29 September, 2011

27 September, 2011

Things I love about...Part 1

Just a few things that I love about . . .

- don’t get between my mom and a power tool
- if I didn't have Mom, I would need a personal assistant, tailor, personal shopper, therapist, home decorator, handy-man and General Practitioner.
- she is just, genuinely, fun, smart, deep and amazing, and if I met her in real life I would be desperate for her to be my best friend.
- one time, when I had a migraine, she ran me a bath and to distract me, read me the entire package of Epsom Salts with total sincerity and in quiet, soothing "migraine voice" to boot -- (e.g: "...so as you can see Al, not only is this bag suitable for migraines, constipation, and fertilizer, but if you have any questions about what I've just read to you, all you have to do is call 1-800-777-3415 in what looks like Indianapolis, and they can answer your questions between 8-8 Eastern Standard Time...").
- Catherine with a "C", like "The Great"? That is where it is at...

- how her shoes match always match her handbag (and not in the euphemistic way)
- she reads books. like me.
- is a "cat lady" too...
- has some absolutely world-class legs people. Let. Me. Tell. You.
- which is probably why she loves shoes as passionately as she does (her soon-to-be-husband even proposed to her with shoes... now that's a man who knows his lady!)
- she is scary smart.
- and understanding.
- and possesses the perfect balance of self-awareness, honesty, humility and pride in herself to be one of the most self-possessed and loving people I know.

- she possesses un.wav.er.ing love for her friends and family and has no problems showing it.
- our mutual love of the west wing
- that she says I am “with the words”
- she gets all my British postand isn't annoyed by that one bit.
- Is famous for exclaiming "OH AL!" when I do something characteristically ridiculous, or fabulous, or any combination thereof.
- Named her child DAISY. Because she "liked it!"
- is so brave
- and together
- and I am not exaggerating one bit when I tell you that Tasha Sheridan literally, in every sense of the word, saved my life. That's a friend.

- some of the greatest restaurants in the city (beer gardens galore, brick café, bareburger, ovelia, Queens Kickshaw, Greek food galore, and café after café...)
- you can walk everywhere, to anything
- incredible vintage clothing
- real people (no hipsters, no overly trendy new yorkers, just real-ass people and yes a couple of actors too but those are "my people" after all)
- kaufman astoria studios and cinema
- the museum of the moving image (there is currently a Jim Henson exhibit-- go!)
- The East River and all it brings: the astoria farmers market, outdoor river yoga, the gorgeous Socrates sculpture park, movie screenings, and the riverfront trolly...
- I mean, Why Leave Astoria? (.com...) Ever?

- that °°mlaut over the "e" is just... *so* awesome
- her gorgeous and adorable northern irish accent
- she has the most beautiful skin on planet EARTH (with NO pores— I have no idea how her skin breathes…)
- her nickname is Poe (pronounced "Po") and I don't even recall how that started
- there is nothing like watching a person grow into themselves, into their femininity, abilities, thoughts, and dreams. Zoë has the courage to do all that and then-some. I've loved cheering her on.
- I have hugged her in more cities across the world than any other friend.

23 September, 2011

Ask Al: Finding Your "Type"

Hi Alexandra,

I just read your Contemporary Speeches blog - and it was very informative. I have also found finding contemporary speeches really difficult... classical seems easier.

I'm more concerned with "type." How do you really find out your type? And I mean a specific type (like the example you gave of Meg Ryan versus "just the ingenue"). 

It's something that I'm really trying to figure out, especially with graduating Stella Adler this year. I've been trying to figure it out myself, and I'm getting somewhat closer - but a concrete description is the key.

Thanks so much, I really appreciate your help!


* * *

Dear L,

Right. The truth is, there is no formula for this and no one can help you with it but yourself. And, it is always evolving. Growing. Your type is in constant flux because we are always, growing, changing, becoming older, wiser, more cynical, less cynical, fatter, smarter, etc. Frank Langella says "it is incredibly important to constantly re-envision yourself as an actor, to constantly keep up with your own changes. A 60 year old matinee idol is a not only a joke but is unbelievable and embarrassing. Losing your hair? Gaining weight? Getting older? Change yourself. Consciously. "He's right. Not only is it exciting to constantly re-invent yourself, but think of all of the things a young actor gets to look forward to: not just fantastic ingenues but the mature characters of Cleopatra, Blanche DuBois, Fagin, Mama Rose, and King Lear. Wonderful!

