Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category

Service of It Never Gets Old

Thursday, August 17th, 2023

A young receptionist at the eye doctor’s office this week and I had a good laugh. I commented that the doctor had downgraded the pens with the medical group logo that patients are urged to take. She said he didn’t like the other ones because they “looked old-fashioned.” [Photo below.] I wondered, in a whisper, if he’d observed the average ages of his patients! I thought the faux blue glass of the original ones looked elegant and unusual for a giveaway. The all-plastic, while sleek, looked and felt ordinary.

I’m probably the wrong person to write this post because even in my 20s I loved antiques. The thought that someone over 300 years ago had placed his elbow on my 17th century tavern gateleg table was thrilling. Still is.

I am surprised at how popular vinyl records have become [while I count on YouTube and WMNR through my laptop for music]. Ben Sisario reported October 2021 in a New York Times article updated in June of this year that in the first half of the year there were $467 million sales in the U.S. –17 million records. In this period, according to the Recording Industry Association, wrote Sisario, revenue from CDs was $205 million. Nevertheless, streaming accounts for 84 percent of revenue.

Snoopy has been around since 1950 when Charles Schulz introduced us to him. He’s always been a favorite of mine and millions of others. Mr. Schulz has been gone for 23 years yet his Instagram handle, @snoopynoofficial, has 35,200 followers and generates 2,600 likes per post. In my apartment the Peanuts gang is on a monthly wall calendar as well as on a daily calendar. The characters never get old.

Three years ago, Audrey Hepburn was the subject of a documentary. Joanne Woodward is still with us but no longer acting. Nevertheless, Ethan Hawke directed a documentary about the professional lives of Woodward and her husband Paul Newman last year. And the Lady Gaga/Tony Bennett collaboration was a joy to watch.

The subhead of Margaret Roach’s New York Times article “Why Are People Still Pressing Flowers? It’s a Form of Storytelling” is “For 500 years, we’ve documented the science and beauty of the natural world by pressing plants. It’s a tradition that anyone can join.” The article ran yesterday.

In a society that worships all that’s new, have you noticed new lives for things and people long gone?

Service of I Love All Creatures Great and Small

Monday, January 31st, 2022

I fully expected not to like the remake of the PBS series “All Creatures Great and Small,” because I so loved the original that I saw in the late 1970s. But I love it! And I’m thrilled that we can expect to enjoy seasons three and four.

In the day I’d also read the books, written by veterinarian James Alfred Wight under the pseudonym James Herriot. The first in a series of eight was “If Only They Could Talk,” published in 1970. “All Creatures” was a compilation of a few titles for the American market. The series has sold over 60 million copies.

“All Creatures” takes place in the Yorkshire Dales from the 1930s Depression to the 1950s. The actor Rachel Shenton, who plays Helen Alderson,  James’s love interest, [and wife eventually], is natural and understated, pictured in oversize overalls pitching hay and mucking around her family farm. No glamour girl here. Her straight arrow, clean, no artifice persona is representative of the show and what’s so appealing about it, the other characters, the sets, countryside and animals.

Rachel Shenton as Helen Alderson

Harriet Sherwood, arts and culture correspondent for the guardian.com wrote: “American viewers are enthralled by its bucolic setting, the small, everyday dramas and its old-fashioned sense of community. And, of course, the animals.” She wrote that the series “has become a surprising hit in the home of fast-paced thrillers and warring dynasties.” Like other British shows like Downton Abbey and Bake-Off it has “shown US audiences that sex, violence, celebrities and swearing are not essential to success,” wrote Sherwood.

The actor who plays Siegfried Farnon, Samuel West, said in a podcast, “It’s strangely revolutionary to be making a series about people trying to be kind to each other.” Executive producer Colin Callendar told Sherwood “A combination of the pandemic and the very uncivil society that we live in the US has meant the simple values of community, friendship and kindness have got lost in a very ugly political debate. The show serves as a relief from the stresses and strains that people are feeling right now.” It covers human frailties and flaws that exist in every decade and in most societies.

Guardian reporter Mark Lawson, who writes about television, said: “It goes back at least to the 1960s. British viewers who find British television too cosy have craved the edge of American television, and American viewers who find American television too edgy have craved the cosiness of British TV.”

Dice and slice the reasons I and others like it as much as you want: It’s a joy to look forward to watching the program on PBS at 9 PM eastern on Sunday night. What are some of your favorite series regardless of subject and country of origin?

