Posted in Personals

Throwback Tuesday: Lou Rawls

Have you ever had a song become inextricably linked to a life event? Of course you have. Now, was that song’s subject matter completely unrelated to the event? That’s probably less common.

Here’s the story of how Lou Rawls’ “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” (1976) connected to one of my earliest life lessons.

As a child, I heard a wide array of opinions about race. Stereotypes, codes of conduct, historical roles…you name it! But one doctrine that was repeatedly drilled into me surrounded interracial marriages- it isn’t right to “mix the blood,” especially since “your kids won’t know what they are.” With no concrete examples for this idea, I took it at face value. But that changed when I was about nine years old.

Bizarrely, my nine-year-old self was to be the only bridesmaid in my aunt’s wedding. (Incidentally, I remember my dress very clearly: it was a spaghetti-strap gown with two shiny tan panels on the side, overlaying white fabric underneath.) As we prepared for the ceremony, I met Mariana, a close friend of my aunt’s; I thought she was very pretty and sweet, so I liked her a lot.

I hate to say it, but I was actually surprised when I realized that she was married to a black man. But…I didn’t know any better.

At the wedding reception, I went to my stepmother and expressed my confusion. To her credit, she debunked my preconceived notion in a way that made sense to a kid: “Mixed babies are often very beautiful. Look at Derek Jeter.” Satisfied with this explanation, I joined Mariana and her husband on the dance floor; the song playing at that moment was “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine.”

Sixteen years later, whenever it comes on the radio, I’m instantly taken back to the dance floor that day. That day, when I took the first of many subsequent steps toward accepting people just as they are.

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Posted in Fine Arts

“The Sun Also Rises” on Hemingway’s 2nd String

You are all a lost generation.

In literature, the “Lost Generation” refers to the post-World War I mentality of people (more specifically, writers) who lost their sense of purpose and contentedness in the aftermath of the conflict’s horrors. Many of them seemed to travel aimlessly, some suffered from a degree of PTSD, and all of it is reflected in their work.

The above quote is attributed to Gertrude Stein, a close friend of Ernest Hemingway, and is used in the opening of The Sun Also Rises…Hemingway’s novel that is considered to be a seminal expression of the Lost Generation’s feelings.

It saddens me when I think of the despair felt by so many during this time. Sure, it led to the genesis of some great literary art, but at what cost? Famously, Hemingway never seemed to recover from these sentiments and took his own life in 1961.

As I spend time with my peers these days- and read their outpourings on social media- I cannot help but fear that a 2nd Lost Generation is fast forming.

Many current events are grim, just as they were a century ago. (In different ways, to be certain, but nevertheless unfortunate.) And I’d venture that a fair chunk of them are linked to the U.S. political climate that has reared its ugly head within the past three years. Never in my life have I seen neighbors so ideologically divided.

What has happened?

And never in my life have I witnessed friends, colleagues, and assorted young people have so much disillusionment for their world. I see many of them take stands for causes they believe in- which is great- while at the same time numbing the pessimistic impulses with alcohol, drugs, and broken relationships.

Even in the arts, the subject matter has shifted. Where was once musical comedies and disco beats now sit topical dramas and tributes to those who experienced untimely deaths. You could argue that global trends (political and otherwise) will ebb and flow; assuming that’s true, I still never expected it to occur in my lifetime.

I feel like I’m dancing around a point here, but I somehow can’t manage to say it outright. I guess what I’m saying is that I lament this 2nd Lost Generation. So many of us have this untapped potential that is being weighed down, like Atlas. I can only pray that a new horizon comes about quickly enough to save the lives of those who weren’t born idealists to begin with.

It was too late for Ernest Hemingway.

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Posted in Writing

Is Regina George the Real MVP of North Shore High?

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Disclaimer: This is an extended metaphor.

If you’ve seen the hit movie Mean Girls, you know that protagonist Cady Herron collectively refers to the behavior of her female classmates as “Girl World.” At the beginning of the story, Girl World is in a state of chaos- cattiness, backstabbing, manipulation, you name it. But by the end of the film, as Cady says: “Finally, Girl World was at peace.”

You may wonder how Girl World came to that point, and there could be many correct answers. Was it because Cady and her friends decided to take down the main instigator of the problems, Regina George? Perhaps it happened because Ms. Norbury held the mass intervention in the gymnasium, enabling the students to come clean and heal their wounds. But there’s one other possibility- that Regina herself was the unintentional catalyst. Say what?!

Long story short: For the entire movie, everyone was doing terrible things in secret and behind a smiling veneer (Cady included). When Regina spread the contents of her damning Burn Book, the situation’s true severity came to light, and it was only then that it could be fixed for good.

