Music fans far and wide, The Listening Voice by Dominique Miniaci is a WONDERFUL new blog that chronicles great music throughout NYC. And when I say great, I mean smart, interesting, insightful, soulful, all-around artistic work by musicians who seriously rock. It is worth reading because Nique is an incredible writer, and listening to because the music is definitely worthy of a listen. You won’t be disappointed. And you will be supporting artists who deserve to be heard.
Check it out!!!
Brandon Kienzle is a writer who was a filmmaker and is now also one of our favorite artists. We love his work and wanted to talk to him about where his inspiration comes from. We’re so glad we did!!
Love+Water- When did you start writing?
Brandon Kienzle- I started writing when I was a kid. I was writing little stories, and was usually always a way to extend the Star Wars story- like about me and Hans Solo. I actually went to film school because my main focus was to become a writer/director. When I moved to LA with the intention of making films, I realized I was not a collaborative artist. So I switched my focus and moved to New York to write a novel so that I could control the project by myself.
L+W- What is your novel about?
BK- It’s about a young woman who walks away from a life as a super hero after she has a nervous breakdown and breaks out a Polar bear from the Central Park Zoo. It’s kind of split between the two of them, about these two characters learning to survive in the wild, so to speak, after being caged up for a long time.
L+W- How did you come up with these two characters?
BK- The ex-super hero is an offshoot for an idea I had for a film a few years ago. She was the sidekick to the main character. The project dropped by the wayside but she always stuck with me. Playing the role of the sidekick was something she never asked for; it was thrust upon her and one day she decided she wanted a life for herself. So with that idea, I’m interested to see if she’s able to create the life she wants for herself. My favorite part of the city is this place near the Central Park Zoo. If you stand at the right angle and look into the zoo you can see the Polar bears, and you can see them pacing back and forth, and there is something about that that always seemed sad to me. So I’ve always thought of breaking the bear out.
L+W- Your art is SO intriguing- what is your inspiration?
BK- I started doing design and image-related work a few years ago, and it was a result of beginning to write a book. It takes so much time, and I don’t always enjoy the process. I needed something creative that was immediate that I could do while I was writing. That lead into my picking up image and design work, starting with Photoshop and some photography. I did some street photography and started to play around with the images. They became slightly surreal and that lead me into doing visual things with old Victorian medical images, manipulating them and seeing what I can come up with. It has a kind of fantastical bend, and somewhat faded antique look to it.
L+W- What do you think about the concept for Love+Water designs?
BK- I think something interesting can occur when you have a paradigm to work within that you wouldn’t necessarily choose on your own. Those restrictions often create interesting creative choices. I also love the idea of doing that for something that is going to benefit charities. That doesn’t happen very often with art, so to merge the two- I’m looking forward to it.
L+W- What’s the most moving moment you’ve had with your writing?
BK- They’re easily noticed, because I have more frustrating moments with my writing than moving ones. Recently I was developing an idea for what was ultimately going to happen to my characters, and it brought me to tears. I’ve been so involved with them for so long now that I developed an attachment to them that I didn’t realize was so strong. That was really moving, and inspiring. I’ve created a kind of cinematic experience on paper with them, and that is really neat to see.
We want to share with you some of our ideas, you wonderful artistic people, for our upcoming design competitions, so that you all realize that you don’t just have to be a graphic artist to participate! We will of course have our regular design competitions, but there are a couple of sub-categories we are looking forward to implementing:
We want to have a photography category for T-Shirts, which will include regular photographs and those awesome, fun manipulated methods you amazing photographers each use in such unique ways to create works of art that blow us, and the rest of the world, away.
Oh yes, writers, poets and those of you who have something to say- stay tuned for our wordage competitions, that will challenge you to come up with words of charitable inspiration for T-Shirts. We cannot wait for this one, because we know the caliber of your minds and want to share your incredible wisdom with the world.
More to come…!
