January, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Forum…

Like many students upon graduating from college, I had big aspirations and dreams. In my particular case, my goal was to become an actress, and I was so certain that my name in bright lights was just around the corner. I was the stereotype of the young wide-eyed ingénue. Instead, I found myself sitting in corners of destitute rooms, amongst other actors, waiting to hear my name called for an audition, while clutching a copy of Backstage; the actor’s go-to guide for auditions. How I detested waiting hours upon hours, receiving competitive glares from other actors, only to find out that the part would go to one of my opponents! The worst was when the audition lines would form outside, in hypothermic weather. The holdup of the lines would sometimes be for 10 hours before I could get inside. By the time it was my turn, my lips were too numb to correctly speak my lines and I sounded like an extraterrestrial, which was not very helpful in acquiring a role. Every so often I would land an audition by appointment, where I did not have to wait with the rest of the acting cattle. Occasionally, I would even get a role; small parts in independent films and off-off Broadway plays.

My roles have ranged from a male truck driver, an injured tennis player and a nervous cashier about to get shot in the head, to a catty schoolgirl, a dominatrix, and a young homeless woman. The latter was a great challenge, especially due to my germophobia. When I was given my costume, which consisted of damp sweatpants with suspicious stains, and a smelly sweater with holes, I asked the wardrobe stylist where she found such convincing attire. “I don’t reveal my sources,” she replied. “Great, I’m wearing a dead man’s clothes,” I thought to myself. I wore a unitard underneath, so that my skin would not be contaminated by whatever filthy microorganisms inhabited the “costume.” The makeup artist placed dirt all over my face and hands, and I was asked to wear a grimy hat, at which point I was ready to faint. I wasn’t going to risk catching lice by wearing the suggested headcovering unworthy of its proper name, so I successfully convinced the director that it would be more fitting to the character if I simply messed up my hair and did not wear a hat.

When the time came to shoot my scene, I was given a cardboard box to sit in, which I’m sure was somebody’s stolen home—at least it smelled like it. I held my breath until the director would shout “Rolling!” and in between takes I would leap out of the box. At one point, I was asked to wait while the crew changed the shot, and a passerby threw some coins in my cup. That was the last straw, and at that very moment I decided that I needed to switch roles in life. After the shoot was over, I changed back into my clean clothes and took a cab to a spa uptown for an emergency sterilization, (also known in women’s circles as a mani-pedi), during which I pondered what I was going to do with myself. I’ve always loved to tell stories, primarily funny ones; why not give stand-up comedy a whirl?

My eureka moment had arrived as the manicurist applied a color named “Fed-Up.” The next night I went to Caroline’s On Broadway to watch Susie Essman’s comedy performance. I was so thrilled by the energy in the room, and knew that this was definitely the new path I would take. After the show, I stayed up until wee hours of the morning, jotting down whatever I thought was funny. I began to take a notebook with me everywhere I went, writing down any comical moments I witnessed; I felt like a comedy detective.

Once I had gathered enough material, I called the talent coordinator at Caroline’s to ask if they ever showcased new talent. “It depends, are you funny?” the talent coordinator asked. “That’s what I’ve been told” I responded. “Do you have a tape or a DVD so I can see your material?” I hadn’t thought of that. “No, sorry, not at the moment.” I was asked to go to Caroline’s for an audition instead. The very word “audition” sent a shiver down my spine, reminding me of the agonizing hours spent waiting to enter rooms with discriminating casting directors and their highly arched brows.

I arrived at the club, where Andy, the talent coordinator met me. “Alright kiddo, let’s see what you’ve got.” It was like a scene from a movie, except it was so much better than a movie; there was no waiting around on a set for infinite instants. I was given a few notes and the ultimate seal of approval: a performance date. I exited the club already feeling like a comedian. For my first show, I had beginner’s luck, a roaring audience and resounding applause. I was told by a comedian backstage not to get used to such a feeling because with comedy, it’s hit or miss, and sometimes beyond your control. I quickly learned that the comedy world is very democratic and upfront; you have ten seconds to win over your audience, and if they’re not laughing from the get-go, chances are you’ve lost them.