Callum Woodhouse as Tristan Farnan, left, and Nicholas Ralph as James Herriot


Service of Say What? Inadvertent Impressions Businesses Make

Thursday, July 12th, 2018

It’s not hard to find businesses that mean well but do their customers or themselves little good with their marketing efforts.

The Grass is Greener….

I couldn’t stop the car last weekend to snap a shot of a scruffy looking property with a small sign on the remarkably unkempt grass that promoted a lawn care business. Made me sad for the business.

Divorce Auction Style

A postcard advertising a “Divorce Liquidation Auction” would have done well to omit the words “Have Fun.” “Fun” didn’t go with the headline that indicated that two people had to sell their belongings due to an unfortunate situation. On the reverse side of the card we read that the couple had been married 20 years and had travelled a lot. I know: I’m thin-skinned, but when I saw the card I envisioned vultures circling a carcass looking for spoils. Not fun.

Warning: Read But Don’t Look

Our 2018 Malibu flashed a warning on the dashboard screen. I took my eyes off the road to see that it said “Taking your eyes off the road too long or too often could cause a crash resulting in injury or death to you or others. Focus your attention on driving.” Struck me funny.

I have driven the car since May, and find that the over-sensitive screen is a dangerous distraction as well. I barely touch it and something changes—like my favorite radio stations. I end up with links to three of the same instead of the selection I’d originally made.

I’ve given up using the address book transferred to the car from my mobile phone. As I scroll through the names with my finger touching the screen as gently as possible, I must press too hard because I mistakenly call two to three people before tapping the person/number I want to call.

I’m also fearful that General Motors and probably the world now have all the phone numbers of everyone I know or knew.

Head-Scratcher

Actor Sofia Vergara plays Gloria Pritchett on the TV sitcom “Modern Family” on ABC and also stars in Head & Shoulders shampoo commercials with her son Manolo and other family members. I like that she gets Proctor & Gamble to include her relatives but the twist in the current commercial is mean. Vergara exclaims how soft Manolo’s hair is, runs to wash hers and then shoves herself on to his chair and takes over. A mom that steals a scene from her kid: Not funny and gives the wrong impression. And I don’t think Vergara is a nasty person.

What marketing slipups or miscommunications have you noticed lately?

Service of No

Monday, March 11th, 2013

I interviewed a crack salesperson and a busy, flourishing actor to discover how they seem to be unaffected when they hear “no” in the course of their day.

If, like me, you consider the hardest part of the new business search the dusting oneself off from a harsh “no,” you, too will also be interested in learning how they motivate themselves to do what I consider the second hardest part—the follow up after the initial outreach.

A Good Deal

“I used to take ‘no’ personally,” Vicki Noble** told me, “but I don’t anymore.” [**This is not her real name.]

She’s been in the fashion business for 30 years selling embellishments, such as buttons, buckles and labels—even distinctive packaging that she designs–to manufacturers and retailers. The companies she represents are part of a team that a designer assembles to distinguish lingerie, shirts, dresses, sweaters—you name it. “Details are a critical part of a brand,” she’ll tell you.

“Most often,” said Noble, “the reasons people don’t want to give me a hearing and my sample books a viewing has nothing to do with me. Some are happy with the status quo and their current vendors. I understand loyalty. Yet they don’t realize that they owe it to their brand to see what’s new and out there. Others don’t want to rock the boat in this shaky economy. You can’t blame them; it’s not a good time for risk-taking.”

Do you go back if someone says ‘no?’

“You always go back because a manufacturer or retailer might suddenly be unhappy with their current supplier. You don’t want to be so annoying that a potential client sees your email and hits ‘delete.’

“I communicated with a woman who works for a major brand who asked if I represented any company that made ornamentation in Bangladesh. I didn’t at the time. I recently followed up to tell her about a company that was setting up there and she invited me in for a meeting.”

How many times do you follow up after hearing “no?” “You never give up.”

Are you by nature a hopeful person? “Yes. You have to be hopeful in life. If you’re not, what is there?  Don’t get me wrong, I get discouraged, but it only lasts for so long.”

How do you get yourself to pick up the phone to follow up when you are not in the mood? “A lot of communication is done via email rather than by phone these days so if you don’t hear back, which happens most of the time, no harm done and if the answer is “no,” an email often muffles a rejection. Everyone is so busy but people do read emails. Have you noticed how people never put down their phones?”

