Saturday, May 27, 2006

fever in, fever out

the fever broke.

everything was pushed back by an hour today and then we did a run through this morning with notes. after the lunch break, we reviewed the second act and worked on all the back-up singer movement stuff. everything is so much tighter than everyone thought it was, and i feel ultra-confident about everything that i'm doing. clearly, this week's hard work has paid off. thank God i'm not freaking out anymore. tomorrow we do a run through for the producers late in the day. it's starting to feel like fun.

i think everyone went drinking at a bar somewhere nearby. alcohol? ha. not me. i'm watching basic cable and giving myself a manicure/pedicure while noshing on stouffer's lasagna, all by myself, with my baby taylor within easy reach. and i'm in heaven! it's criminal, how happy i am right now. yessir, folks -- it just don't get no better than this.

the strange thing is, just about everything is closed already because it's memorial day weekend. the ymca won't open up until tuesday. sam's is definitely closed. and the mall is just not an option. i guess the more patriotic you are, the more likely you are to shut things down and put your flag out as soon as the weekend hits, so everyone will know whose side you're on. (and there's flags all up and down their main street.) in the city, everything will be closed but only on monday -- and everything only means "official" things, like banks and the post office. it's moments like this when i realize that nyc has spoiled me rotten. i'm so used to getting whatever i want whenever i want. when it's 3am, i can hit the post office and send packages, i can go to a bar or eat a meal or lounge in a cafe if i feel like it, i can hit the gym. i can even go bowling. i can even take public transportation to get to whereever i'm going. not so in auburn. or anyplace else that i can think of.

i hope i won't want anything before tuesday.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Fever Pitch

We open The Buddy Holly Story at The Merry-Go-Round Playhouse next Wednesday. I've never even seen the place. I don't even know where it is. We do a run-through for the producers on Sunday. It’s Friday and we have yet to run through the entire show. We’re rehearsing every day, every single day, no let up, no day off. My friend shows up on Monday for 3 days. What kind of fun are we going to have in Auburn? The victorian architecture fascinates me and Harriet Tubman's house is up the street but I have yet to venture past the Wegmans a few blocks away. I've been that busy.

I’m way more stressed than I think I am. I have moments when I wake up abruptly in the middle of the night in a panic, convinced that I’ve forgotten something vital. I know that feeling very well. It first came to me as a temp in my early years in NYC, working in some crummy law firm in midtown. I would wake up in a cold sweat, unsure as to whether or not I actually sent the fax to Helsinki or if I cc’ed all of the people on the list or if that package went out FedEx or UPS – or if it went out at all. Maybe it didn’t get sent and they’d find out that I was responsible and I’d get canned. My heart would be pounding like there was a hammer in my chest trying to bang its way out. Seriously. It’s that feeling all over again.

I’m not eating all that much, either. I’m not eating at night because of my acid reflux. If I nosh past 9pm, I run the risk of losing my voice. I’m not singing much but I am singing at the top of my range. I have to be careful. And yeah, I cut the junk food completely. I just don’t have time to sit around and chew on anything. Not even gum. I’m drinking a lot of water because there’s a cooler at the rehearsal space and nobody cares if I tank up all day and before I go home in the evening. I usually work out before and occasionally after rehearsal, to get that freak out feeling off of me. I don’t go to sleep easily. I don’t wake up easily. Food is no fun. And the guitar isn’t fun yet. It’s still work. The only thing I really enjoy is sleeping.

Once this musical is on its legs and all of the movement is in my body, this will be a lot of fun. I can turn my attention towards refining the songs that I’ve written for the cds I want to produce and figure out what else I want to get out of my summer. Like a really happy birthday at the end of June. Some serious beach time with my friend. A nice lump sum of money in my ING savings account. Well-organized receipts. My driver’s license.