Mary McManus is a polio survivor who has turned her life around, and around, and around to accomplish what most of us only dream of doing in a lifetime. Poet, author, Blog Talk Radio show host, public speaker and marathon runner, Mary’s stories will undoubtedly inspire us all to believe we can truly accomplish anything we set out to do.
Love and Water- Can you share with us how you came to writing poetry and starting your own greeting card company?
Mary McManus- In December of 2006 I was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome. I’m a polio survivor, and as we polio survivors age we can start experiencing symptoms of fatigue, weakness, chronic pain, tremors, and difficulty swallowing and breathing. We also, as a group, are typically type-A personalities, because we are so used to pushing ourselves past our limits and we don’t always know how to say no or to pace ourselves. There was a lot of shame around polio when I was young- it was called the AIDS of its day, because there was a lot of embarrassment over the idea that we were not good enough. So we always had to prove ourselves, so to speak. I was teased a lot in gym class because I wasn’t able to participate in sports, and was limited physically. So I pushed myself mentally. In my career as a social worker, I pushed myself beyond my limits, and finally burnt out. I went to the Spaulding Rehab Hospital for Polio, and the doctor said I needed to make some serious lifestyle changes if I didn’t want to end up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. It was absolutely devastating to me because I felt like my whole world was crumbling. Not only did I feel awful, but to have someone tell me I had to quit my job was completely overwhelming. I started to meet with some therapists who were able to reflect such love and understanding back to me that I went into a short leg brace and used a wheelchair only sometimes, and I started reconnecting with God. I had a vision of God as a child when I had polio, and I felt this amazing comfort. But as I got older and was busy raising my family, I forgot about my spiritual side. So one of the first things I did while I was healing was to go within. As I was deciding what my next course in life was going to be I started to write poetry. One of the first poems I wrote was called “Running the Race.” I had no idea when I wrote this in 2007 that I was going to go on to run the Boston Marathon. I just knew in my mind’s eye that I was winning a 10k race- and at the time I wondered why I was envisioning that, but I just went with it as part of my path to healing. I started writing poetry at warped speed. I had to have pen and paper with me wherever I went, and in the morning I would wake up and there would be a poem there. They were all amazing, all about appreciation and gratitude and nature. It was incredible, and as this was happening I began to reposition myself with these new interests. My husband finally said to me, “why don’t you start your own greeting card company?” And I thought to myself, “why not?” So I did.
L&W- What is the company called?
MM- It’s called New World Greeting Cards: Original Poetry for Every Occasion, and I do customized poems for people. People basically commission me to write personalized poems for their special occasions. I do a lot of birthday and anniversary cards, and also weddings, eulogies, and anything else people may want a poem for. Most recently I wrote a poem for a woman whose dad died seven years ago and she’s now getting married. She wanted to find a way to honor him, but she didn’t want anything sappy or sentimental. So we talked on the phone for about half an hour and then she sent me as much information as she wanted about him and their relationship. I wrote it and she is very happy with it. One of my customers wanted to buy herself a gift for the New Year for inspiration, and asked me to write a poem for her. I was really touched by that, because I think that’s such a special gift to give to yourself. I was honored to write it.
L&W- You also have a book of poetry! How did that come into fruition?
MM- Soon after we created New World Greeting Cards, all kinds of events started happening that put me in the company of published authors, and I realized I had a book to write. Ironically, around that time, when I went in for my mammogram, I found out I had a tumor. I knew at that point that I was on such a good track for the first time in my life that I had to get rid of it. So I started to visualize and meditate, and when I went in to have it tested again, it was gone. It was a wake up call that I needed to continue on this new path I had found. It’s been an incredible journey. I finished my rehab, got my book published, and in 2007 I hired a personal trainer because I needed to regain strength in certain areas of my body that had really suffered. When I first started strength training I couldn’t even pass the assessment test. By February of 2008 I had made a good amount of progress, and we were talking about what my new goals were in my training, and I said I wanted to run the Boston Marathon! It was amazing to me how I had a vision of it a few years before, and it hit me in that moment that I was going to actually do it. I also knew I wanted to use it as an opportunity to raise money for Spaulding Rehab. I bought my first pair of running shoes and started my training, and one year later my husband, daughter and I crossed the finish line on April 20 and raised over $10,535.00 for Spaulding Rehab.
