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Tag Archives: Acting


This past weekend I attended the announcement of Olney Theatre Center’s 2014 season in their historic theater.  Having never been to one of these season fêtes, I was really quite amazed at how many of the folks who are regular season ticket holders made the effort to be there on a Sunday afternoon.  I mean, they could have just read about it in the newspaper or checked the OTC website, etc.  While those in attendance were given an opportunity for special pricing, I think it says a lot about a theater when their audience is that engaged.  Perhaps part of the draw was that it was the first season designed by Jason Loewith, the new Artistic Director at Olney.

I won’t go into the mechanics of the affair.  Suffice it to say that it was a well-organized event.  Mr. Loewith did a nice job of expressing his vision for the upcoming season and the new approach to their seasons in general.  It’s true that a theater in the suburbs of Washington, DC has among it’s audience members a diverse array of people with an equally diverse array of cultural interests.  Loewith underscored that fact with a good humored sharing of real audience input from shows in the 2013 season.  There were folks who had equally vigorous yet completely opposite reactions to the productions.  Quite a predicament for a theater to find itself in!  The solution?

In a nutshell, they are going to have three different series of shows for audiences to choose from – contemporary, classical and family.  Subscribers can purchase tickets to one or more of these series and receive a substantial discount over the individual ticket price.  Sounds like a good plan to me.   Of course, what everyone wanted to know at the end of the day was “What shows will Olney Theatre Center be producing in 2014?”  Here is what they announced.

Cabaret
The Piano Lesson
Awake & Sing
I and You
Avenue Q
Colossal
Once On This Island
The Tempest*
As You Like It*
To Kill A Mockingbird*
TBA – One Show Still To Be Determined

* by the National Players

Those in attendance were also treated to fine performances of songs from the upcoming season.  Celebrated Music Director Christopher Youstra was on the keyboard as Tracy Stevens sang from Cabaret, Sam Ludwig from Avenue Q, and Eleasha Gamble from Once On This Island.

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I have so many things I want to post, but I’ll start with this because it’s fairly quick.

Has anybody seen the commercial from eDiets that’s been running recently?  There may be more than one, of course.  This one is running on Comcast cable.  I couldn’t find it on YouTube or I would have embedded it to clarify.  Anyway, I think that it’s largely a decent commercial as these testimonial ads go.  It is upbeat and positive in tone, and the people come across as regular folks even if they’re actors.  Don’t know if they’re actors, but actors ARE real people and have weight struggles, too.

Like I said, it really is pretty OK as a commercial.  But – you knew there was one of those coming, right?  One of the women who has slimmed down and is excited about her svelter self  identifies herself as being “from the South.”   So far, so good.  Then she confesses that as a Southerner she “loves her comfort food.”  Yep, I understand that.   My family is from the South.  Later in the ad, however, as the people testifying list their big temptations, Ms. Southerner says “lasagne” is her downfall.

Say what?!?  I grew up eating Southern comfort food, and lasagne was not in the mix.  My family considered  lasagne to be Italian food.  We had it sometimes, sure.  But, again, we considered it Italian, and I’m pretty sure it is still considered an Italian dish by most people around the world!   So how did it become Southern comfort food?

My opinion?  The editor or director or whoever should have caught that and made a change.  Am I being overly critical?  I don’t think so.  My point is that the messages within the ad should be consistent.  I know this isn’t high art, but it is a professional piece of advertisement.  There were people paid good money to create the commercial.  Thus, I think it should be internally consistent.


Ripper Street, BBC’s winter 8-episode series is a surprisingly good show.  Even so, I think the title is awful.

I saw the title pop up on my on-screen cable guide back in January when the show first aired in the U.S. on BBC America.  I passed it by very quickly.  “How many times can they trot out that old horse about Jack the Ripper – seriously!! ” That was my gut reaction to the show’s title.  It didn’t make me want to see or hear anything else about it.