Still and all, there are moments when I am blown away, imagining that Harriett Tubman walked these streets so close to her home. This is the place where she lived free. And here I am, right up the block. All I can think is, it's not in a book. It's not in a made-for-tv movie. I always knew that it was true but all of a sudden, it's real. She's real. Slavery really happened. And it didn't happen all that long ago. That's an astonishing thing.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

so far, so good

Although I’m supposed to rehearse from 10am – 6pm, that’s not written in stone at all. When I come in depends on what they decide to work on first. There have been some days when I’ve been able to have my entire mornings all to myself. The cast is small, everyone is friendly and works hard, the town and its surroundings are kitsch enough to keep me interested and I get to live alone, which is turning into more of a luxury than I can handle. A lot of the cast members live in the same housing situation – six of them in one unit, I was told – so there’s a lot of bonding that’s going on that I’m not a part of, which is kind of a relief. I’m basically a shy person and aside from the everyday niceties of hello and goodbye, I’m happy to run back to my place and do my finger excercises. I didn’t come here to make friends, although it would be a beautiful thing if that happened. I’m treating this like a fat farm. I came here to get out of the city and get my body back. My friend says I’m losing weight. So far, so good.

The interesting thing about rehearsals is that it’s a very basic rock and roll set up onstage – and that never happens in musical theater. The last half of the second act actually recreates Buddy Holly’s last show in Clear Lake, Iowa. The music is usually in a pit between the audience and the actors. So there are musicians onstage with the actors and some of them are actors and some of them are musicians with one line here and there and some of them are just musicians who are just reading their way through it. Most of the songs are three and four chord ditties, like Oh Boy. And yeah, I’m learning how to play them on guitar, just for fun. I actually brought my guitar in so I could tune it and the MD let me use his tuner (I’m going to get one just like it – you clip it to the headstock and it tunes by vibration) and let me have as many picks as I wanted.

One thing, though. Recently at the impromptu dinner party right before I skipped town with kimson and gabe and my friend at a. bistro, kimson asked me what I did all day, because I don’t have a day job. He wasn’t being snide, either. He genuinely wanted to know. In retrospect, I don’t know if I answered him very well. Now I’m wishing I had. It would explain a part of what I’m going through right now.

Much of my life as an actor is all about maintainance and upkeep. The growth is constant. And it’s a full-time job. I’m always working towards some minor improvement that leads to conquering a major thing. I know some singers who are proud of the fact that they’ve never had a voice lesson or don’t know how to play and instrument or can’t read music (One friend used to point at lead sheets and say, “That may as well be Chinese.”) But it was Betty Carter who said that every vocalist should know their way around a keyboard. The payoff for me is when I get a gig like this and I’m given a stack of sheet music – and I understand it. But I wouldn’t have that understanding if I hadn’t sat down and plunked away at my piano every other day for the past 6 months or so. And I have to admit -- learning how to play the guitar is changing my life. By being leaner and stronger physically means that I’ll photograph differently and that’ll make me more viable for film and tv work. So I work out every day to get there and to maintain it once I have it. And then there’s auditioning. Anyone that’s unemployed treats getting a job like a full time job until they get one. Smart actors are no exception. You hone your job skills by taking class, learning monologues, building your repertoire vocally until you have a book that’s filled with songs from every genre. Learning to sing if you don’t know how, because knowing how to do more than one thing well means you’re more likely to work. These things are hard to quantify to someone that’s used to punching a clock to make a living.

I think doing this show would be a really difficult moment for me to get through if I hadn’t done the day-to-day work that most straight (working joe) people don’t’ understand when I tell them that I don’t have a job. I never know how much I’ve progressed until I’m put in a situation where I have to deliver. And wow. I’ve grown a lot. I need to give myself some credit. I need to work harder.

I need to learn how to drive.

Monday, May 22, 2006

it's all a blur...

On Saturday morning, I took a train back to NYC to sing in a wedding at Gramercy Park. I had to. When JC told the bride and groom that I would be unavailable, they said that they wouldn’t hire the band without me. JC didn’t have to twist my arm for long. it was great money -- but that 6 hour train ride would be bloody torture. And as if a round-trip rough ride weren’t enough to look forward to, my head was filled with springtime allergy-related snot and mucus. Auburn was freezing and in bloom. I could hardly breathe. My portable medicine chest came in handy but every night as I went to bed, I felt as though I was only holding something at bay for the moment. if I didn’t find something to knock it out completely, it would knock my voice out. Needless to say, I have no understudy. We rehearse for 12 days. It’s only a two week run.