L&W- That’s so amazing, Mary! So inspiring. I understand you also have another book in the works?
MM- Well, I do a show on Blog Talk Radio called “It’s All About You” and I read a poem from my book, “New World Greetings: Inspirational Poetry and Musings for a New World,” on every show. My second book is with a publisher now. It’s called “Set Sail For A New World: Healing The Self Through The Gift Of Poetry.” I donate twenty percent of the proceeds from both books to Spaulding Rehab. On Thursdays I’m a co-host for a show called “City Enlightenment,’ which is about finding sources of enlightenment wherever you are. I write a poem for each show, and realized recently that I now have a third book in the works!
L&W- Can you talk about the work you do with Rotary Clubs, and how that is helping to cure polio?
MM- I speak at Rotary Clubs because Rotary International was given a grant by Bill and Melinda Gates to eradicate polio worldwide. It would only be the second disease that was ever eradicated- smallpox was the first. They donated roughly 300,000,000.00 to Rotary, and there is a matching grant for $200,000,000.00 in place. To date, we have $109,000,000.00, which is really exciting. A vaccine is only $.60, but the costs also go to getting teams together and in building teams in India, Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is rampant. Teams go in to educate the people in those countries so they understand the vaccine is safe, and could really save their lives. There are many polio survivors today who work hard to share their stories of survival so that people can better understand the effects it has on the body. Violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman is a polio survivor. He did the “Concert To End Polio” at Lincoln Center in December of ’09. He is now in a motorized wheelchair, but for this concert he came out in leg braces and crutches to illustrate to the audience of how devastating a disease this is, and that we can eradicate it. So I go to local rotary clubs to share with them my journey with polio. One of the clubs in making a donation in my honor to the End Polio Now Campaign. When Rotarians buy my book, I donate twenty percent of the profits to the End Polio Now Campaign as well. I was also the associate producer for WBZ Radio’s The Jordan Rich Show on January 10 of this year “Polio: Forgotten But Not Gone,” to bring awareness to Rotary International’s End Polio Now Campaign.
L&W- Your stories are so moving and inspiring, Mary. I’m so grateful you have shared them with us.
MM- When I speak or write an introduction for a speaking engagement I always sit back and recognize how grateful I am for what I’ve gone through and where I am today. I do a gratitude journal everyday. I’ve met the most amazing people on my journey, and am inspired by what people are doing. There is so much good news out there. And that makes me look forward to what there is to come.
Debbie Jones is a New York City artist who writes award-winning plays, has a production company with her three daughters (one being the magnificent improv coach, Samantha Jones, who was just recently featured on the L&W blog), has a collection of short stories coming out, wrote an independent film that is touring the festival circuits, and now writes for television. In short, she is what every artist imagines themselves to be at the height of creativity: an evolving human being.
L&W- When did you know you wanted to be doing what you are doing now?
Debbie Jones- I grew up in a farming community in New Jersey, and there was a big old hill in the back of the town called Turkey Hill. You could see Manhattan from there, and I knew I was coming here. I think when I was 18 it hit me, but all my life I was reminded by old chums who used to live on the block with me that I was putting on shows when I was five years old in Susan Peters’ garage. So I think it was always there but I didn’t face it until I went to college. I was very fortunate there because I ran into this old nun who was about 4’10” and close to 90 years old at the time, and I guess she recognized a fellow thespian because she gave me an enormous amount of attention and opportunities in the theater. I directed probably around 100 shows in my 20’s. That’s when it really started, I would say. That really got the ball rolling for me. I lived in the Lower East Side when I first arrived, where my daughter Samantha is doing a lot of her work.
