Sunday, February 25, 2007

callback: NY Lotto

i think i botched this one. they put a bunch of guys who looked like plumbers on hippity-hops and had them come at me from across the room and i froze. nice, right? here's the kicker: one of them was a black woman. very pretty, too. she kept laughing and falling off her hippity hop (three times) and i didn't do anything when she did. i think i was afraid that she was going to pull me down to the floor. and i had a wig on. and pumps. frankly, i didn't want to risk it.

of course, all of the black people in the waiting area spoke to each other and ignored everyone else. (no, white people, we black folk don't all know each other -- we just act like we do.) before i went in, a black actor picked me off from the it factor, the reality show i did on bravo a hundred years ago in 2002 and introduced himself. (i think his name was curtis but i'm probably wrong about that.) when i came out, he introduced me to portia. as we greeted each other, i told her i'd seen her name around a lot and she said the same of me. she's in the LAByrinth Theater Company, along with philip seymour-hoffman and daphne ruben-vega. i remember auditioning and getting a callback for the last days of judas iscariot at the public and hearing her name floating around.

oh, well. back to the drawing board.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

another day, another audition: A&E Lifestyles promo

i went to kipperman casting for this one. on the black hair front, i forgot my wig -- it was a very "my dog ate my homework" thing -- but it didn't really matter. broke my neck getting there because the weather was foul, there were no taxis and when i did happen to ambush one at a stop light, he wouldn't take me across town because of a water main break on 5th avenue. undaunted, i sprinted from lexington to very nearly 6th avenue to get there on time (who's out of shape?) only to leave when i realized that the room was filled with actors and i didn't have time to wait around. there was one black guy there. of course, we greeted each other immediately and because it was a husband-wife audition scenario, we assumed that they'd see us together. at an initial audition, they might mix it up for the sake of getting through it, but at a callback? no way. they don't think that it's realistic.

i very quickly realized that if i was good but if they didn't choose a black male counterpart for me, i wouldn't get the commercial.

i had to go -- and interestingly, so did the black man. we agreed without discussing it that we would return at the same time. i grabbed the sides, signed in, took the polaroid, filled out my card and gave it to the monitor with a promise that they'd be steady at it until at least 5:10pm. and then i made a hasty exit. (when i went to him to introduce myself, he said somewhat defensively, i know who you are. and i thought, okaaaay...)

when i crash landed into the office after 5pm, things had calmed down considerably but they were still going strong. the scenario was basically a couple who were growing through their home improvements. there were no lines, only several different scenarios that had me reacting to things that were happening around me. (and you know what? it was actually very funny stuff.) after a week of "no lines, just react", i was beyond ready for this. they ran out of guys towards the very end and i ended up going into the room with a beautiful asian woman and a wide-eyed perky looking brunette. the two of them took turns in the husband role, with the asian woman staying to play opposite me. it was a real eye opener, to watch their auditions. and i have to give it to the director and monitor, they had friendliness and energy to spare, in spite of the fact that it was after 6pm when i finally made my exit.

how did i do? only the camera knows for sure. but one thing is true: me doing a great job won't be the thing that gets me the part.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

another day, another audition: fedex/kinko's

after waiting and waiting and waiting, all of a sudden everything shoots into overdrive: she abrubtly calls in the three of us and we sit at the end of a table as she very quickly explains the scenario in this pleasant, breezy, non-stop way: we are in a conference room and we are reacting to things that someone is doing. no dialogue. just reactions. she said to look at the mic above the camera and ignore the gigantic placard and all the writing on it. she is smiling at us. we actors smile at each other and her in acknowledgement. there are generic officey props on the table. "we" are a woman, a man (both of whom are young and foreign -- or at least have elaborate foreign names and slight accents) and me. the woman sat between the man and myself. we were told to dress "office casual," whatever that means. (khaki?)

"acting is reacting," i heard myself think. let the games begin.

after we slate, she starts talking us through what's supposed to be happening in the room that we're reacting to, but the guy misunderstands and starts doing what she says. ("okay, and he's drinking a pot of hot coffee." beat. "no, you're not drinking it. you're watching him drink it.") the woman starts reacting to what he's doing while i'm still reacting to what's being said. this flusters both of them and although they try to recover, i'm still steady on it, reacting. it was over in a snap but it took an eternity to get out of that room.

as we stood at the elevator, the woman turned to the man and said -- in this accent even i couldn't place -- "well, obviously she's explained that scenario so many times, she felt that she didn't have to be clear with us." and the guy lets out this long exasperated, yeah. they were trying to distance themselves from it and blame her. but i was thinking, you all weren't listening. and when they play the tape back, they'll see that because the camera won't lie. if anything, the two of them will make me look good, because i actually was. not that i'll get it because a strong audition doesn't mean that you'll get the job, by any far stretch of the imagination. but hey -- at least i did what i was told.

well. every one of these commercial auditions is a lesson learned, if you're willing to absorb it. i need all the lessons i can get because i'm still a fish out of water with this film/tv/commercial process. it's too bad that i had to learn how to audition for on-camera work by doing it because i didn't have the money for classes. i used to feel bad about that but to tell you the truth, it's actually kind of cool, to walk into a casting office and have everyone say hello.

more, more, more

FedEx/Kinko's audition yesterday. A&E promo audition today. Guitar lesson tonight. New York Lotto callback tomorrow. a day spa visit somewhere in this action-packed weekend of fingerpicking and songwriting. two weeks and counting with that fluidity bar. and all i can really think about (aside from the next guitar i want) is hanging my newly rewired old-lady chandelier in my kitchen...

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Black Rock" is an oxymoron...

saw this in the ny times a few weeks ago and couldn't resist posting it. enjoy.

Truly Indie Fans

Published: January 28, 2007

WHEN Douglas Martin first saw the video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as a teenager in High Point, N.C., “it blew my mind,” he said. Like many young people who soothe their angst with the balm of alternative rock, Mr. Martin was happy to discover music he enjoyed and a subculture where he belonged.

Except, as it turned out, he didn’t really belong, because he is black.

“For a long time I was laughed at by both black and white people about being the only black person in my school that liked Nirvana and bands like that,” said Mr. Martin, now 23, who lives in Seattle, where he is recording a folk-rock album.

But 40 years after black musicians laid down the foundations of rock, then largely left the genre to white artists and fans, some blacks are again looking to reconnect with the rock music scene.
The Internet has made it easier for black fans to find one another, some are adopting rock clothing styles, and a handful of bands with black members have growing followings in colleges and on the alternative or indie radio station circuit. It is not the first time there has been a black presence in modern rock. But some fans and musicians say they feel that a multiethnic rock scene is gathering momentum.

“There’s a level of progress in New York in particular,” said Daphne Brooks, an associate professor of African-American studies at Princeton. She was heartened last summer by the number of children of color in a class she taught at the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls, where kids learn to play punk-rock standards.

There is even a new word for black fans of indie rock: “blipster,” which was added to UrbanDictionary .com last summer, defined as “a person who is black and also can be stereotyped by appearance, musical taste, and/or social scene as a hipster.”

Bahr Brown, an East Harlem resident whose Converse sneakers could be considered blipster attire, opened a skateboard and clothing boutique, Everything Must Go, in the neighborhood in October, to cater to consumers who, like himself, want to dress with the accouterments of indie rock: “young people who wear tight jeans and Vans and skateboard through the projects,” he said.

“And all the kids listen to indie rock,” he said. “If you ask them what’s on their iPod, its Death Cab for Cutie, the Killers.”

A 2003 documentary, “Afropunk,” featured black punk fans and musicians talking about music, race and identity issues, and it has since turned into a movement, said James Spooner, its director. Thousands of black rock fans use’s message boards to discuss bands, commiserate about their outsider status and share tips on how to maintain their frohawk hairstyles.

“They walk outside and they’re different,” Mr. Spooner said of the Web site’s regulars. “But they know they can connect with someone who’s feeling the same way on the Internet.”
On MySpace, the trailer for Mr. Spooner’s new film, “White Lies, Black Sheep,” about a young black man in the predominantly white indie-rock scene, has been played upward of 40,000 times.