Unlike the acting world, in comedy you are representing yourself and not a part; which is terrifying but equally as exciting. I love to have control over my material, and I love to represent myself as a character, rather than playing odd and random parts that are not befitting of me. The anticipation before a show, especially the final moments backstage with other comedians, gives me the greatest adrenaline rush. Before my turn to take the microphone, Andy often says: “Kill ’em kiddo!” and being on stage, confronted by an audience, without a fourth wall, feels exactly like a duel, where my only shot at survival is to knock them dead with my humor. There are times when I fall victim to the audience, but when I return backstage, I often get a pep talk from other comedians who have dominated and surrendered to audiences for many more years than I have.

I receive a huge sense of fulfillment when I thrive at making people laugh, and one of the most gratifying aspects of stand-up comedy is to be able to tell my stories, in my personal style and to discover that even when the going gets tough, there is a glimmering group of aficionados who look forward to my turn in the comedy arena.

- By Flavia Masson

Flavia Masson is a writer, comedienne and TV personality based in New York City.

She has performed in clubs such as Caroline’s On Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club and  Comix New York.

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Happily Ever After Means Never Having To Turn Into A Pumpkin

I headed downtown, sniffling and sneezing the whole way, determined to revel in the magic of the Joffrey Ballet’s production of Cinderella at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  With a pounding sinus headache and hot soup calling my name, I knew that if there was one reason to leave the house on Thursday evening, this performance was it.  A ballet dancer through most of my life, I had never seen Cinderella performed and more importantly, this was the Joffrey!

To say that the Joffrey’s performance is a delight would be a gross understatement.  The inexplicable energy that comes from an impenetrable technique and preparation was abound on opening night; you focused not on the choreography itself, instead you were invited to focus on the story the choreography was telling.

As Cinderella, Victoria Jaiani was convincingly transformed from poor maiden to princess – her first scene having been dressed by her fairy godmother was performed with a shopoholic level of excitement.  The new, white, sparkling tutu redefined her as a veritable, although expiring, princess in every sense of the word.  It seemed her posture even improved.  In a refreshingly aggressive move during the famous “glass slipper” scene when the prince approaches Cinderella’s stepsisters first, Victoria practically throws her partnering shoe at the Prince to prove herself – quite unlike the demure, embarrassed display of politesse in the book.

One of the more joyous characters of the ballet, and simultaneously one of the most scarily talented on the stage, was undoubtedly the Jester, played by an enormously flexible Derrick Agnoletti.  Prior to the roar of applause given to him by the audience, he moved us through each scene at the Prince’s ball with huge leaps and great comic timing.  Likewise, the two gentlemen (yes, men) playing Cinderella’s stepsisters are so entertaining and flailing, it convinces you that while their roles are significant, these dancers aren’t being used to their full potential as stepsisters.

To put it plainly, the style of ballet performed in Cinderella is a kind of anomaly, at least when it comes to ballet performed in Los Angeles of, say, the last 5 to 10 years.  It does not fall into either of the most widely performed styles of ballet: Russian and Balanchine.  (Yes, balletomanes, I am generalizing.)  Choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, who was born in Ecuador and whose Cinderella premiered with Sadler’s Wells Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London in 1948, the style and movement has much more fluidity than Russian choreography, but isn’t nearly as esoteric as a George Balanchine choreographed work.  It’s accessible, comedic, and yet no less impressive.

On for two more performances (well, three if you hurry), Cinderella is a gorgeous display of how well technique, set and costume design, and wit come together on stage for such a grabbing, beautiful, and entertaining performance.  Even the little girls sitting with their parents were on the edge of their seats at the end to see the prince and his princess walk off into the gold and glittering future.  As was I, actually, which was impressive considering my sickly condition pre-performance.  My evening had ended happily, after all.

