Sunday, December 31, 2017

New Year 2018

The "New Year" is my favorite holiday. Hands down. (Okay, okay, maybe tied with Thanksgiving. But it's super close.) When you think about it, it really shouldn't be a holiday at all. It's just a day. A man-made reckoning of the passing of time. Nobody's birthday is attached to it. No famous battle started or stopped on this day. No historical screw up that evolved into a party. Just another day, but yet - not. The fact that we all - all of us, all over the world - decide to celebrate the simple act of turning a page in a calendar is important (as well as fun).

New Year celebrations for me have always been contemplative. No, not in a gazing at my navel meditation way. In a clearing out the file drawers of my life way. More like what you do at tax time only with joy and mindfulness instead of angst and anxiety. Know what I mean? The end of a year is rather like taking all the memories from that year and visiting them one more time. Like so many snapshots, some beautiful, some not, we take one more glance at them before we box them away and put them on a shelf. We write the year on the box in big, bold Sharpie in case we need to reference it in the future. Put a little smiley face next to the year if it was a good one. A frowny face, perhaps, if it was laced with difficulty or sadness. This box then gets slid right next to the others in chronological order.

Then we open a new box. Empty. Clean. It has that new box smell. It waits for tender memories, exciting new adventures, new selfies, new challenges, new everything. This new empty box calls to us quickly, daring us to start filling it up. Boxes hate being empty.

Throughout the year, I've noticed many people post pictures on their social media sites of themselves in their "happy place." All of these pictures have one thing in common. There is, usually, only one person in the picture. Of course, someone probably took the picture so there would have been at least two people, but the happy place referred to is typically the happy place for the person in the picture. Alone. These happy place pictures are always very beautiful. Tropical beaches, peaceful harbors, snow-capped mountains, sun-kissed pine forests. Stunning pictures worthy of Arizona Highways or Popular Photography. Not "happy."

I think what people mean by "happy place" is "quiet place." Those are two different things. When I think of a happy place, I think of , well, you know...happy! Joy, gladness, laughter, friendship, love, camaraderie, jokes, stories, food, wine.  Personally, my happy places always involve other people. Drinks with a friend as we solve the problems of the world or settle an issue with our significant other can be a happy place. Dinner with loved ones where we catch up on stories and lie a lot and laugh more is definitely a happy place. Watching a play in a crowded theatre as we hold our collective breath. Concerts where everyone knows the words. Museums where people crowd around a masterpiece. Happy places, too. I had a happy place this year that took me by surprise. For the first time ever, my daughter and I were at the zoo (momentous event in itself). Hardly a quiet place, definitely a happy one. She and I were standing together - shoulder to shoulder. My arm around her waist. A throng of other zoo-goers hustling and bustling by. We stood in the middle of this polite chaos, watching as her husband and eldest daughter laughed at some animals with my wife. Two people watching three people as they leaned on a railing to see the flamingos. Happy place. Shutter click. Into the box.

When we wish each other a Happy New Year, we are NOT hoping that we each have a long string of quiet days where dogs don't bark, babies don't cry, and the restaurants are silent with the sound of old people gumming their mashed potatoes. We are saying "have a great time this year!" Fill your new box with amazing things. Have a million happy places not just one. Have your quiet time, sure. We all need to decompress, slow down, take a breath, reboot. Just don't confuse quite for happy. There is nothing quiet about happy. Happy is laughter and love. Happy is friends and family. Happy is sometimes messy and marvelous.

The passing of one year to the next is the one time of year when the sole purpose of the holiday is to wish that the person next to you - wherever you are - has a happy year. That is worth celebrating. That is why it is my favorite.

HAPPY New Year, Friends. Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wayne's Folly, or Why You Need to Eat Your Peas

When I was a kid, my mom made me eat peas. Canned peas. They were gross. Yeah, you could blame it on the technology of canning back then or you could, like I did, blame it on my mom for cooking the already mushy, gag-inducing little seeds beyond anything remotely acceptable for consumption. I worked out this amazing con to get out of eating my peas: I started helping my mom "clean up" after each meal. I would grab everyone's silverware and the used paper napkins and take them into the kitchen for her. Silverware in the sink, napkins in the trash. Any good con takes planning. I knew, eventually, we were going to get served peas. I was prepared. Serve the peas and I was going to shovel those little bastards into my napkin and get them into the garbage before anyone was the wiser. It worked, too. For a while. Then everyone noticed that I went from complaining non-stop about how terrible peas were to cleaning my plate of them. Hum. So much for my plan. Busted on week three of the Great Pea Stratagem.

Years later, I would nervously revisit peas. Not canned, of course, but frozen. I liked them. In fact, I really, really liked them. Next came fresh peas. Then different kinds of peas. I am now a certified pea fanatic.

That's right, I'm using a pea analogy to talk about musical theatre. Boom. Mic drop. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Every playwright has their "problem plays." William Shakespeare had All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, Henrik Ibsen had, well, everything, and Stephen Sondheim had Merrily We Roll Along and Follies. Ultimately, I think every problem play can be overcome with creativity, intelligence, a great cast, and thoughtful collaboration with a deft director. Or not. In some cases, the play is not to blame, at all. The peas aren't the problem. It's how you cook them.

Tracie Bennett as Carlotta Campion
Follies has been, until recently, a problem play for me. I love everything Sondheim and I have seen this musical staged a few  times. Each production was - off. Was Follies a love letter to the theatre or an indictment of a bygone era? Is it about dreams deferred or the futility of hope? Is it a fantasy? A domestic drama? A psychological character study? Sure, sure, it's got a couple well-known tunes (if Streisand sings it, it must be good, right?), but I was never really able to wrap my head around it as a whole piece of theatre. Then, I saw Dominic Cooke's production from the National Theatre (thank you NTLive and Fathom Events).

Follies. Stephen Sondheim. 1971.  It debuted on Broadway and was was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and it won seven of them. One of the seven was not Best Musical.  Lights, Costumes, Scenic Design, Direction, Choreography, Score - yes. Alexis Smith won for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musial. The musical itself got snubbed in what was a pretty lightweight year on the Great White Way. In it's day it was the most costly show ever produced on Broadway. It was also a financial failure, losing it's entire investment. Full scale revivals have been few and most of the notable remounts have been "concert" versions, which in my mind, while entertaining, cannot deliver on the whole of the play - the juxtaposition of one's youthful dreams against one's mature regret.