L&W- How has the Lower East Side changed from the time you first arrived?
DJ- I’ll tell you, it’s almost the same as it was when I came here in terms of the neighborhood and culture. It has enormous freedom for artists. Artists can get lost there, and not have to play by all the rules. They can do all the pure work they want to do there. My daughter Samantha is now directing a one-woman show for her friend Penny, and it’s an extraordinary piece of work that perhaps might not be seen if it weren’t done on the Lower East Side. The community seems willing to take in and allow productions to happen. That has been alive for decades. It’s a place for people who want an opportunity and a chance, which we’re losing in New York City. You used to be able to come here and get an apartment and be comfortable enough while pursuing your art, and that really isn’t true anymore. But there is still some of that left on the Lower East Side, which is so important. There’s a lovely irony in the fact that all three of my daughters do some of their work there.
L&W- You have a production company called Dora Mae Productions with your daughters- when did you all decide to create that?
DJ- When my girls were little- my twins were in sixth grade and Samantha was in high school- it became a necessity because I really wanted to go out and do theater. They would work on the shows with me, working the door and props, and they did a good job in those years. So even though the actual production company wasn’t officially formed until 2002, we had years and years of experience working together, and now we’re full partners. We made our independent film, “The Last Christmas Party,” together, which my daughter Jeannine Jones and I wrote. We did “The Breezeway” together- a play I wrote- and we did another play I wrote called “Jeremy Rudge,” which was produced at The Mint Theater Company. Austin Pendleton and Becky Baker were in it, both of whom are brilliant actors, and I was so happy to have them. We worked on a television pilot that I directed called “6:03,” which is by Ato Assundoh. Samantha was in it along with Chuck Bunting. My other daughter, Rebecca Lally, and I collaborate on treatments for television together. Samantha and I predominantly work as director/actor. She was in “The Breezeway” and also “The Last Christmas Party.”
L&W- What projects are you working on now?
DJ- I’m putting out a collection of short stories right now. They were kind of in the shadow of my life. When I was raising my three daughters, I used to write from about 11:00 at night to about 3:00 in the morning, because that’s the only time I had. Sometimes a short story would slip out, and I realized at one point that I had a whole collection of them that had never been edited or taken care of. So that’s what I’m doing right now. We’re calling it “Tales of Wonder from the Garden State,” because they’re stories that I guess you could say have “earthy magic”- some have a Twilight Zone feel to them, and some are simply character studies. My palate is predominantly working-class people. That’s where I come from, and that’s who I write about. I would love to see “The Breezeway” on Broadway. We won some awards, and got it produced, and it would be great to see that happen. I directed “The Last Christmas Party” that is currently out on the circuit. It was a really good experience- we shot it in about two weeks and part of it was improvised and part of it was scripted. Samantha produced and acted in it, Jeannine co-wrote and co-edited and Rebecca was director of photography and co-editor. We just decided to take some of the shorter plays that Jeannine and I had written and incorporate them into this script, and then do a documentary of this party that we do every year. We couched the plays inside of the documentary, and it worked well.
L&W- When will “Tales of Wonder from the Garden State” be available?
DJ- We’re working to get agent interest, but we’re willing to publish it ourselves as well. I think when you start out in this profession you can have an idea about what you want, but I’ve gotten to a point where I understand my own work and I’ve shaken out all the notions of waiting for someone else to do it for me. I can get my work out on my own, if I can’t get it done in more formal or traditional ways.
L&W- That is very inspiring for many artists to be reminded of, and the fact that you do it so successfully is so admirable. What would you say is the most moving moment you’ve had so far in your artistic life?