Think about it with yourself. Perhaps write it down. Do a few jottings in a journal, or whatever allows you to see your thoughts most effectively. I believe first and foremost it is important to ask yourself what YOU think you do well. Does classical material roll off your tongue? Do you find it easy to access a feeling of a certain period? Is there a side to you that is easily aristocratic? Is there a side to you that is easily bohemian? Nerdy? Stoic? Can you really get inside the body of a drug dealer or a prostitute-- (I have a friend who, incidentally, has never played anything in her professional life other than a prostitute)? Get in touch and get REAL with yourself. There is a business side to this industry and an artistic side, and both have their place, business is

Examples from my life:

I find it extraordinarily easy to play arty boho characters.
And highly intelligent characters.
And kooky weirdo characters.
And period pieces.
And sexy people.
And shy people.
And reeeeeaaaaallllly sincere people.
And psychologically damaged people.
And children.
And neurotic Americans.

I cannot, do not ask me, do not send me in for "contemporary girl about town" characters (without a LOT of work) because I will look like an IDIOT. I won't go. Don't ask me. It is someone else's job. Believe me. If I have enough time to work on something, of course I could manage it with time, but I'd be, as they say, "playing against my type." (Incidentally, something else I never thought I would do is "rough" or "blue-collar" or "tough" characters, I find that really challenging to access and it was interesting to do my most substantial television role on Law & Order: Criminal Intent in exactly such a type).

Which brings me to my next point. Your type has a lot to do with what comes very naturally to you. "stretching yourself" as an actor and achieving versatility is something you should do in your training and later on in your career when you feel you know your craft better (this is just my personal opinion). Stretching yourself is about the skinny girl playing Falstaff in the safe classrooms of Juilliard, about the 19 year old playing Dr. Dorn at Guildhall. Alternatively, it is about Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan because she is Cate Blanchett and she has (deservedly) achieved a status within the artistic and industrial world of acting, and the public want to see HER act in as many ways as they can. I'm generalizing, but you see where I am going with this. Even Simon Callow and Blythe Danner and Ian McKellan have their "types".

To use a few examples from my own experience, I will add this: when I was in college, I NEVER never ONCE played an ingenue. There was a girl in my year named Siobhan who was "small" and "sweet looking" and I looked like her MOTHER... and guess what? That is pretty much exactly what I played for the majority of my career in college. Mothers. And the maid. And Electra. And Helen of Troy at 40. And in one show I played 8 men and a puppet.

...Because being at Drama School (through no fault of it's own) is like being in a VERY small Rep company-- you have the people that do X and the people that do Y, and the people that do the weird anal characters and the people who can get away with giving the "old people" to.

Sometimes people are given "stretching" roles to work on in production (I found Varya in The Cherry Orchard a particular challenge in my first year when I was learning all about "less is more"-- that is a perfect example of RSAMD giving me a wole against my type to challenge me. I am would pin myself naturally as an, admittedly young, Ranyevskya or Arkadina "type")-- but more often than not, the stretching occurs in the classroom. Which I think is good; a safe place to experiment.

Life at school can feel very small, and situations like that can force you to view yourself against other people in your group, not against other people in the whole of the world. Guess what my first job was? An ingenue. As ingenue-y as it gets-- Laura Fairlie. Yes, the dark American girl played quintessential blond English girl and the rest is history. My next job? A Jewish ingenue. The one after that? A New-English ingenue. ... do you see where I am going with this? For ages, I pitched myself as "older," when the world saw me as I really was -- YOUNG. What is great is that by the time those slightly older roles come around I will be more than ready. These three incredible characters also have another thing in common... which brings me to my next little point...

I AM FUNNY. You are reading this blog, you know that. I am funny people. Anyone want to write a letter or two to a casting director out there? I am funny and I even won the RSAMD "Best Comedic Performer" award when I graduated. I AM FUNNY AND I HAVE BEEN CRYING FOR MY ENTIRE CAREER. Watch this space. A comedy better be next or I might actually dissolve in my "deep well of sorrow" (as a certain accent coach once put it).