I don’t have anything that strong in my arsenal. Fortunately, Shell White did. And because she’s such a California hippie, it’s all natural – Buried Treasure ACF. She said their daughter Tigerlily woke up coughing like she had tuberculosis a few weeks ago. They gave her some of this stuff and a few days later, she was fine. They sent it to her teacher at her day school when she had the same symptoms. Same results. I was desperate enough to try anything short of a booster shot and steroids from my voice doctor – that’s always a last (but sometimes necessary) resort. JC gave me a little package at the gig – the bottle of stuff, some herbal tea, some zinc lozenges. I took a dose immediately and again at bedtime as directed. The next morning had me practically vomiting up phlegm. Now that’s what I call results.

But that’s the end of the story.

First of all, I was exhausted. The train station was in Syracuse, more than 30 minutes away. Someone was to pick me up at 8:30am but I was afraid that I’d oversleep so I asked my friend to call me when he got home from work at the crack of ass. He decided to call me while he was still there, for some strange reason – then he puts Scotty the Blue Bunny on the phone. After an introductory “wake up!” that was loud enough to make a dead man roll over, he launches into “There’s Got To Be A Morning After” at the top of his lungs, after which he goes into this long winding rant about how wrong it is that this ditty isn’t in the Poseidon remake. When my friend got back on the phone, he actually wondered why I was, in his words, “a little crabby.” I was wondering why he was, in my words, a little clueless. Am I in trouble, he said in a tiny voice. How could he be? He did what told him to do. All that was left to do is sieze the day. The Y opened at 5am. I always figure that the best way to fight sickness is to exercise. So I put in about an hour on an exercise machine and I lifted weights. Oy.

I ended up getting to the train station in time to watch the 8:30am to Penn Station leave, then finding out I should have caught it because my 9:20am would be arriving at 10:50am. Nice. All I could think was, if I knew how to drive, this would have taken 4 hours...

Once I got to the gig, everything smoothed itself out. They got married at the arts club which is an absolutely gorgeous place to tie the knot. In no time at all, guests started to arrive, the open bar began to flow and delicious things began to flow from out of the kitchen. To be completely honest, I’m still thinking about the lobster rolls. The food was spectacular. A nice touch: towards the end of the evening, the groom went to each band member, thanked them for a wonderful performance and tipped them fifty bucks. The bride let me take a bouquet home to my friend, who complained sweetly that his little place is starting to smell like a blooming greenhouse, thanks to last week’s private gala.

You’re living the life of a superstar, he remarked, jet-setting all over new york state. You’d better get used to it.

Hmm, I thought. In a way, he’s right. That benefit we did on Monday in Brooklyn garnered an invitation to play a private party at The Pierre Hotel this Wednesday. They didn't want the band without me (is this a running theme or what?) so they agreed to pay my travel expenses to make sure that i wouldn't say no. it'll be over before 10pm. i wonder what they'll serve? I’m already rethinking the way I pack things in general and the ideal piece of carry-on luggage.

this time, i'm flying in. thank Jesus.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

i'm gone to auburn

i spent the last few days in nyc organizing my closets and changing out my seasonal clothes, picking up some last minute things (like stocking up my medicine bag), mailing things i'd need to my new address (like a humidifier -- so important!) and throwing things away. i was sad to leave my friend but i had to come back on saturday for a private party at the arts club in gramercy park and again on the following wednesday at the pierre hotel so of course we figured our way around how we'd see each other. very sweet.

on sunday, we went to a. bistro in brooklyn for a farewell dinner, sort of -- ralph and i closed the place down the night before, believe it or not (yes, the food is that wonderful) -- and ended up sharing a table with two people i hadn't seen in a long time -- kimson (i met him at ubo back in the day) and gabe (i met him through garland). kimson is directing the venture brothers, one of my favorite cartoons on adult swim. gabe is in film and he's bicoastal. both of them are as cool and as geeky as ever. we did all kinds of catching up and bonding. at the end of the night, gabe took a picture of all of us in front of the restaurant. it was beautiful. the only one missing (besides ralph, of course) was garland.

the benefit with the band on monday night, packing on tuesday. all of a sudden, there was no time left and i found myself on a six-hour train ride headed upstate, to syracuse. it was exhausting and i don't know why. there was plenty of room around me seating-wise but for some reason i was surrounded by several spectacularly overweight people who wouldn't stop eating and cracking jokes. i had nothing but a large flask of bottled water, which i sipped judiciously to keep my throat from drying out. it was also freezing cold and that meant no sleep at all. little did i know -- the cold was something that i'd have to get used to, and quickly. auburn is quite close to canada. it won't warm up until i'm ready to leave.

