There is no golden palace.

Author's Note: I don't use this blog to talk about theatre (although I should) and this post doesn't focus on women in the theatre specifically, but it's my blog, and this is important enough to me to write about. 

The lucky thing about living in New York is the amount of amazing performances that can be seen on stage, not just on Broadway, but off-Broadway and even off off-Broadway, in experimental or lab theaters. Now. Here. This., which is currently having a developmental lab production at the Vineyard Theatre, is a prime example.

The production was written by Susan Blackwell and Hunter Bell and involves the rest of the [title of show] gang, Jeff Bowen and Heidi Blickenstaff. And if you don’t know what [title of show] is, Wikipedia that shit.

Now. Here. This. is still in the process of being developed and the performances at the Vineyard are part of the process, allowing rewriting and tweaking to occur. Most of the show is off-book, but there are parts that are not--which did not detract from the performances.

The premise of the show is about living in the intersection of…well, Susan Blackwell can say it in a more concise way: “There was this monk, Thomas Merton, who said that if you can get to the intersection of Now: this moment in time; Here: exactly where you are; This: exactly what you’re doing—if you can get to the intersection of those three things, then there’s nothing to fear and you can really appreciate your life.”

The “theatri-concert” is comprised of stories from each of the cast members, as well as mutual embarrassing stories (“hot moments”), stories about trying to fit in, and stories about conquering fears. And the stories do not mean listening to monologues for 90 minutes, but are often told through song.

To me, theatre and the theatre community is about acceptance. NHT certainly touches upon how all of the characters (and really, the actors are playing themselves much like they did in [tos]) struggle with acceptance: acceptance from their family, their peers, and ultimately, acceptance of themselves.

NHT is also about—much like [tos] was—conquering fear and allowing yourself to pursue what you really love. Slaying vampires. Realizing that you don’t need Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or an Izod polo shirt to fit in or be who you think you should be. You don’t need a golden palace to create great works. All of those ideas tie together in a way: you have to accept yourself for who you are in order to conquer your fears and create what you want to create or to do what you love.

It sounds simple when it’s written down, but it is easy to forget. There are always concerns and worries and your mind’s own vampires standing in the way of the Now. Here. This.

Don't say the c word. (Chick flick)

As much as I write about ladies I love--and I haven't even touched on a quarter of the amazing actresses out there--they could easily all be placed on an endangered species list.

We live in a male-centered entertainment world. Women will go see bromances (can we start calling them dick flicks?) or the countless action and superhero movies that Hollywood grinds out every year, yet men will not go see anything that is labeled "female" in the slightest.

Thus, as a recent Salon article mentioned, a grassroots campaign began to convince the studios that women's points of view are still worthy of being explored and yes, can be funny. Bridesmaids seems to be the golden ticket. (Although its marketing still leaves something to be desired. I recently had to correct a female friend of mine that it was not in fact, a Judd Apatow movie, but written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.)

It is well worth our time and money. Bridesmaids is not only funny, but gets the friendships and everyday ups and downs right.

First of all, Kristen Wiig's quirky awkwardness is almost more familiar to me than Liz Lemon. She carries herself with a slight slouch which any shy, tall girl possesses. Annie's mannerisms when she is forced into an social situation she's not entirely comfortable in remind me of numerous friends. Annie's ability to look down on herself because she's lost her job and is living at home is so familiar to me as I struggle to figure out my career path. She doesn't see herself worthy of a good relationship with a nice guy, which I've seen so many of my friends (and possibly myself) do. And feeling like you're losing your best friend? I think there have been moments in most people's lives where they can relate to that.

The Judd Apatow-ing of the movie--basically the addition of a food poisoning scene in a bridal salon--may have been a little extreme, but the rest of the comedy felt pitch perfect.

You don't see these movies anymore. Baby Mama is the last funny movie I can think of that featured two women as the leads. I think it's interesting that both of these films are about events that are female-centric (being a bridesmaid, having a child), but I don't think that should prevent males from finding them funny.

Don't let these movies become extinct.

From Salon:

Yes we can … buy tickets to a Kristen Wiig movie in an effort to persuade Hollywood that multidimensional women exist, spend money and deserve to be represented on film.