Cinderella is on for three remaining performances: Today (Saturday) at 2pm and 7:30pm and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2pm at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.  For more information, please call (213) 972-0711 or click here.

Click here to watch a Joffrey Ballet produced video introducing their Cinderella.

Posted in Ballet, Classical Music, Dance, Downtown, Old School No Comments »

We’d Better Keep an Eye on This One, She’s Tricky…

In an outburst of song, dance, and color, Center Theater Group, Disney, and Cameron Mackintosh present a rare touring production with electric showmanship, mesmerizing production design, and powerhouse orchestration.

On a faint wind of nostalgia, “Mary Poppins” floated into the Ahmanson Theatre with her magic carpetbag of endless marvel.  The excitement was palpable as audience members, old and young (even if it was just at heart), awaited a promise that anything really can happen. No one could disagree that “Mary Poppins’” timing was, for lack of a better phrase, “practically perfect in every way”.

Based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the 1964 Walt Disney Film, the performance features  original Academy Award winning music and lyrics by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman as well as new music by Olivier Award winning team George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Director Richard Eyre and Co-Director/Choreographer Matthew Bourne (he of the famed all-male Swan Lake production in London) introduce a kaleidoscope of whimsy that ranges from the over-the-top (a nanny who flies out over the audience and into the rafters with her magical umbrella, then returns to center stage, landing primly atop a chimney) to the old-fashioned (a simple magic trick involving a bouquet that appears out of thin air and a cheeky, knowing smile).

The production opens upon the set of the Banks family household where we find Mr. and Mrs. George and Winifred Banks and their two children, Jane and Michael in the midst of their daily navigation through marital issues and family dilemmas. Kezler is appropriately gruff as a regimented banker, who later finds his compassion at home after his career takes a turn for the worse; Grey and Thomas are the epitome of textbook battiness and childhood curiosity, while Osterhaus is heartwarming as the empathetic mother holding her family together.

The carnival heaves into view with the first act’s “Jolly Holiday”, where the Banks children follow new nanny Mary Poppins (played by Ashley Brown) and an animated jack-of-all-trades named Bert into sidewalk paintings, through pastel gardens, and over rooftops of tap dancing chimney sweeps. Brown plays Mary with the perfect air of self-assurance, and Gavin Lee masterfully harnesses comedic horseplay in his spot-on rendition of Bert. Valerie Boyle’s performance as Mrs. Brill, the Banks’ overly burdened household maid, is wildly entertaining and a definite highlight of the production, and Ellen Harvey as Mr. Banks’ former nanny, the “holy terror” Miss. Andrew, nearly steals the whole show with her operatic performance of “Brimstone and Treacle”.  While each musical act is guaranteed to delight, the second act’s “Step In Time” delivers some serious razzle-dazzle with melodic tap dancing and a jaw-dropping re-creation of Fred Astaire’s gravity-defying “walking-on-the-ceiling” act.

With noteworthy talent (on and off the stage), a little Disney magic, and a pleasantly tolerable amount of cheese, “Mary Poppins” proves to be an all around crowd pleaser and a must-see. If you aren’t already on your feet after the 78th repetition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” then you certainly will be by curtain call.

- By Harper Flood

“Mary Poppins” will run through February 7, 2010 at the Ahmanson Theatre.  For more information, please call (213) 628-2772 or click here.

Posted in Dance, Downtown, High Brow, Low Brow, Music, Musical Theatre, Theatre No Comments »

The Fool’s Journey

FoolDuring stressful weeks, it is always recommended that you check in with your nearest and dearest psychic(s) at least once if not twice.  You’ll never know how to handle your many doting suitors, luxurious travel plans, and multi-million business deals without a little help from your friends.