But then I had a couple of days off work and some time to kill.  Of course, when I went to spend some of that time chilling in front of the TV, I found there was very little I was truly interested in seeing.  So I started surfing the on-demand listings and ran across Ripper Street once again.  Since the on-demand episodes were included (i.e. free) in my cable package, I decided to give one a try.  After all, I could very easily stop it and choose something else.  No skin off my nose.  And I’m glad I did give it a try!


I’ll admit, the show’s premise does put it in the same basic time period as the Ripper murders in London’s Whitechapel area (but a few months after).  So the title serves to give you an immediate sense of time and place.  And the plot does pull in references to Jack the Ripper as various murders occur on the streets of London.  [Good grief, I’m making their case for them!]  But, in my opinion, what is best about the show is the REST of the story.  There are other crimes occurring – like abductions and human trafficking, for instance.  And the characters – police detectives, an American medical examiner, a brothel madame and the mistress of an orphanage, etc. – have a real sense of humanity to them.  They are gritty but not so horribly mired in the muck of debauchery and vice and dark side of the human soul that one can’t feel empathy for them.  Of course, that is partly a result of good acting, but I have to compliment the writers, too.

According to the available material, the series stars Matthew Macfadyen as Detective Inspector Edmund Reid, Jerome Flynn as Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake and Adam Rothenberg as American Captain Homer Jackson.  You have probably seen Matthew Macfayden in one of his many accomplished appearances – on MI5, in Pride & Prejudice, in Little Dorritt, etc.  I like him in this series, too.  Adam Rothenberg – whose character is a former Pinkerton agent and erstwhile U.S. Army surgeon who serves as the medical examiner for DI Reid – does a fine job as well.  But I am very impressed with Jerome Flynn’s work here.  I mentioned that the characters are gritty.  I think Flynn’s look, his physicality and his character choices make Drake the most interesting piece on the chess board.  I enjoy Drake even when his job is just to react to what the rest of the characters are doing.

And let’s not forget the supporting cast – in particular the ladies.  There is MyAnna Buring who is good as Long Susan, the madame of the local brothel and love interest for Adam Rothenberg’s character.  And there is Lucy Cohu who turns in a very compelling performance as Deborah Goren, mistress of the local orphanage.  Goren is a strong, admirable woman ready to take in new charges even when it creates difficulties for her.  Yet she is not just some long-suffering martyr.  She is a real person with an active set of personal needs and desires.  For example, we are made privy to some of Goren’s inner life when she heartily kisses Reid (a married  man) back in one episode.  While I’m in no way, shape or form endorsing adultery, I appreciate a) Lucy Cohu’s ability to beautifully portray a character that is at times selfless yet has needs and desires of her own and b) the writers’ abilities to put together stories that allow us to learn about their characters beyond the superficial – beyond just their functional role in the machine.

Lucy Cohu as Deborah Goren

Of course, at it’s heart this is a crime drama, so each episode presents the team with a new one to solve.  Some pull us back to the Ripper theme and others are completely separate mysteries that the H Division (homicide) must get to the bottom of.

I’m happy to say that I understand the show has been renewed for a second season of 8 episodes set to begin filming this year and airing in 2014.  I feel like the whole cast, crew and creative team have come together in a great way here.  I look forward to seeing what more they have in store for us from the streets of London (Whitechapel) in the late 1800’s.  I suppose they were Ripper streets, but I STILL don’t like the name!


There are many people who want to break into the voice-over and narration business.  As a narrator myself, I can honestly say that I definitely understand that desire.  LOL

Fundamentals

Like any form of art, of course, narration has certain fundamentals which must be practiced in order for it to be GOOD narration.   A lot of people seem to think that vocal tone, inflection, and modulation are the only important elements to successful narration.  But there is one basic element that I find many voice-over projects seem to let slide – to their detriment.

What’s is it?  Correct pronunciation!  Yes, just a quick check of a dictionary is all it takes to make sure you’re saying a word or a name the way it should be said.  And yet so many seem to skip this step.