I’ve felt a similar sentiment in my struggle with cliques of smaller theatre communities. To use a hypothetical example, suppose there is a local actress who repeatedly gets cast in major roles with one company. To me, this is problematic because it would appear that the company has her in mind from the start. They will insist in the audition notice that “all roles are open.” So you mean to say that of EVERY young woman that showed up, NONE came even close to the “repeat offender,” so to speak?

Look, if you’re going to use the same closed pool of actors in every production, like a “troupe,” that is totally fine. In fact, this isn’t that uncommon! But at least own up to it. Don’t waste the time and get the hopes up of people who audition for your shows. It’s not transparent and reflects embarrassingly on your organization.

Maybe, in towns across the United States, somebody ought to call this stuff out. Some thespian should take on the role of Regina George.

(Happy Tony Awards week, everyone!)

Posted in Writing

“Sky Full of Stars” (Theme from…)

by Amanda DeLalla

We were kindred souls
Even with our clearly-set roles
I could tell from your sparkling eyes
How my heart was in for a surprise
In my head
I would remember every word you said
Carved craters on the moon
In my head
Stained like the surface of Mars with red
Giving both life and ruin
(Refrain) And all I see when you’re with me
Is a sky full of stars
Complex as cosmology
And so very far
Maybe one day you’ll understand it
How I might as well be on another planet
Just me where you are in a sky full of stars (End refrain)
Circumstance isn’t kind to me
I know well that this never should be
You’ve got plenty of things to do
I fear nothing when I’m standing with you
All this time
I’ve felt I’m guilty of some awful crime
Floating up on some cloud
All this time
Loving you like this is an endless climb
Loving you ain’t allowed
(Refrain)
Take me on a rocket to fly
So I’ll never have to say goodbye
Take me on a rocket to fly
No I never wanna ever have to say goodbye!

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Posted in Music

What Happened on May 14th, 1998?

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by Glena Thade

The Theatre at St. Peter’s was pleased to welcome esteemed American crooner Frank Sinatra tonight, as he premiered his new Afterlife Tour. The excitement in the room was palpable; much of the audience had long admired Old Blue Eyes from afar.

After warming up the crowd with his usual banter, Mr. Sinatra introduced the newest member of his traveling orchestra: Raphael the harpist. In an interesting artistic choice, Sinatra opened with “That’s Life,” perhaps as a tongue-in-cheek reference to his former performance locations.

He recalled his encounters with many people in the space between death and the pearly gates, which seamlessly segued into a poignant “Strangers in the Night.” This number was followed by a visually stunning performance of “I’ve Got the World on a String,” in which Sinatra (with the help of some divine power) literally bounced Planet Earth like a yo-yo. Some worldwide seismic movement was reported.

But the definite crowning point of the evening was a special appearance from the Good Lord himself, who restored Sinatra’s youthful vigor before our very eyes. He then joined him for a wonderful rendition of “You Make Me Feel So Young.”

The concert concluded with the Chairman gaining his wings and encouraging the audience to singalong to “Come Fly with Me.”

Originally published in The New York Host and reprinted with permission.

Posted in Theatre

Daily Prompt: Tide

Oh, and how they are a-changing.

As you know, dear readers, I am (first and foremost) a creative soul. Specifically, I love to express myself with the fine arts- lyricism, playwriting, and acting. In the time I’ve come to take my craft more seriously, I’ve deduced that my strengths lie in “heartfelt dramedies.” As I see it, these are a myriad of story types, but they are all quite sanguine in their evaluation of the human experience.

(The lone exception to this would be the historical drama I’m trying to put together for a graduate-level course, but that’s something for another day…)

Now, enter the article that showed up on Playbill this week. For those who don’t feel like clicking: it’s a brief spread of three female artists whom the author describes as “poised for major career breakthroughs.” She suggests that you “learn their names before their work hits it big.” As I read the trio’s reflections on their goals, I noticed an all-too-familiar trend. This trend is one that has been permeating the subject matter of many new plays, particularly ones that find artistic and/or critical success.

Dear Evan HansenThe HumansEclipsedFun Home…almost anything written by Lynn Nottage or Tracy Letts…the list goes on! And they are all (to paraphrase The New Yorker) “problem shows.” They deal with very serious, socially relevant topics and sometimes feature dismal endings. Even the current projects of the three aforementioned female artists (the women’s suffrage movement, queer POC) fit this bill.

Boy, am I screwed!

