Saturday, February 27, 2010

steady at it

after two days of principal work on the set of hbo's boardwalk empire, i'm back at it - hard at work learning material for a program at the schomburg on march 8 called four women: a tribute to odetta, miriam makeba, eartha kitt and abbey lincoln. it's for their women's music month series that's happening each monday in march. i'll be playing with my jazz group on the last week. should be a lot of fun.

i'm also auditioning, practicing the guitar and writing new songs, and digging into rewrites for a 10 page submission to naked angels theater company's tuesdays at 9 series. the jazz cd what is love? is getting picked up on radio stations all over the place. everybody thinks it's crazy tasty. in my head, i'm already in preproduction for the next cd - and it's country music.

what's got me buzzing at the moment is that i'm a finalist in the 2009 international songwriting competition. (go figure.)

what with all this snow that won't stop falling, i may not leave the house all weekend - unless of course, i'm heading for nysc on 125 and that glorious steam room. i really want to be a better pugilist. running helps.

waving this japanese flag around for days on end is exhausting. i need multivitamins, a good hard sweat and a three day fast.

Friday, February 19, 2010

i could have danced all day...

we rehearsed for a few hours today for next week's broadway empire shoot. after we filled out some paperwork, we were coupled off and we danced in rounds and then in sequence, one after the other, all together, all around the room - laughing and chatting and carrying on as we acted out way through it. it was so much fun!

the thing that i love about these movements is that there are no rules, no "proper" way to do them, per se. you do what you feel. it's so perfect for me - someone who really loves to dance but who gets flummoxed by the "right" way to do these things. and really, this was the point in time in social dances when the formality was stripped away and people just made stuff up and did what they wanted to do. you didn't go to class to learn how to do a dance like the shim sham shimmy. you just did it. and when we do it, it's really funky and sexy and beautiful - everybody got all free with it and then it felt like a house party, out of time.

my partner is brian, an alumna of the color purple national tour with a fairly serious dance background. he's a little taller than me, which worked perfectly with certain dances. he led so effortlessly, it was almost as though we'd been dancing together forever.

pat the choreographer and her two assistants were more than focused, drifting around the room and giving direction and suggestions and notes and encouragement as necessary. the next thing i knew, it was over.

here's a cool video that explains a few of the dances we're doing. i love the grizzly bear, as you know. the castle walk is a favorite, too. we're not doing any waltzes - too 19th century and way too white, especially for a black folk's juke joint/roadhouse scene.

wouldn't it be great if i could keep dancing like this?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

another day, another (dance!) audition: boardwwalk empire

i got called in to be seen yesterday for the hbo series boardwalk empire. maybe you've heard about it: it's all about big time gangsters and city corruption on the jersey shore - based on actual people and events, no less - and set in the 1920s. martin scorsese is producing it. hbo has already committed to 12 episodes. mr. scorsese has already shot the first one.

what they wanted me to do was dance. i almost laughed out loud when i read the breakdown. me, dance? i'm the one that everyone would make fun of when i walked across the room, much less danced at parties or family gatherings or whatever. i'm the one that never knew how to properly execute the latest dance that was sweeping the black nation - i just moved with feeling, and that was never enough. i'm the one with the older brother who, when he was a dancer and hard at work in that world briefly, reassured me time and again that i couldn't dance. all of that criticism and ridicule made me feel awkward and stunted whatever natural grace i had. eventually, i didn't move at all. why bother, when i would only end up humiliating myself. the party would be on fire in the other room while i was the one in the kitchen, sitting at the table in relative darkness, chugging ice water and having long winding conversations into the night with fascinating people about books and ideas and life.

i danced when i had to and only when i had to, which is usually when someone paid me to do it, i.e. some grand musical theater production or a play that required movement. i wanted to take class formally - i even interned at broadway dance center - but i just couldn't afford the classes. actually, i didn't know of very many dancers who could afford the classes. what was especially annoying is when i would work hard and get lean and strong and people would look at me and assume that i was a dancer.

