Friday, March 30, 2007

hittin' the sauce

this was a good-time shoot, from start to finish. even though everyone was all about business, it was really breezy and relaxed and fun. they built a kitchen in the middle of this gigantic space that seemed to be carved out of concrete. first make-up and then we got into costume and they set the lights around us and then there was lunch and then we got down to brass tacks. once we actually got going, we cranked right through it until they got what they wanted. we stopped periodically when it was time to reload the camera and then sometimes we'd tiptoe over massive cable lines to the monitor to see what we were or weren't doing.

of course craft services kept the snacks coming. thankfully, i've learned the hard way to eat the fruit and vegetables and avoid the candy and processed snacks. i distinctly remember watching him put a tray of devils on horseback into a toaster oven and wondering if i'd be able to have a few when they were done. he was sweet enough to let me have a container of blackberries on my way out.

i drank everything in, from the gum-popping boom mic operator to the first a.d. who ran a tight ship. and i asked lots of stupid questions.

two days before the shoot, we had a costume fitting. i was told that it would take an hour but it went on all afternoon. in and out of clothes, against the wall for this polaroid, that digital shot and over and over it went. somewhere in there, the director wandered into our area, leaned against the wall opposite me, smiled and said, "about your hair..."

i balked. i didn't have the wig on so obviously my goose was cooked to a crisp. we talked about hair options. it was a strange conversation. he asked me what my hair was like under my hat. when i told him that it was natural, his face went completely blank. a guffaw came out of me so abrubtly, i snorted.

i took off my hat and showed him my hair. his eyes floated above my head as though he were seeing a halo resting there. "i love it," he said. "it's beautiful just the way it is."

i felt like an idiot. this wasn't about me figuring out what they wanted. this was about me being what they want, simply by being myself. what i presented to them in that initial audition was what they were looking for. i didn't need the wig. i was enough, just as i was.

"i didn't think i'd get this if i didn't wear that wig," i blurted. and he waved his hand in the air and said, "oh, you never know about those things." as he spoke, he looked at my hair and nodded to himself. as it turned out, he would have to convince 10 other people. and the thing is, they already saw the wig over and over on tape. they were used to the other look. it had grown on them. they liked it.

out of curiousity, he asked me why i thought i should wear an afro instead of the wig. i told him what i really thought: that television informed so many of our choices because it's in our homes and it's such a big part of our normal everyday ordinary lives. every household has one. especially the impoverished ones. commercials work best when they reflect who we are and when they're inclusive. most commercials feature black women with their natural hair -- the reality. movies feature the weaves, the perms -- the fantasy. no way is miss thing with a weave down to her hips and fake nails out to there going to be clipping coupons and changing diapers and trolling the grocery store aisles looking for that just-right antacid.

of course it's just hair. and it's a free country. everyone can do whatever they want. but it's a beautiful thing, to see black women on television simply being themselves with the way that they look and not apologizing for their blackness -- or obliterating it or multilating it -- by straightening their hair. it meant something to me as a kid, to see roshumba with a natural. it was and still is an important statement -- that as a black girl, you don't have to have straight hair to be considered pretty.

eventually, it turned into a lively discussion with salim and basia pitching in their opinions, too. and he agreed with us but it wasn't up to him. i just thought it was wonderful that he listened to us and that he raised the issue with everyone else. i didn't care one way or another. it's their commercial. i felt that they should do what they want with it, and it's my job to look the way they want me to look. still and all, it would have been nice to have an afro in the mix.

this is the "before" shot
freshly scrubbed and ready for work

and this is the "after" shot
the finished product
(note the coral lipstick. how fort worth is that?)

when we went out to show them our costumes, one of the producers, the woman who liked what i did in the audition, said that she googled me and that she found my website and really enjoyed my music. as a matter of fact, she went on, they were listening to it earlier in the week. all i could think was, wow. the internet really works, doesn't it?

this is the set
on the set - the prego commercial

and this is me on the set with my husband/boyfriend/significant other, salim
on the set - the prego commercial
(doesn't really look anything at all like me, now does it?)

it's supposed to run in may. we'll see.