Now you could argue that recent hit shows like AnastasiaMean Girls, or even The Play That Goes Wrong don’t fit the mold- and you’d be right. But there’s a difference: those pieces usually have the benefits of being adapted from a beloved property and/or an already-established writer or actor.

What’s a woman like me to do, one who is still trying to make her mark AND cannot bring herself to formulate plots where the main character dies, loses their faith in humanity, or both?! I often wonder if I was born in the wrong “age of theatre,” so to speak. So I’m going to ask an open question.

Friends, when it comes to stage, screen, or otherwise: do you prefer to escape current events, or engross yourself in them? Please answer honestly! How beneficial might it be to step outside my comfort zone as a writer?

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Posted in Film and Television

Cinematography Appreciation Post

Okay, so…the technical side of filmmaking went over my head for quite some time. In many ways, it still does. However, I think that may be one of the reasons why I find it so captivating as a medium. In short, the fact that technology and coding can be skillfully manipulated to create a movie is something that’s perpetually magical to me.

One well-known technical aspect is cinematography- how a movie is shot. This is a crucial part of the piece’s creative development, as good cinematographers can use their camera artistry to secure a certain aesthetic for the movie, or perhaps elicit a particular feeling from viewers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of my favorite Hollywood camerawork…and I’ll share why I find it so effective. (Note: Because I can’t readily embed videos here, we’ll have to settle for GIFs!)

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1951: An American in Paris (Alfred Gilks and John Alton) The Gershwin brothers’ musical masterpiece is the standard by which all musical films are judged. From its dynamically-shot street scenes to that glorious 17-minute fantasy ballet, this movie’s cinematography oozes artistry. No matter how many years have gone by, it is still so easy to get enveloped in its dreamlike bubble of a time long gone.

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1993: The Piano (Stuart Dryburgh) Bloody hell…if you’d told me that I may someday have an urge to “jump the bones” of Harvey Keitel, I’d have said you were bonkers! But damn, does the camerawork in this love story make him look good! Aside from that, every angle in the movie is finely crafted and feels deliberate, like you’re watching events unfold in real-time. For me, that’s a hallmark of any great period piece.

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1998: The Big Lebowski (Roger Deakins) This cult “modern noir” flick from the Coen Brothers is an acquired taste for sure. But I can promise you, man- part of the reason you’ll find that taste is due to the movie’s slick yet dizzying camera antics. You get first-person views from the inside of a bowling ball (seriously) as well as a nice closeup shot of John Turturro’s tongue. Yes…it’s beautiful.

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2001: Amelie (Bruno Delbonnel) This colorful romance- which, if a person says they’ve only seen one French film, it’s probably this one- has been called a “true cinematic movie.” That could sound redundant, but what it means is that the film employs every camera trick at its disposal. Thankfully, this was done to incredible results. Viewers are in for a pleasure cruise through Montmartre as well as a firsthand look at its heroine’s psyche.

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2003: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Robert Richardson) The saga of assassin Beatrix “the Bride” Kiddo is a rollercoaster ride from start to finish, and the camerawork won’t let you forget it. The cinematography of both “volumes” in the Bride’s story is remarkable because it presents a tonal shift; we go from hyperactive-samurai-mania in the first to subtle introspection in the second. One thing is certain: the rapidly-changing angles and clever use of perspective enable the camera to almost act as another narrator.

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2015: Carol (Edward Lachman) Considering that photography is a major plot point in this movie, it would have been colossally embarrassing if the cinematography were not pitch-perfect. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case, and we got an exquisite-looking period piece with some real pathos. Dramatic closeups of Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara- among other things- highlight the expressiveness of both actors and pull us right into their worlds.

For you, what films got the best cinematographic treatment? Share in the comments!

Posted in Film and Television

The Toughest Roger Rabbit Quiz You’ll Ever Take

…I mean, it will be if you don’t cheat by Googling. Anyway, Robert Zemeckis’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit is quickly becoming one of my favorite films. Every time I watch it, I find something new to admire about it.

The technology used to create the intersected human-and-cartoon worlds of the movie was groundbreaking…and expensive. Fortunately, it all paid off as the project exploded at the box office and won four Academy Awards. Many have even credited it as kicking off the “Disney Renaissance” in the 1990s.

But how much do YOU know about this very important film? See how many of these questions you can answer; for some of them, you’ll need the eagle eye of Private Investigator Valiant!