and then something clicked: swing music exploded all over creation and all of a sudden, dancing was fun, fun, fun. here's the kicker: i was good at it! as it turns out, i could dance all along. who knew?

i was going to call my agent and tell them to get me out of this one, but then i realized that they probably wouldn't choreograph anything because it was a scene in a jook/juke joint (i thought those were only in my part of the south!). yankees call them roadhouses, i guess. though those are something totally different in other parts of the south, too. i actually liked the tea dances of the 1920s, and had been going to see michael arenella and his dreamland orchestra long enough to practice them. as i dug out my character shoes and dusted them off, i thought that if there was no structured "...five, six, seven, eight!" situation, i would get through it with my dignity intact. heck. it might even be a good time.

the day before this particular dance call, they wanted me to lip-synch a mamie smith song called crazy blues - in full vintage regalia, no less. i know i nailed that one - i like all the smiths, not just bessie - but they wanted a medium sized black woman and i don't think that's me, because i'm a size 6. a few weeks before that, i read for an under 5 role of the babysitter, which was interesting. so here i was, in my long black gym shorts and a t-shirt, black socks and character shoes, back for a third try and ready to rip it up.

once we were all signed in, given numbers, photographed and led out of holding, the casting folk took us to a room and tried to make themselves as invisible as possible. we sort of paired ourselves up in this effortless way, the way you look over at someone and both of you point at each other at the same time. the choreographer, an older pixie-ish lady whose one syllabled name escapes me, was a real pip. she explained the dances, showed us how they should be executed with a few small deft moves, told us what she was looking for specifically and pretty much pushed play on the cd player across the room and left us to our own devices, watching all of us carefully. my partner was a tall lean beautiful lightskinned brother named kyle who looked like he just breezed in from classes at ailey. i smiled at him, relieved and grateful - how exciting, i thought. i get to move around the room with a real dancer! when i told him that, he smiled broadly and waved me off.

we did the black bottom, the shim sham shimmy, and a few others that i liked. we just danced and pretended like we were at a party and whatnot. at one point, kyle went into a six count swing out and i blurted, that's the lindy hop, that's the 30s! and he said, i'm sorry, i couldn't help it! and we just laughed and kept going.

my favorite one was the grizzly bear. here's a fairly good example of the way it looks:

it's so fun!

interestingly, there was strictly no charleston. she was really pointed about that. the year in this scene was 1920. the charleston - straight out of a small island off the coast of south carolina, no less! - hadn't been invented yet.

when we were done, the little lady made a small apologetic statement. something like, i'm sorry, you're all wonderful but we have to let a few of you go - and boy, haven't i heard that a million times! - and then she starts cutting people. by the time she gets to me, i'm mentally out the door and on with the rest of my day, but instead of dismissing me, she says, you can stay. and then she turns to my partner and thanks him for his time but no, he's not right for this part.

you could have knocked me over with a breath of fresh air.

after digging for white rhinestones in chinatown (don't ask), i skip over to the coffee pot in midtown to catch up with renee and stacy (who should have been at this audition, really) and before we separate, i get a call from the casting agent letting me know that i got the part. yeesh - they beat the talent agent to the punch?!

costume fitting tomorrow afternoon, deep in the heart of brooklyn. huzzah!

Friday, February 12, 2010

great news

guess what? i got a callback for that commercial i auditioned for earlier this week. (yay!)

i don't think anything is going to happen with that progressive spot until april, maybe. i was probably too black for them, anyway. (and isn't that always the risk?) we'll see. maybe they'll totally surprise me.

like i said before, commercials are a complete crap shoot. it's freaky-deeky that i got this far - and yeah, that's the way it goes with any kind of on-camera work. but you probably already know how i feel about that.

i'm not sure which part they want for me, so i'm learning the lines for both characters. i'm not taking anything for granted. of course, the script will probably be on display somewhere near the camera while we're doing it, but i don't care.