Credibility Counts

A voice-over artist must be credible in order to hold his or her audience.  Take, for instance, the flak our former President took over his mispronunciation of the word nuclear.  I’m talking about President Bush, here.  Every time he said that word, he pronounced it NOO-kyoo-ler.  But the correct pronunciation is NOO-klee-er.  Yes, the former is used by many people.  And it probably wouldn’t have been a big deal to anybody if it weren’t for the fact that he was in charge of so many nuclear devices.  So people had the expectation that he was an authority on the matter and should pronounce the word correctly.  It didn’t affect his ability as a President or politician or statesman.  But he lost some credibility as a result of pronunciation or mispronunciation.

Same holds true in narration and voice-over.  But your audience hasn’t voted you into your position.  You haven’t yet earned their confidence, so you have to prove that you deserve it.  If you – the voice-over artist – don’t take the time to find out the proper pronunciation of the words (be they everyday words or technical terms or proper names) that you are recording, you have not done a good job.  It doesn’t matter how great you sound.

A New World Pronunciation

I was recently channel surfing while waking up on a weekend morning.  OK, I was eating my cereal and watching TV.  Anyway, I came across one of those shows dedicated to exploring and explaining certain geologic facts.  There was an off-camera narrator, a main expert or host we were following, and various other guest experts who weighed in on this or that.   Within the first 5 minutes of my watching (and listening), the narrator pronounced the Missouri town of New Madrid as New muh-DRID instead of New MA-drid.  He said it several times in a row.  And then … one of the guest experts was featured in a clip pronouncing it correctly.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only word he mispronounced.  So I changed the channel.  I was initially interested in hearing what the producer of this show wanted to share.  But within 5 minutes, the narrator lost me.  Worse still – for the narrator – that show is a permanent record of his work.

A Caveat or Two

In defense of narrators … First and foremost, we are all human.  That means we will make mistakes from time to time.  Secondly, I know that time is money in the studio.  It’s possible that a producer or director won’t hand a voice actor his or her full and final script until they’re at the studio.  So maybe the narrator mentioned above did his best under the circumstances.  Thirdly, perhaps (unlikely though it seems) the producer or director instructed that narrator how to say those mispronounced words.   Even so, it is very rare that a voice actor doesn’t have the script at least a day or more in advance.  That’s plenty of time to identify the words that need looking up and to check the reference section of the local library or available online sources.  Sometimes a word – esp. in the case of proper names – is truly not to be found.  But it’s in a narrator’s own self interest to at least try.

One last point: where there’s a rule there are always exceptions.   There are definitely times when following commonly used pronunciation is preferable over using the dictionary version.  If, for instance, the narration is for a popular culture piece, common usage may be better.  If the voice-over artist is reading dialogue in which the character is not well educated, wouldn’t take care in his or her pronunciation (a child, perhaps), has a clearly defined accent, then common usage or even vernacular is likely more appropriate.  But the script,  producer or director should give clear guidance in those instances.  If you are narrating a non-fiction, instructional piece, however   …  well, enough said.

Note:  The dictionary graphics used as illustrations for this post were chosen at random.  I am not endorsing any particular reference source.  You should use what’s best for the job at hand.


Yes, I mean the Broadway show Chicago in New York City.  On a very cold and windy day recently (wind chill in the teens, I believe), I got to see the current revival at the Ambassador Theater on 49th Street.  I have to say right off that it was a very enjoyable experience.  Not just because the theater was warm and protected from the elements.

My friend and I hadn’t purchased advance tickets, so we headed down to TKTS in Times Square to find out which shows had open seats.  Despite the cold and wind, the line was very long.  By the time we arrived at the ticket windows shivering and teeth chattering, we were still torn between the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe and Chicago.  In the end, we decided on Chicago – in part because we could get the last two seats that were together.  lol  Also, neither of us had seen the show onstage – ever.  It was time.