in the meantime, i have a big day tomorrow. the movie shoot starts at 7:30am. there's a double date at brother jimmy's on the table around 6pm. and thanks to a very strange series of events, i'll see the allman brothers for the first time at the beacon with my friend. here's the real kicker: i've even got a backstage pass.

life is good.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

craaaaaaazy busy!

back from ATL at 8:30am.
a severe amount of errands to run and then the games begin.
audition for a reoccurring role on All My Children at 1pm. (and yeah, it's good.)
another audition for a Maytag (national) commercial at 2:20pm.
and yet another go-see.
the beat goes on...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

the shoot, the wig and the fun i had

freshly scrubbed and ready for work

here i am, ready for work.

i had just come from 125th street, where a beautiful african woman from ghana named tata cornrowed my hair in about an hour. i insisted on getting my hair done in spite of the fact that production called to bump up my call time to 10am instead of 11am. i knew that the wig would fit better (and i was right). i spent the next half hour or so in and out of four different gypsy cabs, trying to convince someone to give me a ride to silver cup east in queens. in retrospect, i suppose it would have been easier if i spoke more than just a little french -- but that's harlem for you. in the end my not so spectacular spanish won out -- a very polite non-english speaking Mexican who knew exactly where it was took me straight there for $35. of course, he made me pay him first. and of course, they reimbursed me.

the finished product

and here is the finished product. i think i look fairly lacquered. frances was a great make-up artist. really wonderful to get to know. she's from california, a former graham dancer and yoga enthusiast. this process took about an hour. she even trimmed the bangs on the wig. overall, the look was exactly what they wanted.

on the set - the prego commercial

and here i am, on the set with salim who's from chicago by way of southern california and who lives in central harlem. we had a lot of fun improvising and in the end they were totally elated with what we did.

on the set - the prego commercial

this is the set, which was an absolute blast. what a whole new world for me. everything that everyone did -- from the director and the producers staring at the monitor with each take to the best boy and the key grip to the catering crew -- was fascinating. all of it came together seamlessly. it was like becoming an ant and stepping into an anthill -- everyone crazy busy, moving in every direction and somehow moving as one and getting an enormous amount of work done in a minimal amount of time.

they were there from the wee hours of the morning until 11pm or so. they must have shot at least a half-dozen commercials, including ours.

funny thing. as the crew began to break down the set and we watched the last few takes on the monitor, one of the producers remarked to no one in particular that i was ready for a sit-com. when i tilted my head and looked at her, she looked at me and added, if i wanted it. she's the one that googled me, found my website and read up on me before we met at the costume fitting two days earlier.

i knew that she was right. i don't know what else i can do to make any of that happen, other than continuing to audition my brains out strategically. i've always been a bit of a purist about acting, which is why i stayed in the theater world for as long as i have. and i'm grateful that i did because i know what i'm doing and there isn't much that i can think of that feels better than that -- especially in those moments when i'm surrounded by actors who don't really know how to act.

the thing is, i don't know if i could say no to $25,000 a week. at this point, i'm not so sure that i should.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

happy birthday, daddy

happy birthday!

my father turned 90 on saturday, march 24th. there was a formal black tie party in his honor in ATL. complete with a four course meal, old family friends, footage from family reunions past, and of course pictures. ramon and i serenaded him. nothing elaborate. just a few standards that he would have heard as a young man in the 2os and 30s. i think a lot of my not-so-distant family members were genuinely surprised that i could actually sing. at the time, i was more amused by that than annoyed but it was definitely a mixture of both.

my father grew up in the deep south -- south Georgia to be exact. interestingly enough, he made the first wave of the great migration north in the 20s and eventually the first migration south in the 70s. i don't know very many people who can make that claim.

i don't even want to think about the trouble he's seen. but believe it or not, sometimes he actually tells us about it.

just so you know that he's not hobbling around in a diaper with a drool cup around his neck and talking to himself: here he is the next morning after breakfast on his excercise bike.