needless to say, i'm wearing the same outfit, too. funny tidbit, that - the casting agent let me wear my snowpants on camera. why not? he got a medium shot of us, so who would know. besides, it would have been such a hassle to take them off. heh. i was all styled out from the waist up.

and yes, my hair was natural. (sort of.)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

long day, long night

i've got an audition today late in the afternoon for a regional musical, and i'm just not ready, on so many levels - so i'm spending the better part of my day absorbing this material and prepping my voice, which is kind of crunchy. i found the song in question on iTunes and downloaded it onto my iSwitch, which is what i'll be listening to while i do my usual everyday runaround.

after the audition, i'll go for a nice hard run to burn off whatever nervous energy will still be chewing away at me and then i'll pick up my dan electro guitar from gotham guitar works and then i'll go home and get lost in my junk room, plug that guitar into my pignose amp and practice, practice, practice.

tonight, i'm submitting material to naked angels theater company's tuesday @9, their weekly workshop that lets you put your ideas up - plays, screenplays, even fiction - in this really impromptu way, once its accepted. i can't mail it in, i have to go there to give them what i have, and i have to stay to see their process and get a feel for how everything works.

because basically, i realized i have all these unfinished undeveloped ideas and the only way they're going to jump off the page is if i get with a theater company and grow them. what's cool is that everyone seems to have a literary component for fiction and experimental work, so i can throw everything i've got against the wall and see what sticks.

oh, yeah. and i have to find a horn player for my gig next week.

i've got something cool jumping every day and every night of this week. it feels good and right and true, to rip through a crossword puzzle straightaway, and then read and write and think every morning. if i can find it in me to work out before i do anything else, i'll be batting a thousand.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Yay! Another Commercial Audition! Out of Nowhere! On the Street! Yay!

i jumped off of the 1 train at 18th street the other day in the early afternoon and headed west, on my way to the nyc discmakers offices near 5th avenue for an impromptu meeting about my newly released cd. my mind was flush with a long list of questions and suggestions and situations that i kept reconfiguring as i neared my destination, like a jigsaw puzzle that wouldn't leave me alone. it was cold and sunny, which always aggravates me. the heat of the sun never seems to penetrate the iciness of the day -- and in the end, its all just one big miserable tease that leaves me yearning for the unyielding warmth of the south and a home i would never see again, a home that is alive and well, inside me.

what was i wearing? a hat with ears on it. snow pants, of course. and underneath it all, my gym clothes. as a fledgling pugilist, i have very little upper body strength and even less endurance. so i run and lift weights to boost my staying power. the truth is, most days in boxing class find me leaning against a wall like a cripple and gasping for breath, my heart pounding in my chest like thunder, every beat a sonic boom that reverberates so heavily through the rest of my body, it rattles my teeth. i am pushing myself to my limit. in these moments, my instructor george never looks at me sideways - much to his credit. because he's pushing me, too.

the other day he said to me, "there's no such thing as fighting like a girl. either you can fight or you can't." then he turned waved his arm towards the rest of the class and continued nonchalantly. "hitting isn't gender specific. you think all these guys came in here knowing how to hit?" and with that, he snorted and made a face. "no," he said flatly. "they came in here hitting like you." and with that, i twisted at my hips, pushed my foot forward and gave him a solid left hook that made his face light up with pleasure. now, that was a good day.

when it's all over, i congratulate myself for making it all the way through yet another round. my arms are so weak, i can hardly lift them. it hurts my ribs to take a deep breath. i can hear the blood rushing through my veins as i ask myself, when am i going to get better at this? and then i realize i'm getting stronger. and leaner. i just have to stick with it. that's usually the hard part.

so there i was, thinking about discmakers and what i was going to tell these people and what they were going to tell me, thinking about my left hook and my right cross, thinking about running a mile in less than 10 minutes. thinking about a hot shower afterwards and exfoliating and sitting in the steam room until my muscles melted and my beloved moroccan oil. thinking about finding a piano tuner. thinking about how i couldn't afford the mezcal i really wanted and thinking maybe ralph would split it with me so i could at least have some in my leather-bound flask that lives in my purse, for an emergency cocktail now and then. thinking about my chinese acupuncturist. thinking about kwanzaa presents i have to finish. thinking about the boxing gloves i'd get from modell's the following week. thinking and thinking and thinking. and listening to music. t-connection, i believe it was. don't let nobody tell ya what to do, gotta be your judge and the jury too...