But what I mean by all this kerfuffle is this: sure, there is a lot that I can do, and I fit a few different "types," but Young and Sad are what I'm working right now. In many ways, I'm making it a specialty and selling it because that is what it is about at the end of the day. And I'm not complaining. Well I am a little because I spend a lot of money on mascara. But in the long run, I'm fine with it. Does that make any sense? "Embrace it," is the message.

So, back to you: when you read a piece and can actually feel the words in your mouth, when you watch something and think "I can do that with my eyes closed" then you are getting closer. This has nothing to do with what an actor looks like, it has to do with what they ARE like. I wish you the best of luck, and I hope this is helpful. I know it is vague, but it is an art, not a science. Self-awareness is an actor's most potent and powerful tool.

All the best!

Al x

PS) If you are a person who is capable of discussing yourself with others and not becoming emotionally involved then by all means ask people what they think, but be prepared for some shock. Asking people what they think is like seeing yourself as unflattering in a photograph everyone else sees as perfectly normal, or listening to your voice on a tape. It can be a shock, so be prepared for that. You've been warned.

15 September, 2011

The Gastronomic History of Grigory Alexievich

Grigory Alexeyevich was born outside Yaroslav, and raised in a military household of three children, the only son of a First Class Major Alexey Pavlovich and his devoted wife Anna Pavlovna. His father was a great lover of food, and his mother a consummate cooking virtuoso. Thus, from the inception of Grisha's life (for Grisha is what he was called even into well into his young-manhood), within the remote walls of a house in Yaroslav, his lifelong love affair with food began. And what a love affair it was. Oh Russian cuisine! He thought. How you derive your rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of the Motherland!

It was true. The food of his ancestors had foundations laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, and had nuzzled its way into the folds of Grisha’s heart. It was this wondrous combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey; the crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet that provided the ingredients for the sensational plethora of breads, pancakes, and cereals, the crisp and refreshing kvass, beer, and vodka; all of which filled his belly and his soul with a rapturous satisfaction. 

When Grisha was a boy, his mother fed him and his sisters Syrniki garnished with honey, and apple sauce. She prepared whole fowl dishes baked on a baking tray in a stove called a zharkoye[1], and taught them to make Smetana, a key garnish made from the souring of heavy cream. The children filled the kitchen like cherubs, golden-curled and floating, each taking their turn licking the sour spoon.

His father was an austere man, with favorites like Studen (sometimes called Kholodets), which were jellied chopped pieces of pork or veal meat served just the way he liked it with major amounts of spices like pepper, parsley, garlic, and bay leaf, and minor amounts of vegetables. Even to this day, the smell of jellied pork always reminded Grisha of his father, with his rugged jaw, his upright posture, and his stern but twinkling eyes. Indeed, Alexey Pavlovich was a solider to his core, and went by The Major even in his own home. He recommended a strict diet of well-prepared meat, and he liked it boiled in large pieces for long periods of time. Once it was chopped in to pieces, he would have it boiled again and finally allowed it to rest for three or four hours while it formed a jelly mass.

Studen was always accompanied by a flavorful soup or stew of some description, which usually centered on seasonal or store-able produce, and served hot or cold. Cold soup was a favorite of Grisha’s, but when it came to the concept of cold soups, Eva couldn’t quite get behind it.  Savory flavors didn’t settle well with her when served chilled and smashed, they tasted harsh and kind of squeaky. They lacked the fullness of body and rich aroma of their hot counterparts. Moreover, it just felt suspicious to slurp cold fluid from a spoon! Cold liquids, this part of her argued, should be sipped from a glass[2]. Which is why, when Grisha suggested a recipe for a traditional chilled parsnip soup, she nodded her approval with the vaguest enthusiasm.