daddy, working out

the day before i got to ATL, we had this long wierd argument about debt and how he thinks it's better to pay things off over time than all at once, in one lump sum. i mean, really. he practically drew a flow chart for me over the phone. not that i needed one. i had to keep reminding myself that he was about to turn 90. he sounded like his usual self. remembers absolutely everything. still thinking everything through, still scheming. and even though he's calmed down a lot since i got work, he's still arguing with me about my future, my finances.

that's his job, i suppose. God knows he's good at it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

the prego callback: notes of an interloping negress

went to the callback wearing the wig that i just knew wouldn't work in the initial audition and my favorite diane von furstenberg wrap dress. instead of changing shoes, i wore flat rugged boots because there was snow and muck outside and i didn't feel like dealing with all that yanking off and putting on. besides, i figured they wouldn't shoot me from the waist down. (and i was right.) that's why there's a diane von furstenberg wrap dress in the smithsonian -- pumps or combat boots, you can literally wear it any way you want. i don't know why, but wearing her dresses makes me feel more confident than usual. and somehow i knew that i would need all the confidence i could get.

everything dragged to get me there, even time itself. the L train, which is usually pretty zip-a-dee-doo-dah at that hour, took an astonishing 20 minutes. i almost gave up and took a cab but of course, that wasn't a real option. not for me, not at midday and not in new york city. once i arrived and surveyed the situation, i was more than a little dismayed to see that there wasn't one black woman at this black commercial callback with natural hair. they all had the same look -- some of them tall, some of them tall-looking, but most of them slim-jims and all of them with perms of varying lengths. and white features. the black woman who sat next to me was light-skinned with dark green eyes, a pointy nose and shoulder-length curly hair. (yes, it was contacts and no, it wasn't a weave.) something in me flat-out panicked: i'm a brown-skinned black girl with an african face. why did these people call me in for this? i felt like an interloping negress.

what did the guys look like? i'm glad you asked.

to tell you the truth, they weren't all that nappy, either. they had a look of their own as well. most of them were bald, strong, tall and quite masculine. maybe one or two were light-skinned but all of them were on the very brown side. i recognized one of them. he was shorter, light-skinned with twists. he was supposed to go in with me at the audition but he wouldn't because he "needed more time." i think he was a little startled to see me there.

someone came out eventually and paired us off. they put me with this really nice looking kind of bulked out guy, maybe six feet tall or so. we leaned against the far wall of the room and chatted about the business for awhile. he did a royal carribean commercial recently and got to spend more than two weeks in the bahamas, pretty much hanging out and doing nothing.

the callback was an obvious call, as far as he and i could tell. figuring out what they want and giving it to them was the trick. i looked at all the women and i realized one very important thing: they were wanted some verve, some personality. they weren't hiring pretty. not necessarily. they were hiring funny. and that's another thing: its one thing to be funny with a script but there wasn't one. most actors can't improvise. most actors aren't funny. aw, heck. most actors can't act.

the thing is, it's rare that i go into any room to audition and feel loved. (actually, this has changed drastically in theater/musical theater since i did "harlem song." more on that later.) usually, i feel ambivalence. i feel them thinking, not this one, or they're thinking maybe this one, or oh, definitely not this one. some people show up and get the job. i have to show up and change their minds.

i didn't need the dress to give me confidence after all. i carried this epiphany into the room with me. i cloaked myself in it. i mean, really -- i may not be what some corporate white guy behind a desk thinks of when he imagines a conventionally pretty (read: safe) black woman . but i am a funny girl -- with or without a script.

let me bottom line my day for you: i showed up around noon. my call time was at 12:15. they got cracking around 12:30pm. i didn't get out of there until after 1:30pm. at 4pm, my agent called me to tell me that i had a second callback. it was for that evening and then it was for the next morning and then it was for the next day. who cares? it's on.

believe it or not, the funny interloping negress is still in the running. stay tuned.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

i almost forgot!

here's the good news of the moment: i got cast in a truly indie feature length film called Jake Gets Paid. i'm calling it "truly indie" because the director Ed Durante wants to shoot 12 pages a day for 7 days, every weekend in april -- starting saturday march 31st -- from 8am to 3pm. coffee, bagels. no pay.