The Show Goes On With or Without You

MoniqueSanchez1Next I spoke with Monique Sanchez, an actor.

When you hear “no” what makes you go on?  “In terms of acting, you don’t hear ‘no’ very often; you just don’t hear anything. It’s not personal. If they are not interested in you they have decided well before you open your mouth. It has little to do with your talent.

“I grew up in a Cuban family with two brothers. My entire life my parents told me I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl. Basically when you tell me ‘no,’ I take it as ‘You want to bet?’ I’ve learned early on, not only can I do it, I have to do it better than the boys.”

If a director and/or casting director has previously rejected you, are you reluctant to return for an audition? “Usually it’s not a problem unless something has happened to make it one, such as if they go out of their way to be nasty.

“I had an audition for Dracula. When I walked in the director made a comment about my height which I’ve learned means I’m not a contender. Ten seconds into the monologue he interrupted me and asked me to tell a joke, which I had to come up with on the fly. Then he asked me to recite movie quotes from memory. I knew he wasn’t’ going to hire me, he just wanted me to entertain him. I won’t return for an audition if that person is involved.

“However if a director gives me good feedback, I’ll surely go back.”

Monique Sanchez2Do actors follow up? “You are supposed to follow up because directors meet so many actors daily. Actors have the narcissism to think they are special and that they stand out but you need to follow up. It’s important to show that others want you –the people you consistently reach out to will want you too.

“Following up is time-consuming, like another job. Most directors don’t want to get email; they want a postcard which includes a headshot with info like ‘This is what I’m working on….I’d love to come and read to you sometime.’ They prefer that you don’t call unless they establish that you can.”

Are you an optimistic person? “Normally yes, though too many unfortunate things have happened to me in the last five months.”

In sales and acting, following up by telephone seems to be largely off the table while it’s part of what I must do with media a business prospects.

Do you prefer to be emailed or called in follow-up? What do you think is the most effective way to sell yourself, a product or service–phone, email or direct mail? How is it in your industry? Have you developed techniques that help you accept “no” gracefully so you can move on right away?

Service of Live Performance Bonuses

Monday, March 4th, 2013

We were at an American Symphony Orchestra concert at Bard College near Rhinebeck, NY on a recent weekend when a woman approached us from the row behind to tell us she was glad we were back in our original seats.

For a moment I felt I was in school where I knew kids in the grades ahead of me and almost nobody behind: I’d never before seen the woman, though I recognize many subscribers who sit in the seats in front of ours.

I was flattered that she noticed us and appreciated that she spoke. I forget sometimes that I’m not the only one who looks around.

The other week I went to see Monique Sanchez [below, right] in “Kennedy’s Children,” by Robert Patrick, on West 44th Street, inches from Times Square, in a space designed like a bar decorated for Valentine’s Day. Patrick’s play opened in 1973 to an audience fresh from the 1960s which he captured in his characters—one worshiper of JFK and one of Marilyn Monroe, a protest-follower, a Viet Nam soldier on drugs and an actor who accepted every role regardless of how outrageous [i.e. an underwater play].

The audience sat at tables around the room—we munched on popcorn refilled at intermission and sipped [free] soft drinks from the bar–and actors mingled as they spoke their lines, sitting in the chairs reserved for them, speaking with members of the audience.

There was open seating and the hostess sat me next to a woman who turned out to be an actor and acting instructor. We sipped ginger ale, learned a bit about each other, over intermission chatted about the actors and characters and again, as we gathered our things to leave, about the play. As a result I enjoyed the evening even more.

Sanchez, a 21st century actor to watch, was the Marilyn Monroe devotee stung by the star’s untimely death in 1962 who, like hundreds of others, hoped to take her place on the world stage. She transformed herself into a vamp increasingly sinking into an alcoholic stupor fed by disappointment and disillusionment–a character nothing like the solid, responsible person I know. [You can see Sanchez in a Belle Époque farce by Georges Feydeau, “Flea in Her Ear,” March 15-March 23 at the Producer’s Club.]

Have you made propitious acquaintances at live performances—one of the bonuses?

 

Service of Humor II

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

carmenlynch1

I heard Carmen Lynch [above] at Carolines on Broadway a few weeks ago. I thought hers was the best standup of four we heard at this year’s New York Women in Communications Foundation “Ladies Who Laugh!” fundraiser at one of the city’s best comedy clubs. I don’t know any comedians. What a treat that she agreed to answer some questions!