Those last two seats together were in the house left box.  The woman at TKTS said the seats had partially obstructed views, but that we would see most of the show.  She did not steer us wrong.  And my friend – who is  not in the performing arts – thought it was really cool and unusual to be seeing the show from such a different perspective.  Sure, we missed a couple of entrances that were upstage.  But the show is designed so that most of the action takes place very far downstage (i.e. close to the audience).  We could see all the important scenes and musical numbers just fine – from a bird’s eye view.

The show we saw was a weekend matinee.  That means the cast is doing 5 shows almost back-to-back through the weekend.  It can be quite a marathon.  After just a few minutes at the outset, the cast got their groove on and gave us a rollicking good show.  Impressive at any time, but even more so given that there were two understudies on for our performance.

The actor who usually plays Roxie Hart — one of the principal roles — was out.  In her place was Tonya Wathen who was really great.  And taking Tonya’s usual spot as Hunyak was Jennifer Dunne who also did a super job.  For me, seeing the understudies go on and the whole cast pull in supportively around them was what made this performance special.  Of course, the understudies had clearly done their work and were more than ready.  In one number when Roxie Hart dances with Velma Kelly (played by the AMAZING Amra-Faye Wright), I was awed by the tightness of their choreography together – right down to subtle hand motions.

Once again, I ain’t no critic.  So I’m not going to give you a full-on critique.  It was a good show.  The whole cast and orchestra (who are on the stage the entire time) did a great job.  If you haven’t seen it, you should.


Wow!  I saw this film several weeks ago, but just haven’t gotten this blog post in.  But I figured that with it up for so many awards tonight at the Oscars, I should go ahead and get this done.

I really liked this flick.  I mean, seriously, this was a very well constructed piece.  Performances were great.  Need I say more than what has already been said by others about Daniel Day-Lewis or Sally Fields for that matter?  But let me point out that the performances from the entire ensemble of actors were just fabulous.  Really consistently good.  Which leads me to Steven Spielberg.  Clearly that man directed this film.  I mean I was concerned that this was such a huge ensemble of characters that some of the other actors might not provide the kind of support I felt the leads deserved as a result of their work in honesty, depth and nuance.  But, as I said, in my opinion the consistency was high – very high.

As I’m sure you know, Lincoln is up for Best … Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Cinematography, Costume Design, Directing, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing, and Adapted Screenplay.  Rightfully so!  I look forward to seeing the folks from Lincoln carry home quite a few of those little statues this evening.


It isn’t often that I sing the praises of a commercial.  But I have to admit that the first time I saw this ad, I was impressed.

For me it isn’t about the commercial’s theme – the indirect selling of an automobile – but the beautiful way the underlying story of a dad and his young daughter who is going off for the first day of school is told.  From top to bottom it is a quality piece of work.  The actors – the father and the young girl – provide outstandingly honest and subtle performances.  The director did a marvelous job with the actors as well as finding a way to tell the story overall.  And the photography is very pleasing to the eye – kudos to the DP and his or her crew!

I tried to find credits for the commercial online, but I wasn’t savvy enough to find them.  If you know any of their names, please leave a comment and let me know.  They deserve to be called out for a job well done.

Update:  Check out the comments!  mojo shared that the song featured on the ad – “Keep Me In Mind” –  is by Tashaki Miyaki.  Tom W knows the actor playing the dad – Marcus Nelson.  Trudi tells us that the ad agency responsible for the ad is Carmichael Lynch and that the young actress’s name is Daisy.


I remember reading all the J.R.R. Tolkien books when I was 10 and 11.  I found them entirely captivating because they created such a vivid world and had such a great cast of characters.  So, naturally, I have been interested in seeing the movies that Peter Jackson has been bringing to the screen which are inspired by Mr. Tolkien’s works.

I know I’m late to the theater on this one, but I just recently got to see the first in The Hobbit series.  I’m thrilled.  I really liked it.  Not surprisingly, it has gorgeous visuals, and the CGI is quite good once again.  In fact, the character of Gollum (played so well by Andy Serkis) is treated with such care and expertise that he almost steals the movie at moments.  Not the first time that’s happened in these films. Then there is the nasty white Orc soldier – Azog – whose beady pale blue eyes along with his menacing voicing by Manu Bennett make him a villainous star as well.