Rock was created by black artists like Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard, and Elvis Presley and other white artists eventually picked up the sound. In the ’60s, teenagers were just as likely to stack their turntables with records from both white and black artists — with perhaps a little bit of Motown, another musical thread of the time, thrown in, said Larry Starr, who wrote “American Popular Music: From Minstrelsy to MTV,” with Christopher Waterman. But that began changing in the late ’60s. By the time Jimi Hendrix became the ultimate symbol of counterculture cool, with his wild wardrobe and wilder guitar playing, the racial divisions were evident.

Paul Friedlander, the author of “Rock and Roll: A Social History,” noted that Hendrix became popular just as the black power movement emerged. Yet his trio included two white musicians and his audience was largely white. That made him anathema to many blacks.

“To the black community he was not playing wholly African-American music,” Mr. Friedlander said, even when Hendrix formed a new all-black band.

By the early ’70s, “you began to have this very strict color line,” Mr. Starr said. Music splintered into many different directions and, for the most part, blacks and whites went separate ways. Black musicians gravitated toward genres in which they were more likely to find acceptance and lucre, such as disco, R & B and hip-hop, which have also been popular among whites.

The next few decades saw several successful and influential black musicians who crossed genres or were distinctly rock, such as Prince, Living Colour and Lenny Kravitz, and rock melodies and lyrics have been liberally sampled by hip-hop artists. But rock is still largely a genre played by white rockers and celebrated by white audiences.

THE recent attention given several bands with black members — like Bloc Party, Lightspeed Champion, and the Dears — could signify change. “Return to Cookie Mountain,” the second album by the group TV on the Radio, a band in which four of the five members are black, was on the best-album lists of many critics in 2006. Around the country, other rock bands with black members are emerging.

On an evening in December, at Gooski’s, a crowded dive bar in Pittsburgh, Lamont Thomas, sweating through a red T-shirt that read “Black Rock,” played the drums behind the lead singer Chris Kulcsar, who was flinging his skinny frame around the stage, and the guitarist Buddy Akita. The bass player, Lawrence Caswell, dreadlocked and gregarious, introduced the band, a punk quartet from Cleveland with the name This Moment in Black History.

“The funny thing is, a lot of people assume from the name that we’re just white kids being ironic,” Mr. Thomas said.

This may be because their fans, like the ones who attended the show at Gooski’s, tend to be white, although there are usually one or two people of color, Mr. Caswell said.

Nev Brown, a photographer and writer from Brooklyn, said that at the indie rock shows that he has covered for his music blog,, he is almost always the only black person in the room. Some fans are curious about why he is at the show and try to talk to him about it.

“And then you get idiots, like people who think you’re a security guard,” he said.

Damon Locks, a Chicago-based publicist and singer in a hardcore band called the Eternals, said he is frequently mistaken for “one of the other three black guys” in the city’s rock-music scene. “We joke about it,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about getting together and starting a band called Black People.”

That kind of isolation is one of the reasons Mr. Spooner, the documentary director, regularly showcases black and mixed-race rock bands at clubs. For a band to participate, the lead singer must be black. This caused some friction early on, he said. “A lot of white people were offended that I was saying, ‘This is for us,’ ” Mr. Spooner said on a recent evening at the Canal Room, a club in downtown Manhattan, where he was the D.J. between sets for multiethnic bands like Graykid, Martin Luther and Earl Greyhound.

But, he added: “Almost every black artist I know wants to play in front of their people. This is bigger than just rocking out or whatever.”

Mr. Thomas, of This Moment in Black History, said that white fans sometimes want to know why he is not rapping. “It’s the stupidest question,” he said.

Just as often, it is African-Americans who are judgmental. “There’s an unfortunate tendency for some black people to think if you listen to rock music or want to play rock music, you’re an Uncle Tom,” Mr. Thomas said.

