or she says it, while simultaneously recognizing they are dead-on right. Just take a look at my life!

            When it comes to career aspirations, timing-is-everything should be my middle name. As an actor, looks are important. Some might even say they are everything and to some degree they are. After all, there are auditions where you literally must “type in” before you even get the opportunity to perform for the casting people. In my twenties, I apparently was not the right “type” most of the time. I was continually told, “Wait ‘til you are older. Boy, are you going to work then!” I think that was a way of politely saying I was just too young to play the character parts I so desperately wanted to play, parts which were typically relegated to women in their forties and beyond. But now that I AM older, I still struggle to find my place in the acting world and get cast in the roles I am fired up for. And ironically, I am STILL hearing I am “too young.” (True story.) So it comes back to the question of timing. If the timing is never right for the things you are doing, then maybe you need to DO something different! My acting teacher always reminded our class, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So perhaps it’s me that needs to reevaluate what roles I am pursuing, and if they are, in fact, really right for me at this point in my life!

            Timing certainly comes into play as a writer too. I’ve written four plays and a screenplay to date, and trying to get the timing to work out on those has always been a challenge. One of my dreams was to have my play produced in the New York International Fringe Festival and finally with my fourth play, "Elephants and Other Worldly Dilemmas", my dream became a reality. Isn’t that proof timing is everything? Yes and no. It was a career highlight and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I am so grateful to everyone at the Fringe for making me a part of their very special world. The timing definitely worked out in that scenario. But… it took seven years and submitting my first three plays unsuccessfully and then submitting my fourth play a total of three times before it happened. So was timing EVERYTHING or was it just a case of good old-fashioned PERSISTENCE? In truth, I think it was a combination of both.

            I’m not saying some universal luck doesn’t have anything to do with success. I absolutely stated as much in my blog the other week, With Age Comes Wisdom. Sometimes we need to tell ourselves “Timing is everything” to push ourselves to keep going, not give up on the things we want in life and trust that the timing will work out eventually. But it should also be noted that IF we want the timing to work out, we must also be aware of the literal passage of time. And hence, comes my watch. Someone once called me Just-In-The-Knick-Of-Time-Dina, the person who sailed in at the last possible second to wherever I needed to be. If timing is everything, then you must be aware of time itself! One of my impeccably punctual friends often says, “Being on time means you’re already late.” Not sure if my just-in-the-knick-of-time heart quite agrees with that, but being early gives you a moment to catch your breath, assess what’s going on and prepare yourself. So maybe instead of  “Timing is everything,” I should say, “Timing matters.” Because it does. After all, when the right time comes, I certainly don’t want to miss it by being late!