To be sure, this is a bleak musical. Beautiful, but bleak. For fear of sounding a little arrogant and old, this play is also not for young people. If you are under thirty, sorry, but you don't know jack shit about this subject matter. Which may explain why it took me so long to really understand it. As a person of a certain age, Sondheim has held a "mirror up to nature" for my generation. Maybe that's not fair. Maybe I should say, instead, that this is a play for people who have lived. Really lived. Made decisions, tripped, failed, succeeded, been scarred, been scared, loved hard, laughed loud. If you have ever questioned the very meaning of your life, ever wondered "what if?" ever thought that maybe you could have been better, gone elsewhere, done something else, seen the future, avoided the past. 

Imelda Staunton as Sally Durant and Janie Dee as Phyllis Rogers
The brilliance of Cooke's take on the play is how he weaves the ever-present younger selves of Sondheim's characters through the staging. Never a doubt that the older versions are still yearning for a "do over." Just one. Tracie Bennett's Carlotta delivers a breath-taking version of "I'm Still Here." I mean that, literally. A moment of transition in the middle of the song will take your breath away. She parleyed an exquisite piece of technical acting and combined it with a brilliant lyric. I didn't see it coming. "The Road You Didn't Take" hit me like a ton of bricks when Phillip Quast's Ben , basically, sang my own life's insecurities back at me. With each song and each line of dialog, this production uncovered an emotional experience I don't ever recall having with a musical before. Imelda Staunton's Sally will break your heart with some of the most specific acting choices I have ever witnessed. "Losing My Mind" leaves you no doubt about the characters intent or state of mind. Brilliant. The stand out for me was Janie Dee as Phyllis. It is her play. Her cynicism, her resolve, her biting disappointment. "Could I Leave You?" is a show stopper and all her. Well...her and Sondheim.

What makes the National Theatre's version of this play so remarkable is its clarity. Cooke's direction is crystal clear. He never waivers in how he presents the emotional inner workings, past and present, of the characters. There are no protagonists in this play. There are no antagonists. Everyone is flawed. It is painful. The pain and regret at the very core of this musical is at once the show's greatest achievement and also the reason it has probably failed to be a commercial success over the years. Each performer has made specific, artistically distinct choices about their character. Choices that, more often than not, do not square with other productions you may have seen.  Choices that not merely ground the character, but that also inform the other characters in the play. This is an actor's play, start to finish, and this cast shines every step of the way and the director lets them.

This is not an easy play. You do not leave the theatre hopeful and happy. You leave pondering your own life, questioning your own decisions. There is a pressure in your chest while Sondheim's music still rings in your ears. 

If you are able, go see this production, even if you think you might not like it. It's not easy to grow up. It's not easy to admit you made mistakes. Wrapping your peas up in a napkin isn't the answer, though. Eat your peas. You'll grow to like them.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Comfort Food

My mom was a terrible cook. She was. My brothers are going to disagree with me on this, I know. In fact, I think that's them calling me now. This is not to say that I don't look back fondly on meals from my childhood - I do. I remember them as very delicious. Mostly, anyway. The whole reason for this post is based on the love I have for my mom's cooking. But my dear mother was no Julia Child. She worked crazy and difficult hours in a casino coffee shop, so the meals she prepared were quick and simple. They were as nutritious as the era would permit. We always had a meat, some kind of vegetable and a starch (that's what we called carbs back in the day). On Monday nights she worked the "swing shift." My dad would throw some wienies in a pot of baked beans and we boys would chow down in front of the TV with Howard Cosell and a two-quart bottle Pepsi. All this was normal for our household. We didn't know what we didn't know.

Until I was about 16 years old, I thought the oven was just a place you stored pots and pans. Harvesting vegetables was a simple matter of digging the can opener out of the junk drawer and ripping through that can of peas without cutting your finger off. We also didn't have any of these new age food lubes. No EVOO, no peanut oil, no coconut oil (puh-leeeze), no flaxseed oil. My mom had bacon grease in a one pound Hills Bros coffee can (or maybe it was Folgers). Sound familiar, boomers? Thought so. I never once saw my mom change that bacon grease. I saw her add to it after frying up some Farmer John's. I saw her take from it before frying up some tacos or hamburger patties. Never saw her empty it out, clean the can, and start fresh. Pretty sure it was kinda like sourdough bread - you always need some of the original "starter" to keep it just right.

Mac and cheese seems to be a common comfort food. Every restaurant on the planet nowadays has macaroni and cheese on the menu. It usually runs around 10-14 bucks and is made from 8 kinds of smelly goat cheese. That is a rip off. Everyone knows, the only real Mac 'n' Cheese is made by Kraft, comes out of a blue box, and all you gotta do is mix the orange dust with a whole stick of butter and a half cup of milk. Brussels Sprouts? My mom never roasted Brussels Sprouts. She never added pancetta or balsamic vinegar or truffle oil. Didn't marinade them in the tears of a mermaid or braise them in aged Yak Butter. She boiled them. Boiled the shit out of them until they were soft enough to eat. Steaks? Fried them in bacon grease in a big honking cast iron skillet that we would clean over a campfire once a year on a hunting trip in the Ruby Mountains. Put that sucker over the fire, let it get red hot, scrub it out with a battery terminal brush...viola...good as new. Meat loaf? Really? It's a giant hamburger patty that you slice.

Some things she made did take time. Her famous homemade chicken noodle soup is legendary. The noodles were made from scratch, too. The deliciousness that was this soup was probably due to the salt shaker she emptied into every batch. Thanksgiving is always a chore, right? Face it, no one's Thanksgiving meal is as good as your mom's. Ever. Only thing is, all American Thanksgiving meals are pretty much exactly the same. Admit it. It's really hard to screw up a turkey. You got your giant genetically modified bird (the bigger the better), your root vegetables (candied yams and mashed Russet potatoes for us), your chopped up stale bread (always Mrs. Cubbison's - I told you, mom was busy), and your variation on cranberry sauce which you only eat once a year's awful (ours was canned Birdseye. Sliced. Gross).