LaRonda Davis, president of the Black Rock Coalition, an organization co-founded by Vernon Reid of Living Colour in the mid-80s to advocate for black rock bands, said the resistance is rooted in group-think. “Black people were forced to create a community,” she said. “We’re so protective and proud of it, like, ‘We have to protect our own,’ and why should we embrace something that has always excluded us?”

Nelson George, author of “Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Boho’s: Notes on Post-Soul Culture,” suggested that the rock ’n’ roll aesthetic had been a major deterrent. “Black kids do not want to go out with bummy clothes and dirty sneakers,” Mr. George said. “There is a psychological subtext to that, about being in a culture where you are not valued and so you have to value yourself.”

But lately, rock music, and its accouterments, are being considered more stylish. Mainstream hip-hop artists like Kelis wear Mohawks, Lil Jon and Lupe Fiasco rap about skateboarding, and “all of the Southern rap stars are into the ’80s punk look, wearing big studded belts and shredded jeans,” said Anoma Whittaker, the fashion director of Complex magazine. At the same time, the hip-hop industry’s demand for new samples has increased the number of rock songs appearing on hip-hop tracks: Jay-Z’s latest album features contributions from Chris Martin of Coldplay and R & B artist Rihanna’s current single samples the New Wave band Soft Cell.
“Hip-hop has lost a lot of its originality,” said Mr. Brown of Everything Must Go, the East Harlem skateboard shop. “This is the new thing.”

Monday, February 19, 2007

cause, hey. you never know...

i've got an audition for new york lotto tomorrow. i'm supposed to be a snotty new york art critic. and yes, i'm getting a wig.

Friday, February 16, 2007

verizon: the callback

when i didn't hear from my commercial agent by friday, i figured that meant i wasn't getting a callback so i sashayed my angela davis afro to the edge of staten island, where michelle at ethnicity salon arranged my nubian knots just so. in about two hours, she was done. so fresh, so clean was blaring on my mental iPod until i checked my messages after my guitar lesson on monday afternoon. the words "you got a callback" reverberated all the way through me until my teeth rattled.

a callback is a beautiful thing but the thing is, the way you look is a key element to cinching the part. i had to show up the way they saw me initially but now that my hair was done, that wasn't an option. the week before, i pulled my soft afro into a bun at the nape of my neck and wore something grey and conservative. now my head looks like a minature bucky ball. sure, the look will soften in a week or so. but i didn't have a few days and they probably wouldn't understand that. i had to show up the following afternoon. and since i wasn't willing to take my hair down for a maybe (i honestly didn't have the time) and i couldn't get a wig (same reason), i thought i'd take a chance and be myself. when you look as black (read: ethnic) as i do, it's quite a risk.

when i called my agent and told him my tale of hair woe, he went, "Bunch, you're killing me." he scolded me for not calling in before i got my hair done. the thing is, they pushed the shoot date back by at least a week, so that gave them until after the weekend to let anyone know anything. to his credit, he encouraged me to go in without a wig because he didn't want me to look fake. i figured it was a wash but there was no way i was going to not show up. so there i was, at house productions again, with the some of the same nervous actors again, some of whom i recognized from the audition (and yes, their hair and clothes were exactly the same as they were then) -- only this time, there were lots of kids there with their strange overbearing parents for some kiddie call or something and they were all over the place. everyone was so exasperated with them because they showed up in masse over an hour earlier than their call time. so for a minute there was a bizarre overlap and everything kind of ran together in the middle of the room, like some 21st century vortex of commercial bunkum and pap.

honestly, you could cut that "need to please" vibe with a machete. feh.

i was a little on edge because i had someplace else to be and i couldn't be late. i scanned the sign-in sheet and then i scanned the room. would anyone let me jump line? i asked the guy who was waiting to go in next. he refused me because he was running late to meet a friend for lunch. (lunch?) then i saw the name jose. jose. that had to be the older distinguished looking black gentleman in the back of the room by the loo. he had an accent and he said that he was cuban. as i was touching up my make-up, he asked me if i was from south africa. "of course i am, sweetie," i smiled. he laughed. i love making strangers laugh. it's an instant connection and it never gets old. i ran back to him and started in with a very good explanation. he said yes before i even finished my sentence. ain't life grand?

i ran back to the monitor, took my place in line and zipped in and out of the room before i really knew what hit me.

how did i do? it's hard for me to tell when cameras are involved. i can leave a theater audition and know if they loved me but film/tv people like to blow sunshine up my butt, so i can't ever really tell what's going on. i didn't think that me or my hair was so hot the first time around and i got a callback so i guess i'm not the one to ask. one thing's for sure: when there's a callback possibility on the line from now on, i will call my agent to make sure i'm not in the running for anything before i change my hair. (i promise.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

happy valentine's day? me?

unbelievable but true: i actually had a happy valentine's day.

last year, my friend gave me two beautiful exotic ancient rings that he'd found at my one of my favorite shops on the upper east side, a place that actually specializes in beads, middle eastern furnishings and ethographic art. we went inside this shop on a whim after a saturday afternoon date to the planetarium, and he remembered how much i loved it. problem was, he couldn't remember the shop's location. so a few weeks before valentine's day, he spent the better part of a day trudging all over the upper west side looking for it. when he finally found the place, he couldn't remember which ring i preferred, so he got them both.

needless to say, those rings mean a lot to me.

this year, he gave me another ring, from south africa. it's simple and heavy, with a tiny bird pirched on it's rim. i surprised him by having a bouquet of tulips delivered to his office. i don't know if he's ever had a serious office job before. (he's been working in bars forever.) this is a comfortable situation in a picture-perfect part of brooklyn and it's small. (how small? when he opens his lunch, everyone knows what he's having. that small.) he said that when the ups guy showed up with this box, it automatically went into his bosses' office because everyone assumed it was for him. when the box came out and was placed on his desk, everyone looked at him as if to say, what could you possibly be doing as a boyfriend that a woman would send flowers to you? (if they have to ask, they'll never figure that one out. ha.)

after work, he met me at aaron davis hall for their "love, rhythm & soul: a valentine's day concert for lovers" (featuring the one and only miki howard) with a special room called "the pamper zone" sponsored by dazzlin' diva that had cocktails, food, spa treats, a dj, you name it. it was wonderful: catering by harlem restaurant called creole (the tilapia was divine), beauty products by warm spirit that blew me away -- a scented candle made of soy with a cotton wick that, when melted, could be applied to the skin like lotion. (amazing.) and there was a stripper with a collapsible pole. when they stopped everything so she could do her dance, i turned to my friend and said, "you will never get away from burlesque." too bad attendance wasn't what it could have been because it was drop-dead freezing outside but everyone loved it.

and can i tell you that it felt so good to be able to say goodnight and walk a few blocks to get home instead of having to take an hour-long train ride like i usually do when i'm hanging out downtown?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

yeah, you guessed it

i got a callback for that Verizon commercial audition i did last week or so. a big yippee for me, for making it past the common herd. more details soon.

Monday, February 12, 2007

i really couldn't believe this...

but after i gave it some thought, it made a lot of sense.

think about it: once upon a time, it didn't matter who impregnated your mother or
how light-skinned you were. once upon a time, we were all black. no one attempted to cross those racial lines unless they were trying to pass -- a life-threatening proposition in the best of circumstances. we are just as varied -- or should i say "mixed" -- as we ever were. the only difference is that nowadays when there's a white parent involved, the person in question is no longer black. they're biracial.

strom thurmond's illegitimate black daughter, essie-mae washington-williams, for instance. when she publicly announced who her daddy was a few years ago (and promptly joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy by the way, which is almost like joining the Klan as far as i'm concerned), she was referred to as biracial by the press, although initially they decided that she was a black woman. she'd certainly lived all of her then 83 years as a black woman and was certainly subjected to racism, segregation and jim crow aplenty of as a southerner. somehow strom made all the difference. that got me to thinking: what if i shook my family tree and some white people fell out? would i be biracial or would they come up with another name for me, too?

it seems that to white america,
biracial means "not one of them," when historically, nothing could be further from the truth. if this keeps up, our power base will splinter drastically and politically, we'll be another brasil: a country full of black people, with hardly any black people at all.