while awaiting my luggage, i met a fellow castmate chris who's also a drummer. almost everyone in the show plays an instrument, sings and acts. matt, our contact from the theater, was right on time and in no time at all, he took us to our living quarters. i'm staying in an old mansion that was built in 1840 called king's court. there's another building next door called queen's court that's just as arcane and stately. my room is sparse but roomy, with old otherworldly touches, like sconces, that dot the walls. ugly carpeting. lovely bathroom. and i can't argue with a kitchen with a microwave, no matter how old and tiny the oven is. the kicker? i live alone. completely and utterly alone. i can come home from the theater, pull the shades and watch adult swim naked while i practice guitar and eat raspberries. in my world, it simply doesn't get much better than that.

here's an interesting detail: auburn is a 35 - 40 minute drive from syracuse. there's no shuttle service. a cab ride would cost something like $60. the trip would have taken all of four hours from nyc, door-to-door. God, that train ride really wore me out. all of a sudden, probably for the first time in my life, i sincerely wished that i could drive.

i've decided to make the most of my time here. the role that i play is so small that i want to do something constructive with my downtime -- like writing more songs, practicing guitar, rethinking my goals and priorities and getting my body back.

by the way: i don't have body issues. i know the just right size and weight for me. a part of the way i maintain it is by fitting into my clothes every season. i simply don't have the money to buy clothes whenever i get too big for my britches. and when i do have money for new clothes, i buy the size i know that i'm supposed to be. i'm either fighting to get it back or fighting to maintain it but staying a certain size and weight is an everyday struggle. some people don't have to excercise. they can eat their way through a block of cheese and not gain an ounce. unfortunately, that's never been my story. it's hard work. it's not fun. i don't enjoy it. but the results -- good health, lower cholesterol, energy to spare and a leaner stronger frame -- are irrefutable.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

the benefit in brooklyn

jc hopkins
Originally uploaded by queenesther.
this is jc soundchecking in brooklyn with the biggish band and me for the brooklyn children's museum benefit on monday. pretty swanky stuff. i wore a headwrap and a gown that made everyone say i looked like a young nina simone. the schlossbergs were there -- they presented him with an award -- and a lot of other local nationally renown dignitaries. just as i was geting situated, who should pass by but john schreiber, one of the producers for harlem song. what a shock! we caught up, of course. he's a wonderful guy.

they had sandwiches for the band in a tiny green room far from the maddening crowd -- but trumpet player mark mc gowan and i mingled with the ho polloi instead and noshed on fresh fruit, crudite and, amongst other things, the crabcakes that never seemed to stop coming until we were called to the bandstand. i didn't think i'd eaten that much, but by the time i was ready to sing, i was stuffed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

it's even better than you think it is...

picnic nosh
Originally uploaded by queenesther.
my friend's birthday was yesterday. unfortunately, i woke him up with his birthday present (i was too excited to wait until the afternoon) -- a genuine honest-to-gosh spirograph, with all of its parts, right down to the original (totally dried out) pens. how 70's is that? he couldn't believe i found one. frankly, neither did i. the kicker? i took him to the battery for a picnic of white wine and oysters. i don't drink, so we got some tea for me on the way there. and we didn't bring the plastic wine glasses i had because he was afraid that the park police would take the wine away (which was italian and evidently, very good). i wanted it to be a take from that quote from hemingway's novel a moveable feast. when i made his birthday card, i put this in it:

"As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank the cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and make plans."

i want my friend "to be happy and make plans." so far, so good.

interesting thing. the cooler of a dozen or so oysters turned into a horn of plenty when i realized the african in the market that helped me pick them out gave me much more than i actually paid for. i love it when that happens...

Monday, May 08, 2006

the truthiness hurts

i love the way the media is ignoring stephen colbert and the speech he made. everyone is jumping on the internet to see exactly what the deal is, while the conservatives are trying to explain it all away. what mr. colbert did was a wonderful piece of political theater/performance art. when i saw it, all i could think was:
  1. who was the bonehead that booked him? whoever he is, there's no way that he could still have his job...
  2. what gigantic balls of steel stephen colbert must have, to get up there and basically say what no one else in the media has up to this point -- and
  3. wow -- art really can change the world.
in the meantime, here's the complete transcript of the speech (just in case you'd rather read it than see it), a website that kind of sums it all up ( and two articles from "the truthiness hurts" and "making colbert go away"...