DJ- Getting “The Breezeway” produced was very important to me. The play really works, and seeing audiences respond to it touches me a great deal. There’s a monologue in it that talks about the character’s brother Joey, and Samantha played that part. When she did that monologue, it really knocked me out. It moved me, because it’s a good monologue and she’s brilliant, but also because it’s about my brother Fred, essentially. In every work I always believe there is a character who is the artist, and that character was me at a certain age. The viewpoint was expressed in that character through my daughter’s efforts. That was probably the most moving moment for me.
L&W- Do you enjoy writing for film and television as much as you enjoy writing plays?
DJ- I think that the evolution from being mainly a playwright, into writing for film and now television has been a very good transition. My daughters encouraged me to make that transition and I’m pleased that I did because I used to think that writing for film meant giving up good writing. I thought it lacked language. But I see now that I can do great writing for film, and it translates so beautifully. So I’m happy about that.
Visit Dora Mae Productions
Cindy Papale is a breast cancer survivor, board member of the Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation and author of the bestselling book, “The Empty Cup Runneth Over.” She has the kind of energy that is intoxicating, which is probably how she has inspired countless women to educate themselves on breast cancer and breast health. Her website is chalk-full of information and inspiration from every angle, and she is just getting started. She has a second book and a movie in the works, all in the name of sharing her own story with others in order to educate and empower everyone about how to overcome breast cancer.
Love and Water- Can you talk about how you decided to write “The Empty Cup Runneth Over?”
Cindy Papale- The Empty Cup Runneth Over was actually written from my heart after I finished lecturing at high schools and colleges. The second year into lecturing one young girl came up to me after a talk and said she loved my talk and that she had taped it for her mother, and she suggested I write a book. It had crossed my mind, but I wasn’t sure how to put it together. After thinking about it I decided a book was necessary for the students I was speaking to in order to further educate them. The books I found on the market were, I felt, either too clinical or didn’t provide enough information, and I was moved by how passionate that young girl was to learn more. So I started to collaborate with physicians I knew almost immediately at the University of Miami Mount Sinai Hospital. I asked them to help me write informative but easy to read chapters for high school and college students. Almost all of them said yes. I wanted to break it down into categories, because there are many different stages of breast cancer, starting with stage 0 and moving into stages 1 through 4. There is also a type that is not staged, called IBC, or Inflammatory Breast Cancer, which is very aggressive. Chemo therapy is the first form of treatment for it, and not many people know about it. So I wanted to cover that as well. In fact, on my website there is a link to a woman’s story of Inflammatory Breast Cancer.
L&W- How did you feel after writing the book? What kind of response have you had?
CP- I’m very pleased with the book, and it actually made the top-ten bestseller list with the publishing company. It was a real accomplishment for me. Many people purchased it over the holidays, which is such a wonderful feeling, because it’s a wonderful gift to give to someone. My website gets around 85,000 hits a month, which is a tribute to the message I worked to get across in the book. I’m so moved by the people who contact me and tell me how much they learned by reading it. One woman sent me a picture of herself on the beach reading it, and I posted that on my website. I’m very moved by the connections I’ve made with people.
L&W- What is the most moving experience you’ve had so far with writing the book?
CP- The most moving experience overall has been knowing that I’ve touched people’s lives. People reaching out to me, telling me how much they’ve enjoyed my book and how it has helped them. One woman told me that she got a mammogram after reading the book and was diagnosed with cancer, so she felt the book actually saved her life. That touched me deeply. I sat back and I thought that if I could touch one life, I would have felt accomplished, but now I’ve touched so many.
L&W- How has surviving breast cancer impacted your life today?
CP- I believe everything in life happens for a reason, and we can choose to look at the positive lesson at hand or choose to see the negative. Surviving breast cancer has changed my whole way of life. My twenty year marriage ended, which was extremely devastating to me. I was faced being single again, with breast cancer, wondering if a man would love me again. In fact my last chapter in the book is titled, “Will Someone Still Love Me After Breast Cancer?” I was just finishing my book when my divorce took place. But I’m happy to say that my life has been consumed with so many blessings as a result. My time is filled with writing my books and helping to educate people, and they in turn have helped me get back on my feet and feel like myself again. Having had breast cancer is a gift without the bow- what I mean by that is the not-so-good part of the gift is that I lost my breasts, but the good part is being able to give back to others as an advocate. And getting brand new breasts in whatever size I wanted! But giving back is what is so wonderful for me. It’s still scary, but I’m taking each challenge as it comes.