What's motivating this campaign is simple: Hollywood studios do not make comedies for or about women anymore. Yes, they used to. As recently as a few decades ago, when comedy stars like Lily Tomlin, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn stalked through theaters alongside supporting players like Teri Garr, Carol Kane and Madeline Kahn, bringing us movies that were sometimes sublime and sometimes disposable, but which had women at their heart. Think "Private Benjamin," "9 to 5," "Outrageous Fortune," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills"…

Salon: Seeing Bridesmaids is a social responsibility

NY Times: Can Kristen Wiig turn on the charm?

Vera Farmiga: Stop asking permission.

Vera Farmiga is one of those actresses that sneaks up on you. 

She was Oscar-nominated for her role in Up in the Air opposite George Clooney, but she's not exactly a household name. Yet. 

A few years ago, director Rod Lurie brought his film, Nothing But the Truth, (a story loosely based on the Valerie Plame scandal), to be screened at Syracuse University. Lurie mentioned that one of the stars, Vera Farmiga, was an alum and really wanted to be there, but she was pregnant and off shooting a movie with George Clooney. Such is life.

Nothing But the Truth wasn't exactly a hit, but Farmiga's portrayal of CIA operative Erica Van Doren was one of the best performances in the film in a cast list that included Alan Alda.

As a fellow SU alum, I've been following her career and would not have gone to see Source Code if she hadn't been cast in the film (as much as I enjoy Jake Gyllenhaal.)

Farmiga's role in Source Code looked small and efficient from the trailers, but I was excited to see what she could do with the part of Colleen Goodwin. The Guardian got it right when they said the littlest expressions make the character so much more than what was on the written page: “On screen, she possesses a rare combination of luminescence and a mastery of nuance, expressing internal conflict with a slight twist of the mouth; conveying a sense of deep emotion through the merest flicker of the eyes.”

Most of Goodwin's time is spent at a desk, staring into a lens, giving Jake Gyllenhaal's character orders, but whenever Farmiga was on camera, even in the background, I found my eyes drawn to her. 

Her performance is even more impressive when it turns out Gyllenhaal and Farmiga were not present in the same space while filming their scenes. It was shot much like it is portrayed in the movie, with Farmiga staring into a camera--an obstacle she had to tackle--with only the script supervisor as company or at the most, with Gyllenhaal on speakerphone, reading his lines. Yet there is an emotional connection between these characters when watching the movie, a credit to the two actors.

“That’s really what I focused on most, all the sort of psycho-spiritual energy between the two and how best to convey it when the actor is not in your presence....He [Gyllenhaal] was there a couple days reading lines off camera, but other than that it was a script supervisor and me staring into the barrel of the lens, which is extremely difficult to do for an actor that spends most of their time ignoring it,” Farmiga said in an interview with News in Film.

Despite her ability to give depth to a character that in another actor's hands might have easily fallen flat, Farmiga seems to prefer the roles she finds in the independent film world.

Farmiga feels the roles written for women in bigger studio films tend to feel watery and not as sharply edged as the ones she sees in independent movies. “They are not renderings of women as I know them,” she told The Guardian.

Partly out of her frustration with the lack of meaty roles for women, she's created her own opportunities. She recently directed and starred in Higher Ground, a story of a woman's struggle with her faith. It played at Sundance earlier this year and will be part of the Tribeca Film Festival.

“Great material always comes my way, but still, given the economy, it’s really few and far between to read those gems. It’s pretty cutthroat for actresses that are vying for those roles. So my manager gave me that advice. He was like, “What are you waiting for? Stop asking for permission,” Farmiga said.

As easy as it would be to compare the trajectory of her career to other female stars who got their first big roles in their late 30s, it seems Farmiga is comfortable with forging her own path. And I'll happily let her. 


News in Film:

The Guardian:

Best Actress Oscar: Body of work or single performance?

There's always much debate and discussion this time of year. It has nothing to do with taxes or college basketball, but rather, the Oscars.

Always hotly contested, the competition for the Best Actress statue has reached a boiling point the last couple years. Last year, it was Team Sandra versus Team Streep. This year, it's Natalie Portman versus Annette Bening. 

I spent this weekend in L.A. with a group of young women, from 22 to 33 years old, and we discussed past Best Actress Oscar winners. The funny thing is, our favorite actresses tend to be about twenty or thirty years our senior.