I was intrigued by a comedian who writes and performs material for her sets in Spain, where her mother’s from, as well as for US audiences, and for tough New York City ears, where she’s headquartered, as well as Virginia viewers, where she’s from, and other places too. My father was French and there were times we didn’t “get” each other’s humor.  I might be doubled over in giggles and he’d stare at me without a smile, which would make me laugh even more [and annoy him].  Conversely, he’d be struck by something that went right over my head.

Not to get too serious, performers, writers,  agency and sales people will recognize her challenges and appreciate her approach and reactions. If you give presentations, check out her discussion of performing for audiences who stare back.

What kind of humor would an American audience find funny that a Spanish one wouldn’t? (Or vice versa).

This is a great question but there’s no easy answer. When I did a comedy tour in Spain this past February, I was pretty happy (and a little surprised) that most of my jokes, after translating them into Spanish, worked. I was worried that I’d lose the joke in the translation, or that they just wouldn’t get me.

But most did work, and as expected, some didn’t. I do a joke about calling my sponsored child in Bolivia “my daughter” (that’s not the entire joke but that’s the gist of it) and it never got a strong laugh. I tried it in a few different cities in Spain and it wasn’t going anywhere so I dropped it.

But you learn that it’s nothing personal. I didn’t notice nearly as much sarcasm in comedy out there as we have here, either. So the “simpler” jokes (for lack of a better word) worked best.

The stand-up scene in Spain is much newer than it is here in the US. We have so many comedians here and comedy has been around for so long that jokes here just feel a little more specific. We have to push a little harder with our humor to be noticed.

Are there some topics that would tickle both American and Spanish funny bones?

carmenlynchperformI think universal topics work anywhere, like dating, having kids, recently married, etc. Also, if you have a particular attribute that the audience can see (being tall, balding, bright red hair) then most audiences will probably relate to you in some way, even if they don’t have that exact attribute.

What about Virginia vs. NYC audiences?

Comedy is different everywhere – not just in different states but different venues. Funny is funny, but there are differences anywhere you go – even performing in Manhattan vs. Brooklyn. It can also depend on whether you’re performing at a club vs. a bar, for older crowds vs. younger ones, smaller crowds vs. larger crowds.

I love New York audiences because they’re open-minded and you can pretty much say anything. Everyone in the audience (here in NY) grew up in a different place, so people are very open to different types of comedy.

You can get a completely different reaction to something in a small town which is fine too, because as a comic it’s best to get used to all audiences.

What subjects do you favor/find funny and have these changed over the years?

When I first started standup I got most of my material from obvious topics (“write about what you know”)….like being tall or having a Spanish mother.

I might talk a little more about what’s going on in my life now. Hopefully I’ve become a little more self-aware so I might dive into more psychological stuff or what I heard someone say on the train and analyze that.

I still get material from visiting my family in Spain (or talking to my nieces – what kids say is always funny).

Instead of leaving a topic after getting a joke or two, I try to stay with it and see what else I can pull from it. Sometimes there’s nothing else and sometimes you can go a little deeper. A lot of times it just depends on what’s going on in my life at that time.

As you write your own material where do you come up with the best?

It can happen anywhere. I might force myself to sit at Starbucks and something will occur to me that I think has potential, or I’ll be on the train on the way to a show and it just hits me there. Sometimes as I’m falling asleep I’ll think of something funny and I’ll have to get up because I know I won’t remember it the next day.

Everyone has their own method.

I usually carry a little notebook but now with technology the way it is, you can just write a new joke idea into your phone or record it. Sometimes I’ll come up with a great punchline but I have no set up, so I keep the joke idea until I can find a good home for it.

Who are some of your comedy favorites?

Dave Attell, Louis CK, Todd Barry, Bill Burr, Nick Griffin, Judy Gold, Wendy Liebman. There are others but those come to mind now.

What do you do to wake up an audience that stares back at you and doesn’t laugh?

Sometimes you can’t do anything. It doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying the show – they might just not want to laugh (and stand out) if no one else is laughing.

Sometimes you just have to call them on it. I don’t want to insult them for not laughing, but I might just tease them a little to see what I can do to get them to wake up. It’s very strange to watch a quiet audience and after the show they’ll tell you how much fun they had or how much they enjoyed you.