"The Truthiness Hurts"

Stephen Colbert's brilliant performance unplugged the Bush myth machine -- and left the clueless D.C. press corps gaping.
By Michael Scherer

May 1, 2006 Make no mistake, Stephen Colbert is a dangerous man -- a bomb thrower, an assassin, a terrorist with boring hair and rimless glasses. It's a wonder the Secret Service let him so close to the president of the United States.

But there he was Saturday night, keynoting the year's most fawning celebration of the self-importance of the D.C. press corps, the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. Before he took the podium, the master of ceremonies ominously announced, "Tonight, no one is safe."
Colbert is not just another comedian with barbed punch lines and a racy vocabulary. He is a guerrilla fighter, a master of the old-world art of irony. For Colbert, the punch line is just the addendum. The joke is in the setup. The meat of his act is not in his barbs but his character -- the dry idiot, "Stephen Colbert," God-fearing pitchman, patriotic American, red-blooded pundit and champion of "truthiness." "I'm a simple man with a simple mind," the deadpan Colbert announced at the dinner. "I hold a simple set of beliefs that I live by. Number one, I believe in America. I believe it exists. My gut tells me I live there."

Then he turned to the president of the United States, who sat tight-lipped just a few feet away. "I stand by this man. I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And that sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America, she will always rebound -- with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world."

It was Colbert's crowning moment. His imitation of the quintessential GOP talking head -- Bill O'Reilly meets Scott McClellan -- uncovered the inner workings of the ever-cheapening discourse that passes for political debate. He reversed and flattened the meaning of the words he spoke. It's a tactic that cultural critic Greil Marcus once called the "critical negation that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems." Colbert's jokes attacked not just Bush's policies, but the whole drama and language of American politics, the phony demonstration of strength, unity and vision. "The greatest thing about this man is he's steady," Colbert continued, in a nod to George W. Bush. "You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday."

It's not just that Colbert's jokes were hitting their mark. We already know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the generals hate Rumsfeld or that Fox News lists to the right. Those cracks are old and boring. What Colbert did was expose the whole official, patriotic, right-wing, press-bashing discourse as a sham, as more "truthiness" than truth.
Obviously, Colbert is not the first ironic warrior to train his sights on the powerful. What the insurgent culture jammers at Adbusters did for Madison Avenue, and the Barbie Liberation Organization did for children's toys, and Seinfeld did for the sitcom, and the Onion did for the small-town newspaper, Jon Stewart discovered he could do for television news. Now Colbert, Stewart's spawn, has taken on the right-wing message machine.

In the late 1960s, the Situationists in France called such ironic mockery "détournement," a word that roughly translates to "abduction" or "embezzlement." It was considered a revolutionary act, helping to channel the frustration of the Paris student riots of 1968. They co-opted and altered famous paintings, newspapers, books and documentary films, seeking subversive ideas in the found objects of popular culture. "Plagiarism is necessary," wrote Guy Debord, the famed Situationist, referring to his strategy of mockery and semiotic inversion. "Progress demands it. Staying close to an author's phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."

But nearly half a century later, the ideas of the French, as evidenced by our "freedom fries," have not found a welcome reception in Washington. The city is still not ready for Colbert. The depth of his attack caused bewilderment on the face of the president and some of the press, who, like myopic fish, are used to ignoring the water that sustains them. Laura Bush did not shake his hand.

Political Washington is accustomed to more direct attacks that follow the rules. We tend to like the bland buffoonery of Jay Leno or insider jokes that drop lots of names and enforce everyone's clubby self-satisfaction. (Did you hear the one about John Boehner at the tanning salon or Duke Cunningham playing poker at the Watergate?) Similarly, White House spinmeisters are used to frontal assaults on their policies, which can be rebutted with a similar set of talking points. But there is no easy answer for the ironist. "Irony, entertaining as it is, serves an almost exclusively negative function," wrote David Foster Wallace, in his seminal 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram." "It's critical and destructive, a ground clearing."