But, if stepping into darkened, incense infused rooms isn’t exactly your cup of tea, get a healthy dose of insight and art the next time you are in the Miracle Mile.  The Craft and Folk Art Museum just opened The Fool’s Journey: The History and Symbolism of the Tarot, an exhibition that draws together the imagery, history, and iconography of tarot cards over time.  This show will highlight the 22 cards of the Tarot’s major Arcana – from the Fool to the World — and will present historic and modern examples from stylistically different decks.  Also, plan to see how tarot cards have influenced the imagery of other works of art.

See?  Isn’t it already making better sense now?  At least you have part of your weekend plans squared away.

The Fool’s Journey: The History and Symbolism of the Tarot will close at the Craft and Folk Art Museum May 9th.  Please click here for more info.

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A Decaying Art Form

The job of a film archivist is a relatively new one.  It sounds silly.  (If my friend Pete has a massive DVD collection, is he suddenly considered an archivist?)  But what a lot of people don’t know is that film is a kind of living organism.  It decays quite rapidly over time.  And as depicted so graphically in the latest Tarantino venture, Inglorious Basterds, most of the movies made in the silent-era were shot on an ultra-flammable cellulose nitrate film base.  Due to this highly unstable stock, as well as the recklessness of early studio storage, a great many of the films made in America before 1920 are either lost, or have turned to dust.  In fact, no type of truly durable film base was even introduced into the movie-making landscape until the early 1990’s with the popularization of polyester.

Enter the heroic film archivist, whose job it is to preserve the ever-growing, ever-decaying amount of film stock from the grips of its natural demise.  Mark Toscano of the Academy Film Archive is one of these heroes, who most recently co-curated the REDCAT screening of Now You Can Do Anything: The Films of Chris Langdon.  This series of fourteen short, experimental films were all made within the period of two years, from 1973 to 1975, and would have easily been lost were it not for the efforts of people like Mark Toscano and fellow filmmaker/Angeleno, Thom Andersen.

Yet Langdon’s shorts, interestingly enough, seemed to work in spite of preservation.  The magic was in her apparent disregard for such preciousness.  Her film “Bondage Boy,” for instance, featured 16mm shots of a guy in a basement dressed in a woman’s slip and bound with ropes in various positions, all to the soundtrack of an uppity 1950’s swing tune.  “Picasso,” another one of Langdon’s works, was, in her words, “the first post-mortem documentary” of the famous painter, fully completed in four hours for a little under $5.

Langdon, who was present at the screening, addressed the audience afterwards.  And it was clear that her main motivation behind the 83 minutes of film we had all just sat through was simply to film something.  One piece was a joke, another was a bet, and one was just to get over the plain fear of wasting money through a camera.  In a sense, she was fueling the need for future experimental film archivists like Mark Toscano.  Because without artists with the courage to waste film, why would you need someone to preserve what’s special about it?

The Redcat is located Downtown at the Roy and Edna Disney/Calarts Theater in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  For information about upcoming screenings and performances, please visit www.redcat.org, or call (213) 237-2800.

Posted in Bring Your Flask, Downtown, Film, High Brow, Low Brow, Museums, Old School, Personalities, Video Art No Comments »

Big Kisses, Bird Calls, and Puppy Dogs

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Pablo Uribe, Atardecer, 2008 (Dusk) – video still

This year, the Los Angeles Art Show made its home at Los Angeles Convention Center.  This venue change provided more space for gallery booths that ranged from contemporary works such as the Wall Project’s Shepard Fairey and Thierry Noir painted walls to landscapes galore — and even more space for project-based installations. The Vox Humana on-site art performance presented street artists Mear One, Kofie, Retna, and El Mac who showed off their talents over the length of the fair on large-scale canvases.  And speaking of more room, I wondered how Sidestreet Projects got one of their woodworking workshop buses into the fair.  These school buses are outfitted with project stations for elementary school children so they can make a nuts and bolts washer sandwich and one FUNdred dollar bills, which I am sure we all could use more of these days.

One of my favorite pieces of the art fair was Pablo Uribe’s video, Atardecer (2008), which screened in a makeshift dark room in the Guest Country program booth’s rear.  While looking at the other works from the 34° 53’ 0” S – 56° 10’ 0” W show, I heard animals sounds curiously mix with the ambient art fair noise.  Upon stepping into the screening area, there was a video of an older man standing before a black background looking as if he were about to perform a gorgeous aria.  Instead of sweet notes pouring out of his mouth, the sound of a dog’s bark came out.  And then the cooing of a bird!  The actor was imitating the sounds of native rain forest animals.

Willy Rojas’ photographs at Barcelona’s Villa del Arte booth depicted miniature figurines interacting

Willy Rojas, Egg

Willy Rojas, Egg

with their food-based environment.  Tiny people ski down slopes of salt or a wedge of hard cheese.  A man broke the shell of an egg with his sledgehammer while a couple ice skates on an orange hued soup.

Speaking of food, the Timothy Yarger Gallery presented Jean Wells’ The Giant Kiss quite literally.  The huge chocolate-scented foil wrapped sculpture demanded a tongue-in-cheek presence while paying homage to Claes Oldenburg’s shop.

The Rebecca Hossack Gallery held quite a few treats, including a gorgeous papel picado-esque paper cutting in the shape of a peacock (Ian Penney), a piece of toast with an image of Shakespeare burnt onto it à la the Virgen de Guadalupe (Maria Morrow), and also Phil Shaw’s photographs of brightly colored bookshelves, which was a voyeur’s delight to snoop the book titles.

And on my way out, I spotted three Jeff Koon’s puppy vases filled with fresh flowers guarding Jean Dubuffet’s Tapis at the Jane Kahan Gallery.  In my mind, they were the guardians of the LA Art Show — a much friendlier and kitsch version of Cerberus.

Fine Arts LA Jeff Koons puppy vase

Posted in Books, Bring Your Flask, Contemporary Art, Downtown, Festival, Galleries, Installation, Mixed media, Painting, Performance, Photography, Video Art No Comments »

Pop Art For A New Generation

artwork_images_140033_500092_kadir-lopezWhat does pop culture mean to you? The first thing anyone might think is Andy Warhol – largely considered the father of pop art – and his Marilyn Monroe, Campbell’s soup, and Mickey Mouse prints.  On now through February 20 at the William Turner Gallery at Bergamot Station is your chance to redefine pop art for our generation.  Large-scale, colorful prints by two artists, Mikel Alatza and Kadir Lopez are full of color, texture, and familiar faces and things.

Mikel Alatza’s works range from a skull with the Mastercard logo to a clowned, vibrant, contorted painting of Julia Roberts.  Angelina Jolie has been given fire engine red hair and a bright red clown nose next to Paris Hilton whose tan looks even more fiercely dangerous than usual.

Kadir Lopez takes a more muted and almost vintage approach to the pop art world.  His Shell print features a river and skyline fitted within a Shell gasoline sign while his Wrigley’s piece has a distinctly political, textural feel.

Andy Warhol had his finger on the pulse of popular culture in the 70s (we still use the phrase he coined “fifteen minutes of fame” with great frequency) and perhaps its time we find an artist who knows how to transform our current pop culture icons into wild, vivacious prints that speak to us today.  Are you team Alatza, team Lopez, or both?

Mikel Alatza and Kadir Lopez’ exhibits will be up at William Turner Gallery through February 20.  Please call (310) 453-0909 or click here.

Posted in Art, Bring Your Flask, Contemporary Art, Exhibitions, Galleries, High Brow, Installation, Low Brow, Painting, Personalities, Santa Monica No Comments »

Happy New Year!

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We can’t wait for all the new art and experiences 2010 will bring.  And we know you can’t either!  Happy new year and best wishes from all of us at Fine Arts LA!

Love,

Team FALA

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