News bulletin: Barack Obama is a black man

By Leonard Pitts Jr. Originally published February 4, 2007

Apparently, it comes as quite a surprise to some people that Sen. Barack Obama is black.

I'm driven to this realization by the response to a recent column in which I referred to the senator as African-American. Many people wrote to correct me on that. Among the most memorable was a guy who said: "I heard his dad was a radical Muslim from Africa and his mom was a white atheist from Kansas City. If that be the case, wouldn't he be half a black man and half a white man? If he's a half-breed, shouldn't you do a correction?"

Then there's the gentleman who wrote following Mr. Obama's mild criticism of a recent comment by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the effect that Mr. Obama was the first "mainstream" black presidential candidate "who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." The e-mail writer saw Mr. Obama's response - he called the comment "historically inaccurate" - as a fatal misstep, a sign of a philosophical alliance with the dreaded Revs. Jesse L. Jackson and Al Sharpton, and it changed, he said, his view of Mr. Obama. "Up to now," he wrote, "I did not see him as an Afro-American."

Most folks were less ... strident than these two, but the core concern was the same: Mr. Obama should not be identified as African-American.

To which there is an easy answer: I call him African-American because that's what he calls himself.

There is, however, another answer that is not so easy.

If Mr. Obama asked to be identified as biracial, I would accommodate him because I believe that, within broad limits, people should be allowed to define themselves as they please. But with that said, I must confess I've always found that term rather meaningless insofar as the African-American experience goes.

That's not to criticize anybody who feels compelled to honor a multiplicity of heritages. For the record, many - maybe most - African-Americans are multiracial. One of my ancestors was Irish. My wife has Japanese and American Indian forebears. But my point is less about how one sees oneself than about how one is seen by the world at large. And I'm sorry: You can be as "biracial" as you want, but so long as your features show any hint of Africa, that world is going to give you the treatment it reserves for "black."

Assume for a minute Mr. Obama didn't have a famous face. Assume he was just another brother tooling down Main Street. Do you really think the cop who pulls him over for no good reason is going to change his tune if he is told Mr. Obama's mama is white?

"Oh. Sorry, Mr. Obama. I didn't realize you were biracial. Have a good day."

No way. You may be many things, but if one of them is black, that trumps the rest in terms of how the world sees you. Black is definitive.

Granted, this is, at some level, a silly conversation: As a scientific construct, race is meaningless. But as a social construct, it's anything but. So Mr. Obama becomes, inevitably, a Rorschach inkblot of our racial maturity. Meaning that what people see when they look at him so far seems to say more about them than him.

Which brings us back to Mr. Biden's remarks. I'm not qualified to judge the "nice-looking" part. But articulate? Even their critics would concede that Shirley Chisholm, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton - all black, all former contenders for the presidency - talk real good.

Bright? They seems intelligent enuf.

Clean? I stood near Mr. Jackson in an airport once. He didn't smell.

What Mr. Biden surely meant to say is that Mr. Obama is the first black presidential candidate who is potentially electable. But what he wound up saying is revealing, and what it reveals is not pretty. Mr. Biden was not the first. He won't be the last.

Meantime, I've got two words of advice for those folks who are surprised to learn Barack Obama is black: Eye. Doctor.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

another day, another audition: verizon

they said local, regional. they said casual business attire. they also said that there was no copy. i knew what that meant: almost everyone would get typed out at a glance. still and all, i wanted to be a nice enough girl and make a genuine effort. i blew my hair out, put on a light camera-ready daytime beat, got into a dark grey cowl neck woolen dress and some flat comfortable boots and hit it. let's face it, it's too cold to be cute or impractical about these things. i suppose i could have changed clothes there but i was betting that they would use a medium shot (and i was right). the shoot date was in a week. there would be callbacks. cool, i said. but what i was really thinking was, i'm getting my hair done this weekend so if they want me, they'd better call me before sunday because i'm not undoing my china bumps once they're in and i've made that commitment -- especially when they're fresh. they pretty much undo themselves, anyway.

i walked into that oh-so-familiar space at House and rounded the corner and saw all of those uncomfortably well dressed actors pacing and fidgeting and glancing at each other furtively, and i thought i am so far removed from all of this, i may as well be on the moon. maybe i was unfazed because i had already done my first commercial late last year. i was over that hump. that can i do this? pressure was gone. sure, i was nervous, in the moment. but i was confident and i was also objective, so nerves really didn't matter. this wasn't going to make or break me but everyone around me was sweating bullets. it was almost laughable, the tension in the air. what was it? ah, yes. it was desperation.

i sat there and stifled a yawn as it dawned on me: i'm not desperate. you treat auditioning like a job, you do it full time, you'll book something eventually. it is what it is -- no more, no less. it's not magic. it's just life. some guy passed by me as i checked my make-up in the mirror and said, good luck. i laughed and said, it ain't up to me, mister. i do everything i can to do the best i can, with that in mind.

and what do you know? the woman who auditioned me was the one that saw me through the audition/callback process that ultimately landed me the ocean spray spot. everything comes back around and around, and always when i least expect it.

Monday, February 05, 2007


i can't wait to get my hair done this weekend. i've been walking around the city with this gigantic angela davis afro all pinned up and under woolen wraps. when i take it down at night, it springs to life like it's gasping for air. i exhaust my arms wrestling it into submission with pink lotion and muscle. most of the time, i look like a fuzzbomb.

of course, my friend loves it. (men.) whenever my hair looks like this, he calls me "pretty," like it's my name.

and no, you're not getting a picture.

Friday, February 02, 2007

if you haven't seen this...

...then you really can't understand what the big deal is. and you probably still won't get it if you don't like musicals. and of course this is theater, so to feel the true impact of the performance, you'd have to be in the audience. still and all, the power of Jennifer Holiday's voice and the emotional velocity in her intent is enough to blow your hair back whereever you are in the world, even though she's only singing to you online via from more than 20 years ago.

Oh, and another thing. Unlike movie folk who can do it over and over again and lip synch when the moment arrives because they sang it down once in the studio, Ms. Holiday had to bring it eight shows a week on Broadway, week in week out for four years running.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

dream, girls

i do believe that it was my brother Damon who gave me a rather contrite explanation for the way things worked in new york city's theater world if you happened to be black. I recall that there was an amen corner of performers present: hard-working industry professionals who had achieved a measure of success and who knew exactly what they were talking about. A few of them were real triple threats, not the fake ones that they churn out in the media to give the illusion of an abundance of talent. At that time, I had just arrived in metropolis and I didn’t know anything about the way things worked – so when they collectively spoke, I listened.

“Pay attention and you’ll see for yourself," he intoned. "when it comes to broadway, they give us one great big splashy musical and one serious play at a time and that’s pretty much it." The amen corner agreed wholeheartedly. "You won't ever see a half-dozen or so black plays and musicals at once," someone else said flatly. "We don't have a shortage of talent," this one dancer said. "or material," said another.

the stats certainly supported everything they said but frankly, i didn't want to believe it. I thought that if someone was genuinely talented and if they did a great audition for a role that was right for them, they'd get the part. That’s how naïve I was. *sigh*

My unwavering belief that talent was what you needed first and foremost extended to every genre except film, in part because I’d seen way too many people get way too much for having little more than relatively natural good looks and/or a great set of (handcrafted) tits. Theater, I reasoned, was where the rubber hit the road. Unless, of course, you are famous. (question: why do film stars do theater?)

The more work i got, the more theater i saw, the more real those words became. it was insidious, really: the invisible (white) powers-that-be, tentacles outstretched in every genre, forever deciding what gets produced, who gets the part, what gets the public attention, what won't see the light of day. The message was clear: If you can make yourself into what they think you should be (whatever that is), you’ll work all the time. Being at the mercy of such inner workings is one thing but having to subjugate oneself to a system that denigrates you at almost every turn – and carries an ugly historical precedent of vilifying you – is something else. Any step in the right direction seems almost radical – which is a part of the reason why it’s so politically incorrect to say that you don’t like the movie Dreamgirls.

Well. You know what? I didn’t like it.

Yes, the costumes were fabulous. Yes, Beyonce looked beautiful. (They all did, really.) Yes, Jennifer Hudson sang. Yes, it was genuinely entertaining. Yes, it was wonderful to get a glimpse of the system in the music business that makes or breaks stars. Yes, the whole cast was strong. But you know what? I thought it was one cliché after another after another. I thought the songs were good but they weren’t up to (Motown) scratch. I thought that Eddie Murphy’s dramatic turn was a serious version of Velvet Jones (with a little of his James Brown impersonation on the side), a character he brought to life in the 80’s on Saturday Night Live when he was 19 – and that his Oscar nomination is for his past work on that show (which was nothing short of astonishing for a teenager), his reputation in Hollywood (his movies have grossed something like 3 billion dollars) and the fact that he’s attempting to do something “different.” I thought that almost every time Beyonce sang, she was singing at me and not to me. it's all about melisma with her. Stop hollering and screaming and just sing, i thought. maybe she doesn't know how.

I thought that it was a shame that everyone thinks that this is a thinly-veiled retelling of the rise and fall of The Supremes and Diana Ross in particular. It’s history, this one exceedingly effeminate latino (with bad skin and a Marlo Thomas flip-up ‘do, of all things) told me as I stood in line with my “admit one only” SAG pass (because you know I was saving my pennies to see Pan’s Labyrinth). It’s poetic license, I thought. Florence Ballard died broke and alone in the ghetto at 32. Payola will probably always be alive and well.

Mostly though, I kept wondering what Dreamgirls would have been if it had been written by black women instead of gay white men.

At one point, i looked around the theater and realized that it was mostly black women. clearly, the one that was seated next to me was as excited to see something of ourselves on the big screen as i was. how often does it happen in a major release that a black woman has the lead role? how many major releases are black films?

The underlying message is that back in the day, you had to accommodate white people and make them feel comfortable with your muted down blackness before they would accept you and buy your music. Crossover appeal. The real point for me is that nothing has changed – but they don’t really get into that. Too bad.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Jennifer Hudson’s performance. It was very good overall but her version of “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going” is something of a revelation. It’s so much more than a wonderful voice, singing. This is an iconic song that absolutely everyone – from the diva that’s doing yet another regional production of the musical to the tired drag queen lip-synching it up with campy spasmodic gusto for that weekend crowd at the cabaret – knows a little too well and loves a little too much. Except me. Call me nutty, but I was never completely comfortable with a black woman singing, “I don’t want to be free,” no matter what the context. Hm.

It takes a powerhouse to sing it, but a strong voice doesn’t ever guarantee a moving performance. Believe me, there are plenty of black women out there who have the vocal chops to nail it to the wall. (Try any sanctified black church on any given Sunday morning. i mean, really.) Too many people worldwide are personally invested in that song at this point because Jennifer Holiday gave such an emotionally blistering Tony award-winning performance. In theory, it seemed an insurmountable task: an American Idol reject with no film experience, no successful recordings under her belt and no real name recognition to speak of not only stars in a movie version of a beloved black musical alongside bona fide system-built box office black stars, she sings the song that everyone showed up to hear. And she nails it.

What’s bizarre is that the arc of her performance of that song is basically the five stages of grief. She moves through each moment with so much conviction that i was compelled to move through them with her and as i did, i completely forgot about the original version and got lost in what was unfolding before me. I don't know if she deserves an Oscar. She definitely earned a nomination.

It's hysterial that Beyonce believes that the only thing that stood in the way of her having Jennifer Hudson's part was weight gain. She's got 9 Grammies and she can sing and she's beautiful -- but she's not an artist. she's a product. she may not know it but her parents do. especially her father.

things aren't anywhere near as bad as they used to be for us in this business. i know that i'm a product when i present myself as an artist but real change happens when we -- as artists, not products -- write and produce our own work. in other words, don't think beyonce -- think dave chapelle.