L&W- What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?
CP- The advice I’d like to give to diagnosed breast cancer survivors is to be up front and let people know. Being diagnosed with breast cancer is not a death sentence. Losing a breast can be devastating, but one must always move forward and surround yourself with positive, loving people. You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family, and there are always certain family members who can put a damper on things, but I disregard what they say, and my family of friends makes that extremely easy for me to do. My biggest support system was my friends and my co-workers. They were amazing, and made me feel everyday like I was going to make it. That was invaluable to me.
L&W- How did you feel when you found out you had breast cancer?
CP- Well, I worked for a breast surgeon for 11 years, and both of my aunts had breast cancer, so I was already well educated on the topic. 90% of women do not have a history of it in their families, so that’s important to know and why women should be getting mammograms on a regular basis. When I heard for the first time that I was positive for breast cancer, my first thought was not whether I was going to die, but how bad do I have it. I had no complications with my surgeries, other than the emotional aspects involved, and I just took it all one day at a time. It’s so important to find a support system that helps you stay grounded, and that’s exactly what I had.
L&W- What kind of breast reconstruction did you choose? Can you talk about the options available?
CP- Sure- I waited five years before having breast reconstruction. I was afraid to go back under anesthesia, and of my body rejecting the implant. I chose saline implants, but you can also get silicone, and they have a new silicone implant that is supposed to be really amazing. I want to clarify that there is a difference between breast reconstruction and implants. Reconstruction involves reconstituting the breast, including the nipple. Implants are inserts that fit under the muscle and give you your shape back. The day I got my mojo back was the day they took the bandages off and I saw the curves back on my body! I started to cry and couldn’t wait to go shopping. My outlook on life changed, and I didn’t look at things the same way. I think it’s important to take your time and really decide what is best for you and your body. And trust yourself and your instincts on the matter.
L&W- Can you talk about the non-profit organization that you are a board member of?
CP- I’m a board member to the Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation, which helps women under the age of 30 with medical expenses who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. Kristy was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 22 and lost her battle at age 26. I read about her foundation in an article and made a point to contact Kristy’s friend, Laura. Through that I was introduced to Kristy’s parents. They told me they had found Kristy’s journal in a box, and I asked them if I could include her journal in my book, and they said yes. As a result of our wonderful meeting and collaboration, I became a board member to the foundation. It has been a privelege and an honor to serve this foundation, and they are growing little by little each year. It’s a wonderful service they provide to young women. Nothing could be more valuable.
Visit Cindy’s website and learn more about everything she does. And take a look at her Ribbon in the Sky items on Cafe Press. 15% of the profits go to the Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation.
Visit Cindy’s website here: http://www.theemptycuprunnethover.com/main2/index.php
Follow Cindy on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/#/cindypapale
Follow Cindy on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/CindyPapale
Matt Hoverman- Well, usually my classes are somewhat cyclical. I’m sure you can remember from doing your solo show that it’s often a scary thing. There are certain times of the year when people make resolutions, as in December and January, that I find more students in my classes. But I think in addition to that, since I’ve been teaching the class for nine years now, there has been enough buzz about it from people who have really benefited from it that I actually have to turn people away. I think that has to do with an increased interest in actors taking control of their careers. Earlier last year, as the economy began its downturn, I thought initially that I wouldn’t have as many students. But what has happened, as there are less opportunities in the theater, actors are taking their careers into their own hands more and more, and creating a solo show is an excellent way to do that.
L&W- Can you talk about how the class is structured?