it's an interesting role. i'll definitely have a significant amount of camera time -- and that is what i wanted when i started to seriously pursue film/tv. here's the deal: as a vocalist and a theater performer, i don't have much of a reel -- so when someone offers me a film role, it would kind of behoove me to take it. the thing is, you can't necessarily read a script and tell if a movie is going to be worthwhile. you have to trust the director and his vision and his process -- and hope that it comes out well in the end. on the one hand, if the director has a reputation, you have something to hang your hope on. but even that's no guarantee. on the other hand, if it's just this well-intentioned enthusiastic and probably even talented guy standing there with a bunch of short films to his credit going, trust me -- well, that's a whole other ball of wax. just ask alan arkin.

mr. durante says it's going to be tight and he promised me that i'll hate him when it's over but in the end he says it'll be worth it. thankfully, i get to keep my hair very natural: no wigs, no extensions, no nothing. that fills me with sweet relief. one thing, though -- i'm getting my body back and since he'll probably be shooting this movie out of sequence, there'll probably be some scenes that'll have me looking chubbier than others. that'll be funny. chubby me in one scene, lean me in the next one. ha.

let the adventure begin.

Friday, March 16, 2007

prego. it's in there!

i thought i looked like crap. i wasn't exactly in love with the wig i wore. i didn't think that i was dressed casually enough. and i was so sure that what i did on camera was sub-par, i practically ran out when it was over. yet in spite of all those things, my agent called this afternoon and told me that i got a callback for the commercial i auditioned for last week anyway -- the national for prego.

i'd like to say "wow" and get happy about being one step closer to my second national commercial -- but at this point, i know better. it's only a callback. even if i actually get the part, i can't get excited about it. getting the part is like starting all over again with this process. getting it doesn't mean i'll shoot it. shooting it doesn't mean that it'll air. having it air doesn't mean that it'll run for very long. the bottom line is that in film and television, there are no guarantees -- especially after you get the part.

my agent was right when he told me to forget about that ocean spray commercial i got last fall. he was right. i shot it in october and it has yet to air. they could send me holding checks for the next three years and not use it at all.

still and all, it's a callback. i've been getting a lot of them lately. let's see how this one goes.

Monday, March 12, 2007 you want black rock, huh?

now here's a little something you'll really like: the one and only ornette coleman in italy performing at some festival for national television, circa 1974. (wow. you really can find anything on!) it's almost absurd, how young and lean and how hungry to "do their art and make their mark" everyone looks. and yes, of course -- that's james "blood" ulmer on guitar with a dark wide-brimmed hat on, refusing to look up.

blood can't stand having his picture taken -- and he doesn't like video cameras at all. once when we were in poland, he stopped playing towards the middle of a show until everyone cleared away all the cameras. and there were a lot of them.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

what is black rock?

"Black Creator + Rock Music = Black Rock, case closed. Or is it? This definition assumes that before Black Rock, “Black” and “Rock” were independent entities that fused to become Black Rock. Jazz-Rock is a better example of two styles that were independent of each other merging to form something new, and there are clear examples of Rock artists going in a Jazz direction (Santana) at the same time Jazz artists went towards Rock (Miles Davis). Given the historical roots, how can anyone assert that Rock and Roll is not Black? How can anyone who would make that assertion expect to be taken seriously?"

from ralph white's blog, "new harlem online"

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

busy signal

prego commercial audition today.
on camera audition for an indie movie tonight.
guitar class tomorrow.
more netflix.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

this might explain it

by Jan Reid

i can’t remember when the song layla sank into my consciousness.

i was a proper church-going little girl, i was in the deep, deep south and hee-haw was on tv every week. i was surrounded by cousins and sweet dirt and sky, and the sun was always shining, even when it rained. everything was drenched in twang and rock and gospel. i remember a little battery operated transistor radio in my bedroom that had a strap on one side of it. i remember lying on my stomach, playing with my paper dolls with that radio right next to my head, listening to the allman brothers.

no one told me that what i was listening to was for white people, that i was supposed to be at the r&b end of the table because i was black and that’s what black people listened to. i instinctively knew that table was mine and i could sit whereever i wanted. later, much later, in college and even in my early time in nyc—when i was supposed to be surrounded by smart cool talented individuals—i can distinctly remember them (black and white) balking when i said which butthole surfers record i preferred or how much i liked bands like husker du and captain beefheart and the pixies or how i loved mudhoney way more than nirvana for that supermuff but cobain wrote catchier songs or how i was going to go see john doe somewhere downtown the next night. the question hung in the air like pastel colored streamers at a mexican prom: how did i know so much about rock? rarely ever would anyone ever actually ask. (too bad.)

“you’re an anomaly,” some white someone told me once.

“oh really,” i said flatly. i couldn’t believe that he meant that as a compliment. but he did. “maybe i’m the norm,” i casually suggested. “either way,” i continued, “how would you know?” (and no, that's not all i said. not by a long shot.) i'm probably always going to remember how his face changed as that one sank in.

that whole blipster thing is just one more stupid chapter in a continuing bizarre racist saga of “how to sell music to america” that some yahoo set up when they figured out how to make money off of records back in the day. now that they’ve come up with a name for The Only Black Person At The Show, they can patronize with some degree of accuracy and still be completely off the mark.

but i digress.

i think duke ellington was dead-on correct when he said there’s only two kinds of music—good and bad. unknowingly, the song layla set it off for me. or was it freeform fm radio? i don’t know.

i never thought much of eric clapton as a vocalist or as a guitarist (yes, he’s great—no, he’s not a deity) but i did love derek and the dominos. the more i listened to the music, the more i wanted to know more about where all of that passion and feeling and desperation came from. i heard snippets of stories here and there. and what happened to the drummer sounded like a wierd urban legend. but then i found this layla book and had it all explained to me, in such lurid detail that i could almost feel their collective exhaustion after some drug addled binge in the english countryside.

all of that 70’s excess—the heroin, the alcohol, the ferraris that were paid for in cash, the hookers that duane allman had imported from macon for their sessions in miami—that’s in there. but the love story at the core of it all is compelling stuff. and ultimately, the way clapton takes his feeling and pain and makes art is effing brilliant.

but it's the never-ending twang of that slide guitar that embraces something inside of me -- that something that knew sacred steel in a traditional church setting before elmore james made his presence felt and then duane allman turned it into something else. my southern ways are still there. they're completely intact and ever-present. thank Jesus.

oh. and duane and greg look like some hayseeds i went to school with, for real—which made me love them even more and miss the south of my childhood.

i don’t want to meet eric clapton. i want to meet bobby whitlock.

today's top five

  1. yesterday, after many fitful dreams and sleepless nights, i wrote the beginnings of a song about red ryder -- and i think it might be good. but i can't tell from here. it just won't leave me alone -- and neither will warren. i can't imagine going back to austin and not seeing him again. that's really going to break my heart.
  2. i'm going a little nuts because i cleaned up my apartment so thoroughly that i can't find this blank book that i filled with bits and pieces of songs that i was sketching out. (and that's not all i can't find...) i have to find it. all i can think is, it's in here somewhere. if everything was a complete mess, this wouldn't be a problem -- and that book would be right where i left it. so much for spring cleaning. (well. at least i didn't leave it at my parent's house in ATL.)
  3. i'm losing my winter weight, finally -- not because i'm working out, either. it's because i'm drinking water all day and not eating late at night. (well. actually, i think this contraption might be helping me, too.)
  4. freakin' bar chords are tearing my fingers up. i can't remember when i had a manicure but this is ridiculous. i have the hands of a day laborer -- and i don't like it. one thing's for sure: when i finally learn how to play guitar really well, i'm going to be one arrogant bastard. God help me -- i'm actually planning that last detail. (ha.)
  5. talk about "escape from new york" for real: my friend wants me to show him austin, texas (the nation's capital!) -- so he can finally see what i've been going on about. we're planning a 5 day visit. his idea, not mine. i'm not sure the austin i remember and love is still there. i guess we'll both have to find that one out when we visit my friends this spring.