Comfort food. All of it. Whatever you ate as a kid becomes your comfort food as an adult. Sometimes you put you're own twist on the classics from your childhood. You'll add an ingredient. You'll cook it in glass instead of the hand-me-down aluminum pan that still has baked on residue from that stew that went wrong in 1995. You'll swap a cheap Chardonnay for chicken broth. Yet, at their very core, the recipes remains the same. Caloric, rich, simple. More important, though, memorable.

The whole point of comfort food is wrapped around emotions not flavor. It's the joyous memories that flush your face when a serving of Grandma's Galumpkis hits the table. When you dip your spoon into that pot pie, it's your mom's voice saying expertly, "Careful, it's hot," as she passes the salt shaker down the table. The string of grilled cheese getting stuck on your chin. The flavor is the memory not the taste.

Sometimes comfort food may evolve out of friendship as well as family. After acting school my best friend and I were roommates for a few years. We made a tradition out of drinking Jameson's Irish Whiskey late at night while reading Shakespeare out loud or trying to impress a date (often both). I still drink Jameson's and whenever I pour myself a glass I think of my friend even though he only lives about a mile away. And, yes, I consider Irish Whisky a food. Our exploits in that little apartment off Fairfax will live on so long as that distillery in Cork continues to produce.

We all have something. A BBQ rub (never enough cumin), a pot pie (always turkey), a spaghetti sauce (no sugar please), a pastry (croissants).  That one food that evokes a vivid memory of someone we hold dear. With every bite we slide effortlessly into a warm place or a sweet adventure.  I have several enduring "comfort foods." Two of my favorites are my mom's baked chicken (the only time the oven was ever used for it's intended purpose and something we make to this day often) and homemade candy.  Specifically, my mom's homemade Christmas candy. Each Christmas, Colleen (my mom) and Jackie (her sister) would team up to produce a staple of the entire family's holiday celebration. Honeycomb, taffy, nougat, divinity, peanut brittle, caramels, pralines, and of course, the obligatory fudge. They are both gone now and I happily took up the mantle although not on their scale. That would be like Milli Vanilli trying to sing Sondheim. No, I am not as good at it as they were. My annual attempts are no where near as delicious. Yes, it is a lot of work. More work than I ever knew. But for a few days every year, I get to relive a few moments with my mom in a tangible and very real way. The recipes are incantations of sorts. Maybe closer to a meditation on  my mother. The pages faded and the margins penciled with alterations in her perfect cursive. If read out loud (which I must often do to make sense out of the fractions of spoons and cups), they are chant-like, magically switching on a time machine in our kitchen. The spatula, a magic scepter, that channels her deft wrist and determination. My awkward pouring and ham-fisted measuring forever chasing her perfect eye and effortless grace with sugar and vanilla and heat.

Her caramels and chocolates made up for every overcooked floret of frozen broccoli; excused each spoonful for canned zucchini; forgave the mashed yam, the iceberg lettuce, and each well-done fried pork chop.

Whatever your comfort food is and whatever it represents, I hope you have lots of it over the holidays. Just maybe hold the salt a little and back off on the butter. Oh, and don't forget to take all the pots and pans out of the oven.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Movies: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Bad title for the post, I know. Of course, "The Good the Bad and the Ugly" is not a Christmas movie. It was released on December 23 in Italy, so I guess there could be an augment made for including it a list of "Christmas movies," but that would be dumb. Plus, if you have to put quotation marks around the term Christmas movie in order to describe it as one, then it shouldn't be considered as one. Many movies released during the holiday season are not Christmas movies at all. Christmas is simply a time when many people head out to the cinema during their time off or to get away from the in-laws. Box office matters in the movie biz and big movies get a place on the schedule. Okay...blah, blah, blah.

I love movies. All kinds of movies. There are good movies, bad movies, and merely mediocre movies. There are how-did-this-POS-ever-get-made movies and OMG-I-have-to-see-this-again-right-now movies. There are awful movies with brilliant performances in them. There are movies that we enjoy very much even though we know they are not very good. There are movies we hate even though Rotten Tomatoes tells us the critics LOVE them and our film snob friends tell us they are the best movies of all time and the 22 year old director with the silly hair is a genius. Movies, like all art, are subjective. I get it. But Christmas movies have rules.

Yes, they do.

For example (these may seem harsh to some), here are some things NOT allowed in Christmas movies. Let's not even call them rules, okay? Let call them guidelines.
  • A Christmas movie cannot be an action movie. Sorry, "Die Hard" is not a Christmas movie. No. No it is not. It is set during Christmas. But that is the only thing Christmasy about it. You may watch it during Christmas. It may have a Christmas song at the very end. Not a Christmas movie. I really like Die Hard, but no. Batman Returns? Hell no. Let's call these kind of movies, "Christmas Adjacent."
  • A Christmas movie cannot be a concept movie dressed up as a Christmas movie in order to capitalize on the idea of being a Christmas movie. Bad Santa is not a Christmas movie. Hold on, hold on - I know it was a pretty successful, R rated, black comedy that lots of people liked, but that doesn't cut the pudding. You cannot share it with your kids and grand kids. Well, you could, but then I'd have to cal social services on you. 
  • Just having a Santa Claus character in it doesn't automatically make it a Christmas movie. Also, having cute girls in Santa outfits dancing to "Jingle Bell Rock," doesn't magically elevate Mean Girls to Classic Christmas Movie status. That is cheating. Or marketing. Might be marketing.
  • Horror movies cannot be Christmas movies. Just no. Admit it, I'm right on this. Watch them at Halloween? Fine. Dress up as Scary Santa or Ax Murderer Rudolph. Great, whatever flies your sleigh (slay?) Just don't think they should be played every single Christmas while the family is over for pie and wassail. 
  • Any movie with the characters of Pee Wee Herman or Ernest P. Worrell are not Christmas movies. Full stop. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let's make sure that never happens again, please Hollywood.
I cannot just list everything that Christmas movies aren't. Besides, you'll get used to knowing a real Christmas movie when you see one. This is just the high level stuff that you need to know now that you are getting serious about the subject.

You don't always need Santa Claus, St. Nickolas, Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle. That would get boring. Also not required is your reindeer or your elves or your snowmen. Unless you can find the perfect voice actors, this can be problematic anyway. Everyone knows reindeer and elves and snowmen have to talk and the voices have to be perfect. Nobody wants a snowman to sound like Kristen Chenowith. An elf, maybe. There are, however, some themes that must be present. Not all need to present in every film, but a true Christmas movie will have many of them neatly weaved together.
  • The Ebeneezer Syndrome (also known as the "Scrooge Complex"). Charles Dickens created the perfect "meaning or Christmas" story in A Christmas Carol. Any movie putting a spin on this theme qualifies as a true Christmas movie. Doesn't matter if it's any good or not. Yes, it hurts to say that, but...that's life. Examples are Scrooged (Bill Murray), An American Christmas Carol (excellent and overlooked), Scrooge (the musical with Albert Finney and one of my favorites), The Muppet Christmas Carol (the Muppets AND Michael Caine? Puh-leeze.), and Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. Basically, any story where a soulless curmudgeon is redeemed by cuteness and nice people. 
  • It's Silly, But I Believe. Similar to the Ebeneezer Syndrome except a little kid, instead of an old geezer, is the asshole that finally comes around to believing in the spirit of Christmas. In the process of this happening, elsewhere in the movie somebody who is stuck up falls in love with somebody who is nice and they live happily ever after. Miracle on 34th Street. CLASSIC. Edmund Gwenn is the best Santa ever. 
  • True Love Conquers All. Even when it sneaks up on you through a serious of hilarious interludes and often romantic singing and dancing. If you don't watch White Christmas and/or Holiday Inn every single single year, you'll know why I choose to ignore you at Trader Joe's. Love, Actually has become a contemporary classic. I will say, right here, right now, it is one of my favorites. Watch it with a significant other and I guarantee you will love it. You might even get lucky later that night. It's that good.
  • Don't Be a Dick at Christmas. This is more a motif than a theme, but it turns up in the best Christmas movies. It differs significantly from the ES above, since the Xmas Dick is not universally hated by everyone during the course of the year. Only at Christmas. The Christmas jerk is always redeemed by love, faith, children, or the supernatural. In the The Bishop's Wife, David Niven's character is a rather insensitive priest who is very close to losing his fabulous wife to an angel played by Cary Grant (of course). It's perfect.
Finally, there are a few other very significant things Christmas movies must have. In fact, these may well be THE MOST important elements to any actual, for reals, authentic, sure fire, play-every-year-and-never-get-tired-of-it Christmas movie. They have to be a little sappy. It's the one time of year where we really are expected to wear our hearts on our sleeves and go all-in for a little schmaltz. There has to be a romance. Doesn't have to be all "Beauty and the Beast," but love is the reason for the season after all, right? And last but not least, every Christmas movie  must have heart. Heart. Compassion. Empathy. Call it what you Like. Every other holiday can have a little slice of snark, a little bite of bitchy, a chunk of cynicism. But Christmas movies should really remind us that it's never too late to be a good person. Hopefully, we won't shoot our eye out in the process.

Purely as a public service, I will leave you with Wayne's Christmas Movie recommendations:
  • Shop Around the Corner (1940) 
  • Holiday Inn (1942) 
  • Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
  • Star in the Night (1945) 
  • It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947
  • The Bishop's Wife (1947)
  • Holiday Affair (1949)
  • White Christmas (1954) 
  • Scrooge (1970) 
  • A Christmas Story (1983)
  • Love, Actually (2003)
  • Elf (2003)
  • Get Santa (2014) 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Words Mean Things

Books. Plays. Movies. Lyrics. Poems. Speeches. Conversations. Whispers.


With so many ways to communicate with each other, yet such a limited amount of time to say any of it, we humans spend an excruciating amount of our very lives thinking about saying or writing things (aka using words), but then not actually saying or writing any of them. Why is this? Whether there are issues of the head that require resolution or matters of the heart that must be shared to find relief, we often wait too long to put them into words. Often never doing so.

Even in our daily lives, when we are forced to communicate, we increasingly tend to choose NOT to use words. They take too much time to hammer out with our thumbs on the face of a smartphone. We use abbreviations (LOL, OMG, I <3 U, txt me) or emojis. I have found myself spending so much time looking for the perfect emoji on my phone for a message that I could have written a whole letter in the same amount of time.

I am as guilty of these word related transgressions as any modern human. Moreso maybe. I do find occasion to jot something down when I have something on my mind. A letter. A card. A terrible poem. A Tweet. A Facebook post whose very brevity is intended to convey a whole range of thoughts and emotions. Those usually come out alright. At least they come out. The beginnings of a play. The first five pages of a movie. Those are, more often than not, slower to manifest themselves.

Where I fall down, though, is in saying actual words to actual people. Now that I think about it, this may be one of the reasons I wanted to be an actor. I loved saying other people's words. They saved me the effort of trying to be poetic or meaningful all by myself. (I've always been a better speaker than a writer, anyway.) I loved the sound of other people's words as they came out of my mouth. I could control how they were uttered even though I had no input into their creation. How often to we crib a movie quote to make a point? A Bible verse to teach a lesson? How many times has a Shakespearean Sonnet been whispered during a night of romance?

Some might argue this whole point with me. Some would say that actors become actors to express emotions. But actors cannot do this, even, without words. Actually being able to say them and move people by how well you can manipulate them is an actor's stock-in-trade. How effectively you can make people feel things by wrapping your mouth and tongue and teeth around sounds, is how you are measured. How you can make people believe that what they are seeing on stage or on film is real by the way you utter words, is your passion as well as your job. If you are really good at these kinds of things, then this is what makes you stay an actor. For an actor, words are transformative.

Words are also power. I had a boss once that was very disrespectful to everyone in the office. Everyone. None of us would say anything when this behavior occurred because, A) we were afraid of losing our jobs, and B) we knew nothing we said would possibly change this person. So we all endured. We would keep our words bottled up. Stifle our feelings. Contain our anger and insult. Then one eventful day, one person called the boss on the shit. Boom. The floodgates opened. What we hadn't considered was that all the while that we did NOT say anything, we were missing out on the therapeutic nature of words. Words can level the playing field, clarify, and correct.

Words can also be used as weapons. In real life, people can sling words to hurt, to insult, to control. How often do we sling barbs carelessly at a loved one in order to manipulate an argument or trick someone into a response. Weapon-words are hard to take back. They are like a bullet. Once they pierce the skin, they often get lodged there, infecting the surrounding tissue and causing lasting scars even after the surgery of removing them has long passed. Even after an apology, the sting and swelling caused by a weapon-word takes a while to mend. (A great example is the bullshit rudeness of people who say, "I'm just being honest." I hate that. I have NEVER heard that phrase used for anything other than being hurtful. In a way the speaker can shield him or herself from the responsibility of their words simply by saying, "I'm just being honest.")

My own use of words is often tested. While I try to be specific and articulate, yet still thoughtful and creative, I often doubt my results. Misunderstandings happen all the time, right? We all say things we wish we hadn't then dig ourselves ever deeper trying to figure out the structure and shape of the new words that will make everything better. Words are a responsibility.

I would never suggest that everyone has to tip-toe through their lives weighing each word like so much diamond dust. But there are times to do so. Often. Not to sound too much like a scold or an out-of-touch headmaster, but there are times we should, at the very least, be mindful of what actually comes out of our mouths and from our fingers and thumbs. Not just for others, but for ourselves. Anger can make us sloppy. Love can make us sappy. Emotions push every conceivable button in us. But like anything we work at, we should always want to be good at what we do. We should, as human beings blessed with the gift of language, desire the ability to communicate with each other in the best possible ways. We should also never take this gift of words for granted. In art, in love, at work, at home, at play, in politics, words mean things and we should ultimately ask ourselves to be good stewards of them.

This whole post is, actually, a very good illustration of my own challenges in using words. Admittedly, I just spent about an hour writing this, when I really should have just posted this quote from Tom Stoppard's play The Real Thing : 

"Words … They’re innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they’re no good any more… I don’t think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead."

Okay, well, I guess I'll keep working on it. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Post-Thanksgiving Ponder

Growing up in Henderson, Nevada, Thanksgiving was simple. It was a juicy turkey, my mom's delicious and world famous dressing, and (inevitably) her nasty-ass canned cranberry sauce that only my step-dad liked. It usually meant brother home from college, a visit from sister across town, a house full of little brother's neighborhood pals, and the requisite cadre of cousins, uncles, aunts, and  co-workers dropping by to chat, load up on pie, smoke some Chesterfields, pour a generous scotch and water (in a 16 ounce former strawberry jam jar), and generally just enjoy each other's company removed from the normal daily grind of work and responsibility. The one day of the year when everyone really did pitch in to help do the dishes. Simple.

During this day of feasting and football, we never talked about the the pilgrims. We did not discuss the monumental wrongs that have been imposed upon Native Americans. Mine was not a house of prayer, so we didn't do that, either. (Unless Grandma Lumsden was in town, then we laid it on thick.) We were thankful, though. We were not rich. My parents worked hard. We didn't live in as nice a house as I sometimes wished, and we never had a new car. But, we had enough. On this day, we sat around the dining room table (the other 364 days our meals were on TV trays or the coffee table in front of the television) together. Talked about anything and everything as a family. Simple.

Life doesn't seem to be as simple, nowadays though, does it? As much as we would like it to  be, the world is not so simple. The Henderson of my childhood now has a population of close to 300,000 - 17 times larger than when I was a kid.  Four high schools instead of one. There are stop lights now. (Stop lights! WTF?) Our family and friends have spread out, grown apart, passed away, seen their own adventures, grown their own families.

It probably wasn't simple back them, either. I truly don't believe that, in the creation of the American version of Thanksgiving, there was any intentional disrespect towards Native Americans. (We had and have done enough of that since the time the Pilgrims landed and the ensuing conquest of their land.) Point of fact, many other countries celebrate similar thanksgiving holidays that have their roots in secular celebrations, harvest festivals, or religious observations. Strangely, they all happen around the same time of year.  I would like to believe that a given people can "give thanks" for what they have without pissing off a whole culture. But, I'm not sure anymore.

I also have come to kinda doubt what "giving thanks" really means. I have observed over the past few years that Thanks-giving seems more like Thanks-taking. We are grateful for things that have come to us. Possessions we have worked hard enough to buy. Food we are fortunate enough to eat. For bounty, often denied others. For success, unseen by many. Things certainly worthy to be thankful for. But the name of the holiday is, after-all Thanks"giving" not "Thanks-foring,"which to me seems to imply that the thanks should be a thing emanating from us not to us.

Maybe, like mankind itself, holidays might be allowed to evolve into other kinds of things. Christmas has become more secular. July Fourth has become more culinary. Maybe Thanksgiving might be allowed to evolve into something more outward-bound. Maybe the Holiday Season, the season of giving, begins in November with this food-filled, harvest festival that has evolved from a variety of cultures and countries. (Some families don't eat turkey! It's not like it's a rule.) Maybe, through our actions, we can actually turn it into the act, or better, the art of saying "thank you" to people for who they are and what they represent and opposed to the things that we have the good fortune to consume.

I may be arguing for something that already exists. I may be overly concerned with semantics. I've been known to do that. We all may already do this in our own way. The lines in the grocery stores, the angry words on social media, the ongoing argument about the origins of this holiday all seem to deny this, though. Sure we stop just long enough to spend a day with loved ones and eat. But wouldn't it be nice, if sometime during this perennial day of gluttony and familial stress, we look at a loved one - right in the eyes - and say, "Hey, thank you." "Thank you for being you." "Thank you for your spirit."  "Thank you for your talent." "Thank you for your art." "Thank you for being here." "Thank you for that time you helped me fix my sink." "Thank you for being a great (insert relationship here)."

In the spirit of this idea, and with apologies to Mr. Dickens, I will honor Thanksgiving in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Simple.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Actor Shaming in Hollywood

I do not get angry often. Not really. I do get a little perturbed, occasionally. Sometimes. Rarely, though. Actually, it's more like exasperation than actual anger. One thing that DOES piss me the f**k off is what I'm going to refer to as "actor shaming." (You may officially file this under: Rant.) In an industry that relies so heavily on actors for everything from $250 million studio blockbusters to $250 local car dealer ads on cable TV, actors are treated like village idiots or temperamental children by the myriad of people who make money from their talent or personality.

Historically, actors have often been treated like second class citizens -- or even lepers. None of this is new. I get it. It is the level of utter disrespect in recent years that is so irritating. I have worked in the entertainment industry (I like the old term, "show business") for most my my adult life, but the last five years or so has seen a rise in this regard. Every single day I work with a wide variety of people in film and TV (and, yes, even the theatre) whose very livelihoods, their paychecks and fancy cars and expense accounts, are a result of the work that actors do.

Without actors, from whom would agents and managers collect their commission? Without actors, who would publicists complain about or lawyers manipulate? Without actors, screenplays would be literature. Without actors, directors would play chess. Without actors, producers would create other things to entertain us. It is the actor that is the constant.

I know that this little rant may piss some people off. Rest assured not ALL people that have actors as clients are bad people. Not all agents are leeches and not all acting teachers are in it to screw actors out of their hard earned residuals for a little ego massage. I get it. I have friends who are casting directors and agents and publicists. Good ones, too. Many of these people started as actors, so they have a unique perspective on what it takes and who the people they work for are. You lot I am not complaining about.

But there seems to be this growing disrespect - it has a gossip mill quality - about actors who are "difficult"  or have "attitude" or who are "demanding." It may shock many out there, but when you meet these people, you often find out that they are pretty nice and not weird at all. In fact, I'll bet 9-out-of-10 times an actor get pegged as being "a problem," it is their reps that are putting up the barriers and causing all the heartburn, not the actual talent.

Add to this the apparent disregard even those in the media have for some of the working-est actors in Hollywood.  How many "entertainment journalists" mispronounce names (poor Saoirse Ronan and Chiwetel Ejiofor) or get actors confused with other actors. (I'm looking at you Sam Rubin). Look, I know that not everyone is as involved in the Hollywood entertainment machine as I am, but those of us actually in the business, should, at the very least, have a basic respect for the people that make that industry work, that pay our salaries in some direct or indirect way  -- and that means actors. Period.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Being an Actor. In the beginning...

This page of this post has been empty for a long time. The title has been there. Nothing else.
Every time I get inspired by a great quote, whenever I think of a pithy and important idea, on the occasion of some fundamental misconception of the craft, I get all excited and begin to write a brilliant missive on the topic when...I freeze. Fingers hovering precariously above the keys. Still.  Fearful. Motionless.

Nothing you will read in the next thousand words or so will be remotely new if you are an actor of a certain age.  You have heard it all before. Every actor has, at some point in his or her creative life (some would call it "career") has thought, pondered, complained, fretted, dissected, and screamed at the things I am about to rant about. So, for the sake of simplicity, I'm just going to bullet point some thoughts, opinions, and advice. This is meant primarily for my younger or less experienced students, but it is also for my older, more mature actors who are returning to the game after a long break. If you study with me, I'm sure are are tired of hearing this stuff by now. Too bad.

  • Your acting coach is your acting coach, not your agent. Your acting coach is not your publicist, either. Or your manager. You pay them to be your acting coach. Let them do that and take everything else they offer with a grain of salt.
  • For my young actors, if you don't have head shots yet, go get them now. Now. Everyone else, get new ones every couple of years. More often if you have changed your hair, altered your look, started a regimen of Botox, or finally tossed the denim jeggings that were so popular last year. I know they're expensive (the head shots not the jeggings). I know it's a hassle. Every craftsman, needs their tools. These are yours. Find a photographer you like and keep going to them. 
  • Oh, I'm not done on pictures, yet: Make sure your pictures look like YOU. When you walk into the room for an audition or an interview you better look like your picture. It's that easy and it's that hard. Photographer Peter Konerko has an excellent set of videos  that will be very helpful finding your way through headshot hell. Check them out, they are great. (Okay, I'm done. I get worked up about this one.)
  • Learn your craft before you learn your business. You don't open a law office then go to law school. You don't get hired at a hospital as a doctor before you've gone to med school. Become an actor before accepting the secret golden key to "cold reading" mastery. Before spending $150 to be seen by the "greatest casting director" in Hollywood, learn to fucking act.
  • Stop worrying about how many Twitter followers you have or how many Instagram likes you are racking up. When you finally get the audition, none of that will mean a hill of beans if you can't deliver when it matters. I do not care how ripped you are or how hot you look in that new designer bikini or how sweet your kitten looks swatting your Fruit Loops around the kitchen. 
  • Kiss no ass. Once you get an agent, a manager, a publicist (one or all three) remember they work for you. THEY work for YOU. They are not omnipotent, they are not irreplaceable, they do not know everything regardless of what they tell you.
  • Work on your voice. Learn how to breathe, how to project, how to enunciate. I recently saw a play at a very reputable theatre and some of the younger actors simply could not be heard even 10 rows back.
  • Stop defining yourself as a TV actor or a stage actor or a film actor. Yes, you do that. Admit it. You are an actor. Each medium requires different techniques, true, but you are still an actor. Remind yourself of that out loud a few times everyday. 
  • Don't wait for the phone to ring. You have friends. You know people. Assemble your tribe and do stuff. Read plays. Seek out new screenplays. Write something for yourself. Take your iPhone and record scene-work. Do something. Audition. Audition. Audition. (Did I mention that you should audition?) Submit for any project you are right for or interested in. Volunteer at a local intimate theatre.
Here's the bottom line: We only get one life. Do something with yours. Stay busy. Being an actor is not like any other job. If fact, it is not a job. It is a lifestyle. As an actor, you will get "acting jobs" over the course of your career, but you will always be an actor even when you are not actually getting paid to do it. It is not regular. It is not normal. You will get frustrated and crazy sometimes. You will have moments when you will doubt yourself. Then, you'll get cast in a play or get a role in a small film. You'll be in rehearsal and the little voice in the back of your heart will remind you why you going through all this. Then it will all come rushing back to you. 
I mean, if it was all about making money, you would have taken your mom's advice and become a [insert profession here] instead of moving in with the person you did "Our Town" with in acting school. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

In Defense of "Hollywood"

Just a little rant for a sec. Don't worry, it's not political. Sometimes the littlest things do set me off, though.

In the wake of the whole Kathy Griffin BS and to all of you Hollywood Haters that pile on whenever someone like Kathy Griffin does something distasteful or a famous actor takes a stand at an awards show, this is for you. For those of you who complain about the "Hollywood swamp" or the "Hollywood elite" or how shallow we all are in Los Angeles, this is for you, too. To everyone who might talk smack or throw shade at "Hollywood" then go home and spend three hours in front of the television watching "Big Bang Theory" (filmed in Burbank) or "Scandal" (filmed in Los Angeles and Hollywood) - STFU.

If you don't live here or have never visited friends here, you know nothing about my city or my industry. I'm sure I speak for my fellow Angelenos when I invite you to come and visit for longer than a trip to Disneyland or a TMZ Tour of Stars Homes,  Is "Hollywood" generally liberal? Yes. Happily. But we have differing opinions just like you. Some conservative some progressive. Not everyone agrees with each other. We are a diverse group of people in a really interesting and beautiful city - unlike any other. No, we are NOT perfect, but neither are you. Can we be full of shit and impatient. Sure. Just like people in your community.

Believe it or not, we are also generous, philanthropic, creative and kind. We work hard. We are not just actors and directors and celebrities. We are truck drivers and teachers and make up artists and security guards and EMTs and lawyers and janitors and mechanics and office workers and writers and designers and food service staff. Think of any job that people you know do and there are people doing that same job in a studio or a production company. They are just like you only they live in a different place.

You know what? We are also mothers and fathers and friends and neighbors. We have families just like you. Our children go to schools. Our grandchildren play with dolls and ride bicycles. Sound familiar? Los Angeles, "Hollywood" to you, is full of of some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent people I have ever known. We all have nice friends who are funny and can laugh at themselves and also help a neighbor with a flat tire or broken water pipe. We volunteer for church functions and political marches. We vote. Some of us are meat eaters and some are vegans. AND we are one of the most diverse cities in the country. We are a city of many colors and every religion.

Now, come for a visit. Bring a bathing suit, a hat, and some sunscreen. Prepare to have the best pastrami in the country. Get ready for some great museums, exciting theatre, high-end or vintage shopping (if you care about that sort of thing), one of the largest urban parks in North America, and a great music scene. You'll love everything but our traffic. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

New Musings on Mother's Day 2017

Whenever my mom would get mad at me she would call me by my entire name. Wayne Caldwell Watkins. I'm sure many moms do this. My memmory of it reminds me of the episode of Star Trek. In "I, Mudd," Harry Mudd is harangued with a stern, "Harcourt Fenton Mudd, where have you been? What have you been up to? Have you been drinking again, you miserable sot! You good-for-nothing...!"

I know that tone. I know the dread and distress that accompanies that full-name exclamation. Yet, I have only heard tell of mothers using this technique on sons. I cannot imagine a mother turning that on a girl child. I don't think it would be the same. I am not implying that mom's don't get mad at their female children, just that it must manifest itself in a much different verbal or emotional form. Let's face it, girl's names are different than boys. They are (I'm gonna catch heat for this, but) prettier. Elizabeth, Heather, Jennifer, Samantha, Dorothy...see, pretty. Wayne, Bob, John, Dave, Paul...not pretty. It would be pretty hard to retain one's anger when saying a few pretty names in a row. How would you even do that? That would be like trying to use a mean voice when saying "unicorn and mermaids," "rainbows and butterflies," "Julie Andrews." You just can't do it.

My beautiful daughter has two beautiful daughters. Both with very pretty names. For the life of me, I cannot image her ever being angry enough to use the "three-name-shout-out" on them. Granted, I'm sure my girl can get heated, but I've never seen it, personally. (That is the dad's prerogative, by the way, to only see in his daughter that which he wishes to see. Given the circumstances of our own personal story, this is even more the case.) Of course, I see perfection: temperance, patience, kindness, support, you know - the perfect parent, the perfect daughter.

Not surprisingly, moms are often placed on pedestals. Even through their brief moments of anger or frustration, they still rise to a level of near-sainthood. Dads, though, are never put on more than a step ladder. Dads are great, don't get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE being one and my son-in-law is a champ, but moms are...well...MOMS! Sure, sure, dads have these stereotypical traits that are, thankfully, not holding up through our societal evolution, but they still exist. Mom uses a cute little spoon to feed the toddler, Dad just shoves a piece of cheese into the teeny little pie hole. Mom reaches down and picks up the fallen banana slice, Dad kicks it under the sofa in order to retrieve it later when nobody is looking. Mom worries about her beautiful ballerina stepping on the seed pod from the sweetgum tree and Dad encourages the same hoofer to jump off the roof onto the trampoline. (No, Eric, this is not really directed at you.)

The pedestal on which I have placed my own daughter is very high as a result of her being A) my daughter, as well as B) a fabulous mother, and C) to quote the movie Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way." Yes, I know I am laying it on pretty thick, but if you knew my daughter you would totally get it. Certainly, it is a pedestal she shall never be able to climb down from should she even try. In addition to it's height, I have firmly glued her feet to the cornice. (Well, I think it's called the cornice. Whatever the very top part of a pedestal is called.)

Please understand, I do not say any of this to put any pressure on my beautiful child. She has her hands full just being a mom. Besides, I mean, that would be a pretty shitty thing to do on Mother's Day - heap insurmountable expectations on a person who already is super busy. I say these things because I have seen what good moms do. Including my own mother, of course, I have known some pretty terrific female parents. Moms of twins who, despite the frenetic chaos that two tykes must create, have remained relatively sane even before the kids leave for college. Perfectly amazing moms that have children who are dancers and actors and singers - often all three. These are the road warriors of parenthood, shuttling their talented offspring to ballet class, rehearsal, and voice lessons. While "soccer moms" may be a term not used as often as it once was, we all know what that means -- SUVs filled to the sunroof with smelly shoes, ball bags, and juice-pouch-swilling future Olympians. Then there are the moms who stay home with their gifted science student turning the kitchen into a bubbling workshop of goo and fireworks. And finally, the single moms, who by hook or by crook, raise the most fabulous human beings under the most trying of circumstances.

Moms the world over have sacrificed everything to raise their children. Their own dreams, their own passions, their own health. Moms compromise and juggle. They balance and negotiate. They put friendships on hold and forge new ones. They smile, they frown, they laugh, they cry, they play, they discipline. Sometimes all of those things in the course of a few minutes. So, it's no wonder that every once in a while they would let fly with a torrent of names in an effort to catch our eye or draw attention to the fact that we really shouldn't be pulling the dog by the tale.

My mother has been gone a couple of years now. As a result, I now use this holiday as an opportunity to give thanks for other people's moms that have graced my life. My mother-in-law whose name, appropriately, was Grace. My daughter's mom, Yvonne, who, with some help from her own mother, Violet, raised a wonder woman. Finally, that same wonder woman, Heather, who is the the mother of my two granddaughters, without whom I would no doubt have quickly put aside any celebration of Mother's Day at all.

Thanks for that, Heather. Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Lost Art of Kissing (On Screen and Stage)

People kiss. I don't know why and I don't care. Sometimes it's just a little peck on the way out the door in the morning. Other times it's part of a shall I say this...elaborate ritual. A kiss can be a casual greeting accompanied by friendly pleasantries. A kiss can be a gentle reminder that the other person is in your thoughts. Then again, it can also be the culmination of an emotional journey that suddenly runs out of words.

It is a natural and, very often, intimate thing that happens countless times every single day the world over. Not all cultures kiss, this is true. A study that appeared in American Anthropologist in 2015 found that out of 168 cultures that were studied, only 46 percent of them kissed in a romantic sense. (And to answer your next question, no, I do not spend a lot of time researching these kinds of things. I just figured that I needed a little extra weight to this post, so I Googled some shit.) Thankfully, most of us weren't raised in those cultures and find kissing pretty great.

Funny thing is, kissing is something that is much more fun to do than it is to watch. That might be a good thing. It would be kinda pervy if we all walked around watching people kiss all day and laughing under our breath. In fact, we'd probably wind up in the county slammer on some sort of public nuisance charge if we got caught doing it too much. Doubtless, I'd be the first one arrested. The director in me would want to choreograph that couple in the restaurant or the lovers at that table in the corner. "Buddy, look, put your fingers on her jaw and let them slide to the back of her neck. Slowly. Slower." "Young lady, you're spending too much time biting his lower lip. Tilt your head more. There. Perfect."

In the cinema and at the theatre, however, it's okay to watch. A well-designed kiss can transport us into the very heart of the characters we watch. "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "To Have and Have Not," "Gone With the Wind," "Casablanca," "From Here to Eternity," "It's a Wonderful Life" all have kisses that define the relationship of the characters we've been following for two hours. If executed properly by the actors and staged perfectly by the director, they take our breath away as if we were on screen ourselves.

Kissing takes a deft and specific approach on screen to work. Occasionally, even our best actors fail miserably during a celluloid snog. Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp in "The Tourist," awkward.  Liv Tyler and Viggo Mortensen in "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" were smashing into each others noses so hard it looked painful. Adam Sandler kissing Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, and Jessica Biel. Eeeew. Please. They just don't work. In all of these cases, certainly the directors could have done better in helping the actors find the right moves. (Except for the Adam Sandler ones. Those poor girls.) In fact, it is the director's job to do that. Regardless, the actors are left in awkward moments and the audience is left unfulfilled and often disappointed.

As in real life, not all movie kisses mean the same thing. There are romantic kisses, comedic kisses, dramatic kisses, passionate kisses. Not every kiss should necessarily be sexy, either. Actors have an old adage about how to play an intoxicated person. The secret? Don't play drunk. Play trying NOT to be drunk. Most people who have had too much to drink try not to appear drunk. That's key. Same for kissing. Sometimes it's is the reticence, the waiting, the anticipation of the kiss that makes it work on stage and on screen. Alfred Hitchcock's "Notorious" has one of the most intimate kissing scenes ever filmed. It's not a constant lip-lock. It's not a slobber-fest. It's not a non-committal smooch. It's not a bad-breath-avoidance-stick-and-move. It’s a masterful two-and-a-half minutes staged in such a way as to bring us a long for a very romantic ride. Hitchcock intention was to circumvent the Hays Code of the time. The ludicrous Production Code banned kisses longer than three seconds. So Hitch had them kiss for three, then whisper and nuzzle and go back to another three second kiss. Stop and murmur a sweet nothing, then kiss. Sigh, breath, kiss. Then repeat. Just may be the best screen kiss of all time. If you don't believe me, take a look below. Feel free to try this at home.

The stage kiss is very different from the movie kiss. The stage kiss isn't 40 feet high and in close up. These are normal sized actors (although many stage actors have heads quite large for their bodies, but that's another post entirely) and seen from ten or twenty rows back. There needs to be much more set up. The audience needs to see it coming a little. They need to feel the tension as the characters get closer. On stage the kiss has to be perfectly planned and executed to take advantage of angle and light as well as emotion and character. Timing must be perfect. Not too long, not to short. You can't "fix it in post" like they do in the movies. Hey, this stuff ain't easy.

The best actors pay attention to each other. They feed off of each other. They are professionals doing a job. You don't kiss a "co-worker" in a show the same way that you kiss a significant other on a date. Movie and stage kisses take work. Rehearsal. Usually that happens in front of a bunch of people doing other jobs while you're trying to look all Rico Suave or Pussy Galore. It's not as fun as it may sound and it definitely is not anything your life-partners should worry about. The finished product may look erotic or passionate, but believe me, getting there can be difficult.

Sometime in the 50s or 60s (okay, I just made those dates up because it just seems about right), movies and the actors in them forgot how to kiss. Kissing in the movies was better in the very early days of Hollywood. Perhaps I should say - more effective. In real life, the kiss is either the beginning of something bigger (oh, you know what I'm talking about) or so casual and commonplace it doesn't serve in your daily narrative (that morning peck as you both drive off to work). In movies, and on stage, the kiss is usually the climax to the scene. (Yes, okay, pun intended.)

After "Streetcar Named Desire" in 1951, with rare exception, everything went to shit. I blame Marlon Brando. And James Dean.  Did Dustin Hoffman EVER kiss anyone on screen? Come to think of it, did Paul Newman? Mostly, I blame Lee Strasberg. The screen kiss lost it's fantasy. Strasberg and his "Method" sacrificed romance for realism. (Again, fodder for another post.) We started to see on screen kissing become more and more like actual real life kissing. But, that is not it's purpose. The reason we go to see movies and plays, any art really, is not to have real life replayed before our eyes. It is to experience heightened levels of emotions in heightened situations. To see larger than life people deal with larger than life challenges. To experience emotions on a scale beyond that of our regular life. That is the very purpose of art.

So the message for all my actors and directors out there is this: Never underestimate this important bit of blocking. It can make or break a moment on stage or on screen. Well, actually, that's not right. It's not just for my actors and directors. I'm really telling everyone, pay attention to the kiss.  You, too, can elevate the ordinary to an art form. And.....action!