But then there was Shchi. Oh Shchi, he thought. Shchi was his favorite cabbage soup, and pleased both halves of the couple completely. Shchi was warm and hearty and had been the main first course in Russian cuisine for over a thousand years.  It included several ingredients: cabbage, meat, carrots and parsley roots, spicy herbs (onions, celery, dill, garlic, pepper, bay leaf), and finally, sour components (green apples, cabbage, pickle water). But the unique taste was derived from the fact that after cooking, it was left for hours to draw in a Russian stove[3], and when the soup was served, smetana (produced by souring heavy cream) was served in an artful dollop on top, and the lot was eaten with a chunky piece of rye bread. Although Grisha’s tastes had changed over the years, shchi steadily made its way through his life in several epochs, constantly evolving to fit his tastes and economic status, knowing no social or class boundaries. Even if when rich he had richer ingredients, and when poor he made it solely of cabbage and onions; all his "poor" and "rich" variations were cooked in the same tradition. It was gastronomic perfection, and could be eaten regularly, and at any time of the year[4].

When Grisha finally went off to the military academy (and indeed became Grigory Alexeyevich), he recalled polishing off hearty porridges and cereals for breakfast, and at lunch, the school served various boiled meats that were then baked with root vegetables. Sometimes the meat was garnished with pickled products like sauerkraut, soaked apples called mochoniye yabloki, and cranberries. Even in the army he made the most of the traditional peasant Russian cuisine. He had missed his high-spirit family at the Academy, and longed for them now. Since the untimely demise of the Major, relations had eased, but his Jewish bride was still a thorny topic of consternation with his mother and sisters despite multiple attempts to quell them. He longed for the days the three children would pretend to make their very own “magical potions” alongside their mother as she prepared a traditional soup. How The Major would lead the feasting! How they would dig in! How the family loved to devour Mama Anushka’s latest offerings!

To gather. To converse. To eat.


1 from the word zhar (жар) meaning, heat)
2 Cold soups are not, sadly, much like today’s milkshakes.
3 The "Spirit of shchi" was a description of the essence of the dish that was inseparable, and constantly remained in the atmosphere of a Russian izba (log hut).
4 During much of the year when the Orthodox Christian Church prescribes abstinence from meat and dairy, vegan versions of shchi are made that Eva found much more culturally “palatable” in every sense of the word.

07 September, 2011

Things I love about Michigan

I'm going back today-- "far away from haaaarm. With a milk pail on my arrrrrrm...." Here are just a few things I love about The Glove.


Most people have a built-in Michigan map. (have you taught James Earl Jones the "Glove Love" handshake...? Um... because I have. He loved it. HE GLOVE LOVED IT...)

Michigan is the cradle of the Industrial Revolution!

The 'Motown Sound' and the 'Motown Era' are major landmarks in musical history.

Michigan celebrates Fat Tuesday with jelly doughnuts (aka Paczki)

I need everyone to just breathe: Big Beaver Road. Believe it.

Toll free expressways

The "Michigan U" turn--this is a right turn onto a boulevard followed by an immediate u-turn at the next available crossover. (This keeps traffic from backing up at intersections with boulevards.)

"Euchre." What the hell is that you ask? Well that is a card game which is popular in Michigan and seemingly, no where else. (Oh alright, perhaps parts of Ohio. Fine.)

U-pick blueberries
U-pick peaches
U-pick apples
Mushroom hunting!
Roadside stands for fruits and veggies.
and, of course,
Cherries (Traverse City is The Cherry Capitol of The World doncha know!)

The Whistle Stop
Greek Islands
Max and Erma's

Michigan Products:
Better Made Potato Chips
Michigan maple syrup
Kilwin’s Ice Cream and Fudge: Look. They make their own waffle cones (need I say more?) which are definitely the best I’ve had. Kilwin's waffle cone with Mackinaw Island Fudge ice cream? ...You can then die.
Sander's Hot Fudge.... ohmygoodnessgoogleitrightnow

The Detroit Zoo (especially the breath-taking butterfly exhibit)
Cranbrook's Greek Theatre, Planetarium, and institute for the arts. Heaven.
of course - Interlochen Center for the Arts
The Henry Ford Museum
and Greenfield Village
The Detroit Institute of Arts - voted the most "visitor friendly" Museum in. the. country. Wow! Go.
The Franklin Cider Mill

Special Places:
Two words: Mackinac Island (If you seek it, you can still find the original quaint and old-world charm of beautiful Mackinac Island - especially if you stay overnight.)
and Mackinac Island fudge
Taquamenon Falls (a.k.a. "Root Beer Falls).
The Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes

Breathtaking nature and beauty throughout the state.
Lakes. So many lakes (and the whole lake culture *thing.* )...
Lots of camping and places for outdoor activities.
Unbelieveable clouds, almost every day.
Michigan has more lighthouses along its shorelines than any other state!
Sunsets you will never forget...