So it's no wonder that those journalists at the dinner seemed so uneasy in their seats. They had put on their tuxes to rub shoulders with the president. They were looking forward to spotting Valerie Plame and "American Idol's" Ace Young at the Bloomberg party. They invited Colbert to speak for levity, not because they wanted to be criticized. As a tribe, we journalists are all, at heart, creatures of this silly conversation. We trade in talking points and consultant-speak. We too often depend on empty language for our daily bread, and -- worse -- we sometimes mistake it for reality. Colbert was attacking us as well.

A day after he exploded his bomb at the correspondents dinner, Colbert appeared on CBS's "60 Minutes," this time as himself, an actor, a suburban dad, a man without a red and blue tie. The real Colbert admitted that he does not let his children watch his Comedy Central show. "Kids can't understand irony or sarcasm, and I don't want them to perceive me as insincere," Colbert explained. "Because one night, I'll be putting them to bed and I'll say ... 'I love you, honey.' And they'll say, 'I get it. Very dry, Dad. That's good stuff.'"

His point was spot-on. Irony is dangerous and must be handled with care. But America can rest assured that for the moment its powers are in good hands. Stephen Colbert, the current grandmaster of the art, knows exactly what he was doing.

Just don't expect him to be invited back to the correspondents dinner.

Making Colbert go away
The docile press corps was offended when Stephen Colbert dared to expose Bush's -- and their own -- feet of clay. But how to respond? Voilà: "He wasn't funny."
By Joan Walsh

The only thing worse than the mainstream media's ignoring Stephen Colbert's astonishing sendup of the Bush administration and its media courtiers Saturday night is what happened when they started to pay attention to it.

The resounding silence on Sunday and Monday was a little chilling. The video was burning up YouTube, and Salon hit overall traffic heights over the last few days surpassed only by our election coverage and Abu Ghraib blockbusters. But on Monday, Elisabeth Bumiller's New York Times piece on the White House Correspondents' Association dinner kvelled over the naughty Bush twin skit but didn't mention Colbert. Similarly, other papers either ignored the Comedy Central satirist or mentioned him briefly. Lloyd Grove in the New York Daily News pronounced that he had "bombed badly."

Three days later, the MSM is catching on to Grove's tin-eared take on Colbert's performance. Belatedly, it's getting covered, but the dreary consensus is that Colbert just wasn't funny. On Tuesday night, Salon's Michael Scherer, whose tribute to Colbert is everywhere on the blogosphere (thank you, Thank you Stephen Colbert), got invited to chat with Joe Scarborough and Ana Marie Cox, who showed themselves to be pathetic prisoners of the Beltway by passing along the midweek conventional wisdom: The lefty blogosphere can argue all it wants that Colbert was ignored because he was shocking and politically radical, but the truth is, he wasn't funny, guys! And we know funny!

Regular Joe told us he normally races home to watch Colbert. So the problem isn't Joe's conservatism -- Joe's a congenial conservative, a fun-loving conservative, which is why he has Salon folks on all the time (thanks, Joe!). Cox showed why she's the MSM's official blogger by splitting the difference. She pronounced Colbert's performance "fine" but giggled at the left for its paranoia that he'd been ignored for political reasons. Cox and Scarborough mostly just congratulated themselves on being smart enough to get Colbert every night at 11:30, but savvy enough to know he wasn't completely on his game last Saturday. They barely let Scherer speak.
Similarly, the sometimes smart Jacques Steinberg must have drawn the short straw at the New York Times, where there had to be some internal conversation about the paper's utter failure to even mention Colbert on Monday. After all, his sharpest jokes involved the paper's laudable NSA spying scoop, and a funny bit where Colbert offered to bump columnist Frank Rich if Bush would appear on his show Tuesday night -- and not just bump him for the night, but bump him off. How could the Times not notice?

In Wednesday's paper, Steinberg wrote about Colbert's performance with the angle that it's become "one of the most hotly debated topics in the politically charged blogosphere" -- and only quotes Gawker as an example. He also wanders into the land of comedy criticism to explore the assertion that Colbert wasn't funny, but quotes not a comic, but New Republic writer Noam Scheiber. Scheiber (who has contributed to Salon) takes a liberal version of the Scarborough approach. "I'm a big Stephen Colbert fan, a huge Bush detractor, and I think the White House press corps has been out to lunch for much of the last five years," he wrote on the magazine's Web site. "I laughed out loud maybe twice during Colbert's entire 20-odd minute routine. Colbert's problem, blogosphere conspiracy theories notwithstanding, is that he just wasn't very entertaining." Chris Lehman makes the same point in the New York Observer, arguing it was a comic mistake for Colbert to fail to break character.