MH- I started the class in 2001, after I had been teaching acting classes for quite a while. I always loved teaching, but the part I liked best about working with actors was when I was able to get them to tell their own stories. I had moved to New York shortly before then and was doing my own solo show work at the time. I started looking for a class to take for myself, and couldn’t find one. I’ve always been someone who learns by teaching, so I started teaching a class on creating a solo show. It was really a platform to explore the pitfalls and challenges of putting together a successful solo show.
L&W- You have had so many success stories from your students who have taken your class. Can you talk about some of those?
MH- Well you had your show accepted into the Midtown Theater Festival last year, as did a number of other students, and that’s a great way to get your work seen by the industry. There are so many great, wonderful stories of students who are brave enough to share their stories and reap amazing rewards as a result. One of my students was getting married, and her wedding planner suggested she participate in this documentary called “Manhattan Brides.” So she did, and when it was all said and done she got an e-mail saying they had changed the project to a reality show and were going to call it “Bridezillas.” What she thought was going to be a lovely interpretation of her wedding turned out to be this monstrous version of her that they had altered completely. She was publicly humiliated, and was really hurt, but decided to turn it into a solo show. She won Best Solo Show in the Fringe Festival in ’05 and got represented by a great agent, and she now has a film deal to turn it into a screen play. There are so many success stories, and a lot of times it’s that the performer just feels absolutely centered and fulfilled.
L&W- But you don’t have to be an actor to take the class, right?
MH- Not at all. A lot of the people who take the class are actors. Some of them are young and looking to discover their own unique voice. Some are older actors looking to explore their own stories and create opportunities for themselves and to show the market what they can do best. And then there are people who aren’t actors but who have a story to tell. I love working with those people, because I believe everyone has a story to tell. You don’t have to be Meryl Streep to do a solo show, and I can prove that by watching any number of students I have who aren’t actors. Their stories are often as profound and moving as the best character actors’ stories. I think there’s just a great fulfillment of finding yourself through your own story.
L&W- What would you say is the key to shaping a good solo show?
MH- One of the traps that a solo show performer can fall into is not seeing him or herself as the hero of his or her own story. I find from teaching this class that most of us tend to see ourselves as passive, so if we have a story to tell we often start to tell it in the vein of “so this is what happened to me: I was born in Cleveland and then I went to school and this girl dumped me and then I became an actor and all these things happened to me as a result,” and there isn’t a through-line. It may start out interesting at first to an audience, but then mid way through no one is sure why the story is being told. So when I teach I make sure everyone has defined and articulated what their “want” is: what it is that you’re going after in your story. What did you want at the time the story took place, and did you get it or not. When you have that as your story’s through-line then it can just fly from there. You become the hero of your own story, and the audience can identify with you. It doesn’t mean you always get what you’re after in the end, but even when you don’t the audience can and will sympathize with you. That way you’re not looking to be healed by the audience; you’re sharing a compelling story with them and providing them with a kind of entertainment that is extremely moving. It’s why people go to the theater: to identify with the characters on stage. And in a solo show, you are the character they are identifying with.
L&W- So the show essentially becomes a character piece, and that character has come out of you.
MH- Yes, when you take a tragic story and identify where you were able to triumph in it, you can tell it from that perspective and really inspire your audience. You become an active protagonist going after what you want. It’s a hero’s journey, and it’s a way for you as the performer to see yourself not as a victim of life but as a person who can take their own life into their own hands and make choices. That’s how it can be extremely empowering for the performer. Which is why it’s so fulfilling to watch non-actors do this work and not only receive a positive response from their audience, but to see them look at themselves in a new grounded and confident way.
L&W- When I took your class the one thing that I thoroughly enjoyed was the element of connecting to my own story and also connecting to the audience in such an intimate way.