i didn't get far.

i was passing this velvet roped off situation on 18th street between 6th avenue and 7th avenue in some wide open space that's usually got some shin-dig going on. there were two or three people out there, waving me down like they were hitchhikers on some deserted stretch of highway. what fresh hell is this, i wondered. i yanked out my earphones and got an earful.

they were talking over each other, they were babbling and they were saying it in different ways, but they were basically saying the same thing: come inside and audition for this commercial! one of them looked like edith bunker, which made me smile faintly. and that probably made me look agreeable but nothing could have been further from the truth. the truth is, something in me recoiled instinctively at the very idea of auditioning for a commercial in the visual state that i was in. because getting cast in a commercial has everything to do with what you look like. in most cases, the prettier you are, the better - but you can get away with not being pretty if you're actually funny. and yeah, being funny is usually what gets me the gig. and it was the only thing that had me seriously thinking about going past those velvet ropes. i had to be funny because i had absolutely not one shred of makeup on my person. not even cover stick. i didn't have bags under my eyes. i had luggage. (who wears makeup to the gym? wait - don't answer that...)

on the other hand, i wasn't going to blow off any opportunity to get seen for anything. so with all that in mind, and all that other stuff flying through my head like rainbow-colored confetti, i went inside.

it was an auditon for a progressive commercial. they were looking for an assistant for flo. yeah, that's right. that's the dark-haired, wise-cracking, wide-eyed, wiggy looking white chick that's so excited to sell you car/home/pet insurance. everyone, and i mean everyone was dressed like flo, from the coat check girl to the magnetic name tag girl to the girl on headset who gave me a goody bag and a card with instructions on it, and answered all of my stupid questions. white button down short sleeved shirt, white oversized overalls, white sneakers. white, white, white. actually, the whole set was white, white, white - like i'd just stepped onto the set of the commercial itself. everything was roped off just so, so you'd move through the room like a hamster in a habitrail.

it was a space odyssey 2000 meets a boy and his dog. yeah, something like that. at this point, i didn't know if i was the boy or the dog. probably both.

as it turns out, they were holding auditions at hotspots all over the country. i had 30 seconds to tell them why i should be flo's assistant. i had to end with the phrase, "now that's progressive." hm. the more i thought about it, the more i didn't want to come off like my man friday to her robinson crusoe - or any number of variations therein. at this point in the habitrail, there was a perfect replica of the progressive commercial's set, with three white director's chairs all in a row - complete with a white director, who looked very el lay and the right kind of frumpy and bored and annoyed (can you frump in armani?), set in front of a long white table and then there were a small set of stairs that led to three white booths in a row with cameras and recording equipment that boomed your audition all over the room, so whenever anyone started, everyone stopped scurrying and kind of went on pause for a sec, to hear what you were throwing down. especially the other actors and stand up comedians and whatnots who were trailing in, trying hard to look like ordinary street people, smelling of desperation.

i took all of 17 seconds. i didn't plan what i said, i just blurted out whatever rose to the surface first. i do remember that i made the director laugh. and clap his hands. and when i left, i told that hipster looking black guy at the door what i said - an actor that i instantly recognized from way too many national commercials as "that hipster looking black guy," the one who wears those squared off black glasses and is ALWAYS the only black friend in a group of hipster white people and who always looks bored and kind of over it - and he laughed and gave me this massive high five. and then i strolled down the street like miss black america, laughing and waving at him. good times.

as it turns out, that impromptu audition was just the boost i needed to get through that meeting with discmakers. and that workout. and boxing conditioning class.

if you want to see and hear what i threw down, click here. and if you want to kill some time at your desk job, check out the other auditions. they're kind of a hoot.