It's silly to debate whether Colbert was entertaining or not, since what's "funny" is so subjective. In fact, let's even give Colbert's critics that point. Clearly he didn't entertain most of the folks at the dinner Saturday night, so maybe Scheiber's right -- he wasn't "entertaining." The question is why. If Colbert came off as "shrill and airless," in Lehman's words, inside the cozy terrarium of media self-congratulation at the Washington Hilton, that tells us more about the audience than it does about Colbert.

Colbert's deadly performance did more than reveal, with devastating clarity, how Bush's well-oiled myth machine works. It exposed the mainstream press' pathetic collusion with an administration that has treated it -- and the truth -- with contempt from the moment it took office. Intimidated, coddled, fearful of violating propriety, the press corps that for years dutifully repeated Bush talking points was stunned and horrified when someone dared to reveal that the media emperor had no clothes. Colbert refused to play his dutiful, toothless part in the White House correspondents dinner -- an incestuous, backslapping ritual that should be retired. For that, he had to be marginalized. Voilà: "He wasn't funny."

This is a battle that can't really be won -- you either got it Saturday night (or Sunday morning, or whenever your life was made a little brighter by viewing Colbert's performance) or you didn't. Personally, I'm enjoying watching apologists for the status quo wear themselves out explaining why Colbert wasn't funny. It's extending the reach of his performance by days without either side breaking character -- the mighty Colbert or the clueless, self-important media elite he was satirizing. For those who think the media shamed itself by rolling over for this administration, especially in the run-up to the Iraq war, Colbert's skit is the gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, Stephen Colbert!

"they" think they're onto me...but they're not!

the powers-that-be removed the stephen colbert white house correspondence dinner videos from the website because of copyright infringement so unfortunately the links in my last post don't work any more -- but here's where you can see all of it, anyway. and you should. they're hilarious.

cut and paste, kids. cut and paste.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Stephen Colbert at the White House Press Correspondent's Dinner

sorry to pre-empt my nyc life but i had to put these up. this event got virtually NO press coverage in the states. and why should it? colbert basically hands the president his head on a stick after roasting him so thoroughly, even the republicans couldn't stop laughing. colbert is a genius. i'm a massive fan. these are kind of long (about 7 minutes each or so) but remember, "they" don't want you to see it (they're yanking it off the internet everywhere they can) -- which is exactly why you should take a look.

part one

part two

... and last but not least, part three

another (commercial) audition: swiffer

i've got an audition for swiffer later this afternoon at liz lewis casting and all i can think about is the fact that rosa, my iranian eyebrowist, has gone to the middle east until may 24th, to visit family and friends. by the time she gets back, i'll be doing a show upstate. i have to let her cousin do them -- and frankly, she's not as good. but anything else is a crap shoot. i definitely can't do them myself. and i have to get them done. my face looks strange/not as "finished" when my eyebrows aren't done. not exactly the ideal way to face down a camera for a commercial audition. *sigh*

i miss rosa a little. she and i would have these really lovely talks about iran and how homesick she is, how much i missed my brother who's stationed there and what his life must have been like. she vacationed in south carolina along the coast last year with her family and had a wonderful time, which thrilled me to no end because nobody up here knows how beautiful it is down south -- especially the isle of palms, where she stayed with friends. she's always trying to get my pound cake recipie out of me. maybe i'll bake one for her when she comes back.

i haven't let anyone else touch my eyebrows in well over five years. she's that good.

oh, well. sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. that's what i'm going to do this afternoon before the audition, when i go to the dayspa and put myself in someone's hands. i'm going to pray that there's an angel leaning over their shoulder, guiding them. if they're handling most of rosa's clients, i'm sure they'll probably be praying the same thing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

photo op!

here's some more RENT photos from the cast alumni party at frederick's, courtesy of enjoy!