MH- I went to Brown for my undergrad degree in acting and the University of San Diego Acting program for grad school. And both are amazing programs for theater, but are also very experimental. One of the things that I wanted to get back to was to create a place where people could create work that was connected to what was going on in their hearts and share that with others. So towards that end, I try to create a really safe place in the class. There are never more than six students per class, and there is only positive feedback given. (I always tell everyone in the first class that if you miss negative feedback you can always stay after class and I’ll berate you.) In my experience bringing stories out from the heart needs a place of trust and safety. And in every solo show class I’ve taught, people’s fears are always the same. They fear if they start talking about themselves no one will care, or the audience will see it as self-indulgent. But what they don’t realize in the beginning is that when an audience goes to see a solo show they want to see a human being telling his or her own story. So I need each student to feel comfortable enough to bring in any material they want so we can then shape it into a story for the stage. And that is the key to having a successful journey with your solo work.
L&W- Can students create their shows based on characters they have created outside of their own experiences?
MH- Absolutely! Many of my students create terrific character monologues from observation of others or from their imagination. But I have to say that most who have that idea when they come into class often will choose to tell their own story because they see how compelling an exercise it is. Overall, tremendous things happen to people who do solo shows. Billy Bob Thornton created “Slingblade” as a solo show and went on to win the Academy Award for the move version. Camryn Manhein, who was on the show “The Practice” had created a solo show called “Wake Up, I’m Fat” about being a plus-sized actress in the industry, and got cast on “The Practice” as a result. And the writers used many of the themes she used in her solo show for her character. So she didn’t just get cast in the role, she provided a whole point of view for it based on her solo work. John Leguizamo created a place for himself as a Latino man to play all kinds of roles. What I most want people to walk away with from my class is that there is a place for them to tell their stories. And if they never have a chance to take my class I hope that everyone gets a chance to share his or her own story in some way, because there is simply nothing else like it. It’s amazingly empowering.
Carly Frankel is a New York actor with natural producing skills and is passionate about entertainment! (That’s her in her favorite Golden Girls T-shirt!) Which is why her blog, iloveentertainmentblog.com is truly awesome. She blogs about the shows she loves, which are the shows most of us love, and all things pertaining to them. It’s one you need to check out if you like The Office, Scrubs, Glee and good stuff on Broadway. It’s good stuff!!
Love and Water- Let’s talk about your blog!
Carly Frankel- It’s called iloveentertainmentblog.com. It’s mainly entertainment news. It’s just something I love to do, so I thought it might be fun and effective to put it into blog form. I don’t watch every show, but I follow quite a bit.
L&W- Does it tie into your work as an actor?
CF- It does, although I keep my professional blog separate. But iloveentertainmentblog.com lets me dive into what I love about my profession. TV and new media and some Broadway are what I’m passionate about, so it’s inspiring to my work to write about what is going on in the field. I go to shows, I watch TV and I listen to a lot of music. And I like to know as much as I can- what pilots are shooting, who is producing, casting and directing them- and that’s useful information to people in my field. And to me. So that’s what I post, along with regular updates and fun facts I come across.
L&W- How has it helped you in your career?
CF- When I first started I wasn’t super active in my career and life, so I became super active with my blog. But now the blog has motivated me to take more classes and put my work out there, so I’m not as glued to it, which I know is a really good thing. That’s what I hoped would happen.
L&W- How many people read your blog?
CF- I don’t know exactly, but I do know at first it was just friends who were reading it and leaving comments, and I loved that my friends were so supportive. Then one day I got a comment from a woman I didn’t know who had been following the blog. And it was the best feeling! Because here I am, writing about entertainment along with so many others, and someone was actually interested in my point of view. Karen was interested in what I had to say about Glee! So that made me feel really good. It made me smile.
L&W- Are you looking forward to the Love and Water community?
CF- I think it’s a great idea to bring together a community of designers and artists and combine it with raising awareness for charities. It’s a great outlet to go to and do good by just visiting it, let alone participating in it. And I like how the blog is helping to build what will be a larger community.
L&W- I’m really excited that you’re a part of it, and I hope EVERYONE reads iloveentertainmentblog.com!