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  1. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, but (technically speaking) it is a period piece. In what year does the story take place?
  2. Who is the only Disney princess to appear in the movie?
  3. Can you name at least three actors who were considered for the role of Eddie Valiant before Bob Hoskins was cast?
  4. What are the three ingredients of Judge Doom’s “Dip?” (Bonus: Why were these particular chemicals selected?)
  5. In the final sequence, Eddie whips out a weapon known as the “Singing Sword.” What jazz standard does it perform?
  6. Who Framed Roger Rabbit became the second-highest grossing film of 1988. What movie took the top spot?
  7. Who is the very last Toon we see onscreen before the credits roll?
  8. What was so noteworthy about the moment when Eddie is falling from the top floor of a Toontown building?
  9. When Eddie is telling Roger about his brother’s death, he mentions two distinct traits that the murderer had. What were they?
  10. When Judge Doom is searching for Roger in the bar, what common ditty does he recite to lure him out?
Posted in Personals

Welcome to Seb’s.

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It has been one year, two months, and two weeks since I saw La La Land in full for the first time. It’s also been that long since I’ve seen it in full, period.

So much has happened in the wake, and yet this movie is still so hard to watch.

The greatest stories just have that effect on you, you know? Furthermore, we all have those moments where we say “I related to that character” or “that part of the movie reminded me of something that happened to me.” But even rarer are the stories that seem to appear at just the right time, and in which you not only see a part of yourself, but a part of your whole life playing out in front of you.

It’s pretty surreal.

One more little detail- when La La Land first booted up in the cinema, and the wonderful “Another Day of Sun” number began, I was convinced that the actors were playing actors on a film set. Giving a nod to old musical films, if you will, within the context of the plot that was about to unfold. But when the song ended and the cast just got back into their cars as if nothing happened…that’s when I realized that there was no tribute here. It WAS that kind of movie. I knew that I was in for a helluva ride.

Sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way you planned. Sometimes an art form crystallizes your feelings better than words alone.

Always and forever, the story goes on.

Posted in Film and Television

Golden Girls Appreciation Post: The Definitive List of the Best Guest Stars

Anyone who knows me knows that The Golden Girls is my favorite television show of all time. (Jerry Seinfeld, I’m real happy for you, Imma let you finish…)

What makes the show so entertaining, for me, is its brilliant balance of pure comedy and serious topics- delivered pitch-perfectly by its iconic cast. (Fun fact: This show, Will and Grace, and All in the Family are the only TV programs in history in which the four lead actors all won Emmy Awards.)

But while everyone’s got a favorite “Girl,” it’s also hard to ignore the smattering of special guests that have appeared on the series. Some of them were so legendary that they just played themselves; others took on roles in the ladies’ lives. In this entry, I’m going to serve up my personal favorite guest appearances on The Golden Girls and describe why I find them so amazing. Allons-y!

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NANCY WALKER as Sophia’s sister Angela: “May your shampoo get mixed up with your Preparation H and shrink your head to the size of a mushroom!”

Fabulous Factor: Nancy Walker, a Broadway baby as well as screen staple, was an ideal rival-in-wisecracks for Sophia. They played off one another so well that the character of Angela actually appeared in two episodes: “The Sisters” and the incredibly-titled “Long Day’s Journey into Marinara.”

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BURT REYNOLDS as Himself: “Are these your roommates? Which one’s the slut?”

Fabulous Factor: Now I wasn’t alive when The Golden Girls originally aired, but judging by the studio audience’s reaction, it was a shock when the real Burt Reynolds showed up at the women’s Miami house. Making things even more amusing is that he’s there to go out with Sophia, much to the others’ envy.

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SONNY BONO as Himself: “It’s good to be mayor!”

Fabulous Factor: If you really want to get technical, the beloved singer-songwriter appeared twice…although, the first time around, he was being impersonated by Sophia (with Dorothy as Cher!) for a talent show. In the episode “Mrs. George Devereaux,” he competes with Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy’s heart and hilarity ensues.

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GEORGE CLOONEY as Officer Bobby: “Nice touch, but I work alone…”

Fabulous FactorBefore he was a Hollywood heartthrob, an Oscar-winning producer, a sophisticated actor…George Clooney was just a dark-haired young punk who got cast in an episode of The Golden Girls. “To Catch a Neighbor” is an interesting episode on many levels, but the appearance of a young Clooney is the true cherry on top.

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DEBBIE REYNOLDS as Trudy: “Handful of rice, handful of dirt…the only difference is that after a funeral, it’s okay to date!”

Fabulous Factor: What kind of older-woman-glorifying sitcom would it be without an appearance by one of the greatest dames of American cinema? In the two-part episode “There Goes the Bride,” Reynolds plays a serial widow who almost moves into the house after Dorothy almost remarries her ex-husband Stan.

HONORABLE MENTIONS! Mario Lopez, Julio Iglesias, Lois Nettleton, Mickey Rooney, and Jack Gilford.