Monday, May 01, 2006

RENT and me

ten years ago i was headed into my sixth year of living here. i was running around like a chicken with my head cut off -- working as many as four jobs to make sure that my rent and bills were paid. then, exhausted, i would throw whatever was left of me into my art. by then, i had figured out how to create and develop my own work. a ten minute monologue with music about one of my freak neighbors for PS 122's avant-gawd-a-rama had turned into my first one person show. eagerly, i threw myself into developing another idea. guitarrorist elliot sharp and i had formed an acoustic duo -- he wanted to call it "frogs for snakes" after some obscure blues lyrics but i wanted to call it "hoosegow" and somehow i talked him into it -- and released a critically acclaimed cd, mighty, on homestead records. i would perform with james "blood" ulmer a lot -- but it would be awhile before we would record anything together. i was in and out of bands: singing standards, swing, jump blues. anything and everything. somewhere in there, i was busy gigging out and creating my own sound, and getting better at writing songs and lyrics. in retrospect, what i had wasn't that good but i loved the process and i was improving all the time. or rather, i was becoming more myself in the art that i created. the art was looking and sounding more and more like who i really was, not what anyone wanted me to be or what i felt i had to make myself into, to get over on anyone, to be popular or to make money. in the moment, that seemed to be all that mattered. that, and surviving nyc.

they say that when you come to nyc as an artist, things take off immediately or they happen within five to seven years. i knew that something was about to happen. but what?

i don't know how i heard about the audition for the first national tour of RENT. i know that i saw a blurb about it on the evening news, along with interviews of people who'd driven in from as far away as california and who were camped out across the street from the public theater on lafayette street, waiting for the doors to open so they could be seen. i remember having a feeling that i would get that show right then. it's the same feeling you get when you know that someone is going to be your friend when you meet them, with nothing to prove you right. you feel it and you just know.

i remember going down there to audition and seeing a line of pup tents and sleeping bags and people dressed up like caricatures of the original cast, eating sandwiches and drinking coffee and singing and being "on" for news cameras and waiting and waiting and waiting. the line went from the door of musical theater works across the street from the public theater all the way up the street, around the corner and down past mc donalds on broadway, on and on and on, finally ending in front of tower records some three or four city blocks away. not an organized one-person-behind-the-other line. there were a jillion people and they were all over the place. i saw that line and i thought, there's no way i can be seen for this today -- i have to go to work! that's when i thought, i've done all i can. if God wants me to be in this show, He's going to have to figure out a way for me to get in. i put my headshot and resume in the appropriate box and i left.

believe it or not, they called me. it seems that the dramaturg that was sorting through the headshots had seen my very first one person show and remembered me, and suggested that i come in. an audition and five callbacks later, i'm in the original cast for the first national tour of the hottest show on broadway and i did it with no agent, no manager, no representation of any kind. understand the odds here, folks: they saw over 6,000 people in five cities and they only needed twenty one. and i got it. you don't necessarily have to beat odds like that to originate a role. more often than not, you're only auditioning against a few others, not thousands -- especially if it's non-union or for no money because it's a workshop. my role? basically, i had gwen's part: i was the bag lady (et. al.) and i sang the seasons of love solo but i also understudied joanne jefferson.

here's the kicker -- every cast is supposed to be a visual reflection of the original and the part i was auditioning for was a big girl's role. at the time, gwen must have been a 16/18 at least. i was a size 6 on my way to a size 4. why didn't i get typed out ? you know -- when they look at you and decide if you're right for the role or not. according to director michael grief and music director tim weil, they heard me sing and they changed their minds.

interestingly enough, jonathan larsen's official title for that role is "voice of heaven."

all of a sudden, i was no longer non-union. all of a sudden, i was a professional actor. all of a sudden, my parents got off of my back. after years of listening to them complain about my life and how i was wasting it, their abrubt silence was deafening. wierdly, they knew all about RENT. they'd seen the 20/20 special about jonathan larsen and his demise and the audition made the news where they were in atlanta. they couldn't believe i actually got the part. as a matter of fact, my father didn't believe it until i showed him the contract. but that's another story...

i was making more money than i ever had in my whole life. i was in AEA (for theater) and SAG (for film/tv). i had health insurance. i had a pension, fer cryin' out loud. and groupies. it was very strange. in a way, it still is.