Sometimes they will hate you. It happens. (Then I spend the rest of my time on stage wondering where I lost them.) I think it’s best to stay in the present, finish your set and know that it happens- you just can’t make every single audience laugh hysterically every single time. Hopefully if it’s a weak show you didn’t invite anyone you know.

Have you been surprised by the energetic, happy reaction to your standup from a group or audience?

Absolutely. Just like I’ve been surprised by a negative reaction by a certain group.  You never know how anyone is going to react to you, so it’s best not to make any assumptions. You might go up after someone who bombs and the audience loves you, or the comic ahead of you killed and you totally lose them.

Sometimes I can tell just by the look on their faces when I reach the stage that it’s not going to be good. But I try to let that go because a lot of times it’s that assumption that will be the cause of the reaction I get.

I might do a show in one venue and kill and go to a different venue in the same city and they think I’m just awful. But that’s why being a comic is so fun — every show is different.

How long have you been doing standup?

For 10 years. I stopped after 5 years because I was tired of it. I burned out, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing it because I’d started something and just didn’t know what else to do, and that scared me. I wanted to make sure I was doing it because I loved it.

About a year later I realized I did want to pursue it, long term, and that if I was going to do it I was going to do it 100%.

You are from Virginia and started out as an actress and when you came to NYC you decided to try stand up. How did your parents react? Did you do something before acting? What was your major?

I graduated from The College of William & Mary with a psychology degree. I changed my major so many times that by the time I had to pick a major, I’d taken so many psychology classes I just went with that.

Then I worked at a bank after college and took a few acting classes in Virginia. I moved to NY because I wanted to pursue acting.

My parents weren’t thrilled but hoped that whatever day job I picked up to pay the rent in NY would lead to some major career. I never once thought I’d pursue stand up comedy, but once I was up in NY and saw how big the comedy scene was, I decided to try it. I still wasn’t thinking I’d be a comedian – I just thought I might write for one.

I knew I was shy and I just couldn’t imagine bombing on stage – I’ve always been easily embarrassed. I took a 3-day “comedy course” at the Learning Annex, where we had to perform for 5 minutes at a club. I told the teacher I wouldn’t, but the day of the performance I tried it for 2 1/2 minutes (that’s all the material I had prepared) and I knew then that I was going to pursue comedy. For the next 7-8 years my parents tried to get me to go to grad school but were unsuccessful. They gave up trying just a few years ago.

You can see Carmen in person at the Improv Boston for a CD taping on October 2nd , or check out her web series, AptC3.com, and on this Comedy TV clip.

Who are some of your favorite comedians? Do you have questions for Carmen?

carmenlynch2

Service of Actors

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

I was so excited to hear that Billy Crystal was selected to replace Eddie Murphy as the 2012 Oscar host. I’ve been watching the Oscars for eons and he was among the best if not the best one ever.

Sharing my pleasure with a colleague, David Reich, I mentioned that in addition to being spontaneously funny and fast on his feet, Crystal is also an incredible actor.

In the play “700 Sundays,” [named for the number of Sundays he had with his Dad who died when he was 15], Crystal was the only person on stage. He wore a long-sleeve tee shirt and generic pants. In one scene, suddenly he became his aunt.

In the scene he was on the phone with her–she lived in Florida–and he played both parts. He didn’t change clothes or affect typically feminine gestures but between the raspy, whiney, voice altered by thousands of cigarettes, [you could hear her puffing during the call] and a subtly different posture, he transformed himself into a middle aged woman with the assistance of neither makeup nor wig.

David mentioned a similar experience when he saw Chazz Palminteri in “A Bronx Tale.” Like Crystal, Palminteri was alone on stage and didn’t change clothes or makeup. He played four roles and David said he’d turn slightly and become another character so convincingly he marveled at the performance. A while after seeing the play, David was in a green room at a TV station with a client when who showed up? Palminteri. David mentioned that after playing all these roles so convincingly, he must have been exhausted at night. The actor agreed.

I lost Dustin Hoffman when he became Ratso Rizzo in the movie “Midnight Cowboy.” And in “Tru,” Bobby Morse was Truman Capote, no question.

Other great actors such as my favorite Hepburns–Audrey and Katherine–John Wayne or even Spencer Tracy, seem to be themselves and stick out when I see them on Turner Classic Movies. But when an actor disappears, it’s something else and puts an actor on a higher stage. Do you agree? Or is something else at play?

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