And I think this says it best. So say Yes to Michigan!

04 September, 2011

Letting it go...

Did you know that Sophie is a derivative of Sophia - derived from σοφία, the Greek word (and philosophical concept) for "Wisdom?" Well. There are no coincidences. Oh Soph, how your wisdom took me, took all of us, in fact, by surprise...

Sophie DePalma has been in my life since November of 2009. Believe it. I just checked through my emails. I first heard and learned "Ah, Non Credea" on a trip back from London when I was still under the impression that I lived there and would be "right back."

Remember that?

And remember when I was late for the audition because I accidentally locked myself in the utility closet? And remember singing "What's The Use of Wonderin'?" followed by the aria, all for Terrence and Stephen and the rest of the Kennedy Center team, and then, in a rush of nerves and nerdiness admitting that you learned the thing from YouTube?

And do you recall walking out of the audition and wanting it so badly but knowing that you had just locked yourself IN A CLOSET and that things were looking a little grim?

And how you met with Kevin Emrick (portentously outside of Manhattan Theatre Club) when you found out that you had, in fact, as if by magic, somehow gotten the job and you celebrated with pickles and matzoh ball soup because suddenly the next few months of your life made some sense?

That was before Washington.
Before the Terrence McNally Triptych.
Before I had really come to grips with "what had happened in London."
Before the first time I fell on my knees with Tyne, Jeremy, and Stephen, rehearsing the aria ... 
Before singing at Terrence and Tom's wedding.
Before staying in Tyne's apartment.
Before committing to making New York City my home.
Before Broadway.
Before I, or perhaps anyone else, even knew that Sophie was going to mean, to be, far more than simply fun.

The day we meet Sophie, she has a great deal to prove--to the Juilliard faculty. To her classmates. To that ex-boyfriend we know nothing (and everything) about. To the girl he walked away with. 
But today, all of that is secondary. Today Sophie has everything to prove to herself
And when I first met Sophie, so did I.

I believe that every one of us, no matter what we do, or how well we seemingly do it; no matter our status, security, the number or depth of relationships-- every single one of us fears that we are Not Enough.

And so, in a series of attempts to be "enough" we add to ourselves--  we wear the wrong thing, talk too much, give too much, are too much, because we don't realize that the only way to be? Is to simply Be.

And there Sophie is-- emotionally poverty-stricken and in the wrong outfit. She is overly solicitous, eager and cute, and full of inappropriate one-liners, all in attempt to beg for a scrap of love. . . Sound familiar?

That said, I also believe this: we all possesses a kind of greatness inside of us. Something-- no matter how miniscule it may seem with our own judgmental gaze upon ourselves, it is there. It may be locked away-- tied up with chains inside a cage of self-doubt, imprisoned in anxieties and crushed by fears. But it is there: waiting, surging with a kind of ancient longing. It is holding on for the day you find the courage to burst through.

The truth is, so few of us ever do. That is okay. That is allowed. But when it happens, it is a trans-formative, deeply miraculous thing. 

The day we meet Sophie? She does it.
It happens.
That miracle.

Callas demands "juice, passion," Self from Sophie. Callas' techniques may be clumsy, violent, harsh, oddly caring and sensitive, definitely unpredictable, and probably accidental, but it doesn't matter. What they find together touches upon the wisdom derived from that ancient longing. Sophie gets it. And both are transformed. Or shall I say, all are transformed? Yes. I think that is accurate, for we all take that journey with them. I know that I shall never be the same myself.

Perhaps that is why I love Sophie DePalma so much-- hers is a tiny story, but one as old as the world. A story of hope.

"They should teach us a lot of things they don't."

Life is ephemeral. So is the theatre. We cannot hold it in our hands. We all love that which vanishes. The play must end. The company shall disband, life will march on.

So here's to you, Sophie, and all others like you.
It has been my honor to tell your story.

Remember the links.
Remember a pencil,
and above all, remember,

"It's all there, Sophie. These composers knew the human heart. All we have to do is listen..."

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

  -  Mary Oliver



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