One of the points that was brought up was: should an Oscar be based on one performance or should it take into consideration the body of work. Typing that out, it seems silly, because Oscars are based on one performance. An Oscar nomination is for one movie, it's not a lifetime achievement award. Sometimes it's hard to remember that, though, when you take into consideration things like: Charlize Theron: one Oscar, Laura Linney: zero Oscars. Halle Berry: one Oscar, Patricia Clarkson: zero Oscars. Meryl Streep: a zillion nominations, only two Oscars. 

So even though the nomination is based on one performance, it's hard to feel celebratory when some of the greatest actresses of their generation are getting passed over for younger actresses who have, let's face it, pretty flimsy bodies of work.

As my sister said, she finds it hard to love young actresses. Why is that? Hollywood certainly loves them. They're constantly getting cast in the next big thing. 

Maybe it's like the Lady Gaga versus Madonna argument. You cannot claim Lady Gaga is the new Madonna until she's been around for thirty years and reinvented herself umpteen times. Only then I will concede that yes, she is. 

Can you claim that someone is a great actress because she gave an amazing performance in The Blind Side? Have we forgotten she was in The Lake House? Speed 2? Hope Floats? Sorry, Sandy.
On the other hand, the argument for actresses like Sandra Bullock and Reese Witherspoon and Charlize Theron would be if only those actresses who have a deep body of work were nominated and won an Oscar every year, it would be a pretty small pool. And Meryl Streep, as much as I love her, doesn't really need fifteen Oscars.
So on Sunday, I'll just try to forget about Annette Bening's performances in American Beauty and Being Julia. Although, in my mind, the swan queen will never outrank singing Joni Mitchell at the dinner table.

I won't be a chauffeur forever.

I've always rolled my eyes when an awards ceremony gets to the miniseries/TV movie portion. I'm not sure I could tell you the last quality miniseries or TV movie I watched, much less genuinely enjoyed. (And yes, I'm including HBO in that. John Adams? I love Laura Linney, but boring.)

So as always, the British are proving they're better at the genre than us Americans.

Recently, PBS Masterpiece aired Downton Abbey, a seven part series that aired on Britain's ITV network last October. The series--which may not be so mini anymore, since it got renewed for another seven episodes--is created by Julian Fellowes, who wrote Gosford Park and Young Victoria.

Downton, much like Gosford Park, explores the lives of servants and aristocrats at a country estate during the Edwardian era. 

Many probably think the Edwardian years are not far removed from the Victorian era, but quite the contrary, the show has several strong female characters, both upstairs and down.

Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery), the eldest daughter of the family that lives on the estate, does not always follow the path the aristocracy would want her to take. She turns down several potential suitors, seemingly unconcerned with fitting into society's prescriptions. It's not quite clear what Mary is searching for, someone to love her, although even once she has that, she seems to turn away from it. A complicated, but not always likeable character, it'll be interesting to see where the next season will take her.

The youngest daughter, Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown-Findlay), is a favorite of mine. The Crawley family treats their servants with respect, but Sybil seems to have an even closer bond with one of the maids, Gwen Dawson.

Gwen aspires to become a secretary and when Sybil hears of this, she helps her achieve her goal as much as she can. Gwen is already taking a correspondence course and saves up her wages to buy a typewriter. Sybil drives a horse and buggy in order to accompany Gwen to an interview in town. She also reassures her when Gwen seems to lose hope in her job search.

Sybil is also quite political, a supporter of women's rights, and she attends several meetings with her family's chauffeur, Tom Branson, who wants to be a politician. Sybil expresses an interest in canvassing, but her father forbids her to attend any more of the meetings. Of course, she does, and puts herself and Branson at risk.

Her budding relationship with Branson is very sweet and I look forward to the decisions Sybil will have to make regarding that versus what her family expects of her.

Another miniseries that aired across the pond this year is actually a reboot of an old classic, Upstairs, Downstairs. The new version was just three parts and aired after Christmas on BBC One.

It takes place in 1936, when a diplomat and his wife, Lady Agnes, move into the same townhouse occupied by previous generations of the Upstairs, Downstairs family.

Even with Dame Eileen Atkins and Keeley Hawes in the cast, the shorter series could not provide as much depth into the characters as Downton. The cinematography and 1930s costumes are quite gorgeous, though, and it's worth the three hours. Between it and The King's Speech, I'm quite enthralled with the 1930s right now.