Monday, March 05, 2007

now, this is living!

it's japanese restaurant week, as of yesterday. throughout this week, participating japanese restaurants around the city will offer specially designed gourmet menus. i'm giving serious thought to showing up at sushi samba (brazilian/peruvian/japanese fusion -- and yes, it's as incredible as it sounds) and eating until i can't move...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

...not my dark ages...

it's saturday night. as usual, my friend and i are watching the history channel. (i love the history channel.) after years of him bartending in the lower east side every weekend and me running around with a gig somewhere, it's nice to stay in and avoid the unwashed masses downtown, yearning to be trendy and chain smoke and get trashed. besides -- everyone knows that if you want to go out in new york city, you don't do it on the weekends.

a promo comes on for the dark ages, their latest series premiering sunday (tomorrow) at 9pm.

the announcer says, "over 600 years of degenerate godless inhuman behavior," and as his pithy authoritative voice rang out in my apartment, my friend goes, "that's not what was happening in asia. or africa, either." and then he sighed and shook his head and said matter-of-factly, "it wasn't the dark ages for everyone. europe is not the world."

it was an especially wiggy moment because that's exactly what i was thinking, almost word for word. so my eyebrows went up and i said, "you sound like a black militant." he agreed. but when media constantly says things that are so blatantly eurocentric, who wouldn't be? evidently, it's enough to turn the most mild mannered episcopalian white guy into an indignant black woman in a new york minute (which, from what i'm told, is about five seconds).

"would it kill them to talk about what was happening elsewhere in the world?" he asked. hm. maybe they will. they certainly should. we'll see when it airs tomorrow night.

so nice to know that i've finally rubbed off on him. then again, he was probably always like this, just below the surface.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

all apologies

sorry i didn't post any pithy remarks about black history month in february. i'm usually so good about that stuff. the thing is, i don't walk around thinking about what a wonderfully uppity negress i am. to quote zora neale hurston, i'm too busy sharpening my oyster knife. actually, i don't think anybody spends a whole lot of time dwelling on their race or gender unless something happens that draws their attention to it. and if you're black, something is happening all the time. the difficulty is to not meditate on it.

when my blackness isn't brought to the forefront of my daily goings on, i'm thinking stuff like, i can't believe that i need four sets of boot trees or i'm almost out of vitamins or i'm not going to make it to jef lee johnson's show at the jazz standard next week or boy, do i love lobster bisque or i should call my grandma tomorrow. until something happens, i'm just another person, reaching for enough miracle whip for my sandwich. believe me -- the stupid things that can happen to people of color even in a place that's supposed to be as cool as nyc can turn anyone into a militant/activist. and in that regard, brothers and sisters, there's a little malcolm x (or a little betty shabazz) in each of us, no matter where we are in the world.

so here's a little cheat sheet of what's going on in my black world:
  1. i need (yes, need!) three box sets: another one in the bob dylan bootleg series, willie dixon on chess and the layla and other assorted love songs 25th anniversary re-issue. listening to a lot of charlie christian and johnny cash these days, and i'm learning how to play bar chords and power chords.
  2. i love playing guitar so much, i've already picked out my next one: a beautiful scaled down A & L parlor guitar, in a strange shade of blue.
  3. believe it or not, i found a restaurant in east harlem called creole that serves real honest-to-goodness bona fide alligator etoufee.
  4. my friend and i are going to see new york divided: slavery and the civil war this weekend. (maybe we'll have gator afterwards...)
  5. congratulate me: i've finally perfected my ultra-southern sour-cream chocolate cake.
  6. i think i'll bake one and take it to abdul at a. bistro in brooklyn. i miss my african chef.
  7. i'm reading odimumba kwamdela these days. (if you've never heard of him, i highly recommend the semi-fictional novel/underground classic niggers, this is canada.)
  8. if you want to get a real taste of dany laferriere's work, skip the movie how to make love to a negro without getting tired and read the book. or if you want to see one of his movies, please do yourself a favor and go see heading south. it's effing brilliant.
  9. now that every available windowsill in my apartment has a thriving philodendron, i've decided to grow something that blooms: an amaryllis.
  10. i really need (!!!) to go see the allman brothers at the beacon this month, for march madness.