Of course, I enjoyed the human actors (not that voice actors and/or CGI movement actors aren’t human, too – lol).  The whole cast does a great job.  All those dwarves on the screen – each one an interesting character! Good acting; very entertaining.  AND there is nuance in this movie.  It isn’t just about action, beautiful pictures, and great CGI.

Clearly, the movie wouldn’t succeed without super performances from Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Ian McKellen as Gandalf. And, indeed, they DO deliver.  But my breakout favorite in this installment was Richard Armitage as Thorin.  Film acting – especially when dealing with closeup shots – requires such a deft hand at times.  And I think Richard handles this role beautifully and skillfully. 

Hats off to everyone involved in making this movie so much fun to see!

 


I’m having a blast as part of the cast of “My Fair Lady” in Arena Stage’s production now running through January 6.

Our principals [Benedict Campbell, Manna Nichols, Thomas Adrian Simpson] are doing a yoeman’s job each of supplying the right balance of character, energy, and talent to create a wonderful show every time. In addition, the supporting cast (which includes me in 4 small roles) is bringing their A game. It’s a super show, and the proof is in the amazing audiences we have performance after performance.

One of the many enjoyable moments I have onstage is as Themistocles Stephanos (a Greek ambassador – ?) Here is a photo of Mr. Stephanos and most of the cast in the famous ball scene getting our waltz on which was choreagraphed by Daniel Pelzig with music direction by Paul Sportelli. Photo is copyright Molly Smith – Artistic Director at Arena Stage who is also the Director of our production. The lovely lady I’m dancing with is actress Kim Willes. And, by the way, if you come to see us (which you should if you can possibly make it), you will find that Themistocles looks just a bit different. I’m not going to tell you what’s different, though. You’ll have to join us to see what has changed. 😉


If you’ve read this blog before, you probably know that among the performance jobs I pursue is book narration.  In that job, I get the chance to read many books I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up at the bookstore.  When I read a book strictly for personal pleasure, I tend to go for a good mystery or a fascinating bit of non-fiction.  Celebrity autobiographies aren’t usually on my list.  That’s why getting to narrate ME, Ricky Martin’s memoir, is such a change of pace for me.

Although I only began studio sessions on the book last week, it’s already an interesting endeavor.  While not a rabid fan, I definitely enjoy Ricky Martin’s music quite a bit.  I’ve also seen an odd interview of him here and there as he’s been in the public eye for almost his entire life.  Reading the book is very much like hearing him speak.  It has a definite conversational style and evokes a feeling of Ricky bringing the reader into his confidence as he shares his life story with you.

I’m not done reading ME yet, so there is more about Ricky Martin that this reader has to learn.  But it’s an easy, enjoyable read.  And while this isn’t a tell-all expose’ exactly, there have already been a few stories that were unexpected.  Anyone who is a Ricky Martin fan should certainly find it an enjoyable book.

Here’s what publisher Celebra/Penguin Group (USA) says about the book and author:

ME
International superstar, Ricky Martin, who has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, opens up for the first time about memories of his early childhood, experiences in the famed boy band Menudo, struggles with his identity during the Livin’ la Vida Loca phenomenon, reflections on coming to terms with his sexuality, relationships that allowed him to embrace love, and life-changing decisions like devoting himself to helping children around the world and becoming a father. Me is an intimate memoir about the very liberating and spiritual journey of one of the most iconic pop-stars of our time.

Ricky Martin
Joining Latin pop group Menudo at the age of 12 as lead singer, Martin had scored countless #1 singles globally prior to making his mark in the US with his worldwide hit, “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” Throughout his 25-year musical career, he has sold over 60 million albums and has won numerous GRAMMY awards, American Music Awards and Billboard Awards. Martin is also a devoted humanitarian, having established The Ricky Martin Foundation. He lives between Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico.