28 February 2006

Tuesday's Artists I Love

Today - Jim Meskimen.

Okay, here it is. Why the hell isn't Jim accepting Golden Globes for best comedic actor in a series? Honestly! Not only is he one of the most talented impressionists and improvisational actors out there, he also has the work ethic of a coal miner. No joke!

You know Jim, but you probably don't realize it. He's the voice behind Jib Jab's most famous offering ("This Land".) He's been in dozens of commercials. If you're lucky, he may even be the face of your local supermarket chain! He's been on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air as three different characters (which is a testament to his skill and his work ethic.) He's done feature films, television, radio, internet . . . you name it! He's also a fine artist and cartoonist. He studied oil painting under a master in Spain, and did concept art on the old Thundercats series! He's a "Buckaroo Bonzai"!

(The greatest compliment I've been paid as a voice-over artist is to be called "Jim Meskimen, Jr." I was very flattered, but in truth I'm nowhere near that good.)

Jim has a couple of comedy albums for sale. I have "Jim and Tait: Two Minds Empty, No Waiting" and highly recommend it. Also, check out his site. Enter his "caption this cartoon" contest. Take a look at his fine art portfolio.

Really, just take a look at Jim. He's a great guy, very giving and fun.

How to be Creative

I recently stumbled upon www.gapingvoid.com. The author, Hugh Macleod seems like a great guy, and I've enjoyed reading his stuff.

He has an essay posted entitled "How to be Creative" that I highly recommend.

Here's a nice little excerpt:

"6. Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten.

"Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with books on algebra etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the creative bug is just a wee voice telling you, 'I’d like my crayons back, please.'

"So you've got the itch to do something. [. . .] You don't know if you're any good or not, but you'd think you could be. And the idea terrifies you."

Great stuff.

He also has a neat bit about what he calls the "Global Microbrand." This gets to the heart of what I envision for The Felties. I've been calling it my "Global Media Mini-Empire" but the idea is the same. It's all tied into something called "The Long Tail."

23 February 2006

More on "Disembodied Animal Head Theatre"

Meet Tex, the Rubber Chicken.

He's a rod puppet; his mouth is operated by a fishing line that feeds through a tube inside his body down to a bicycle brake on the handle. (You can see the fishing line at the top of his red bow tie.)

December 2003, I was cleaning up my props after another stellar performance in acting class. The teacher had called a fifteen minute break, so I had plenty of time to spare after throwing all my crap in a box. The last prop in was my rubber chicken. I noticed that by pinching in the corners of his mouth, I could make his mouth open and close. As it was December, and I was in a holiday mood, I had the chicken sing "What Child is This?" in a booming baritone.

For the next two weeks, I followed Pam and the dogs around the house, singing various Christmas carols (and the occasional rousing "Dreidl Song".) I named him "Tex" (short for "Latex".) I decided to do a mock-commercial for "Tex sings Your Favorite Christmas Songs!" on CD and cassette.

As a character, Tex is a great study in comic contradictions. He's a rubber chicken; a cheap comic prop. He's also a comedy legend with a long and illustrious career, having worked with some of the greatest comics of all time. He has a rich baritone voice, and is obviously a cultured individual.

So there you have it: the host of "Disembodied Animal Head Theatre"!

20 February 2006

I received the news on Saturday morning that a friend and collaborator of mine took his own life on Friday the 17th.

I'm vacilating between anger and disappointment. (Two sides of the same coin for me, really.)

My friend had everything going for him. The last time I saw him, he was in great spirits and optimistic about the projects he was working on. He was set to teach a class on succeeding as an actor, he was opening a coffee shop, and we were putting together a book for release this coming winter.

All of his work is done on the book. (He was writing, I am doing the art.) I know that I must finish the book, otherwise it'll hang around my neck for all the days I have left. I just don't know what to do with it once it's done.

Life goes on, no matter how bleak things may seem. Fortune shifts like the wind. Each new day is a chance to get it right. And even when the shit is piled so high there seems no way to dig out, there are friends and family willing to extend a hand or give a boast. I just wish Jimmy had seen that.

16 February 2006

Where was I?

Last week, I started work on "Disembodied Animal Head Theatre" a weekly video blog that I can do pretty much solo. It is hosted by Tex, the Rubber Chicken and features a repertory ensemble of animal snapper puppets.

The idea is to bring culture to the internet by way of excerpts from classic literature performed by (drumroll please) disembodied animal heads. Basically, it's what a cable access show would look like if I had one back in high school.

I'll have the first one up next Monday. Stay tuned.

(And I'll talk more about the host in future blogs.)

12 February 2006

Goodye, old friend

This morning, at about 6:30, our dear friend left her body.

She was eleven and a half.

She had health problems for quite a while. For a long time she suffered from seizures. A few years ago we took her to a nutritionist/chiropractor who prescribed a treatment of supplements and diet that all but ended her seizures. In the past year Holly had developed some tumors on her chest and belly. Her health roller-coastered, but she always fought back. In the end she developed an infection that her tired immune system couldn't best.

She was a pain in the ass from the moment we first got her home. She never really took to "potty training", ate through pockets to get to forgotten pieces of candy, and generally made life more "interesting" in the old Chinese curse sense. She loved tearing through doors, eating up leather boots, and stealing food off your plate when you weren't looking. She even bit me. A couple of times.

It was worth it.

There's no love sweeter than that of a dog. They forgive everything, demand nothing, keep you warm when it's cold, and give you comfort when you're sick. The least we can do is reciprocate. I'm happy that in the last days of her life, Pamela and I did.

Her full name was "My Very Own Precious Holly Pongo Moore." We found her on a cold winter's night in the back of a pick-up truck outside of a Wal-Mart in Arkansas. We took her home, and she took our hearts.

She was and is loved.

10 February 2006

Back to school! Back to school
To prove to Dad that I'm not a fool!
I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight
I hope I don't get in a fight!
Ohhhh, back to school!
Back to school! Back to school!

- Adam Sandler, from Billy Madison

You heard it here first folks, I'm back in school.

A month ago I made the following observation in my posting entitled "The Middle of the Affaire":

"My biggest resource . . . and I can not emphasize this enough . . . is my education. Perhaps if I had gone to film school, I would've made a movie. Well, I went to theatre school, so I made a play."

It wasn't just an observation, it was a realization -- an insight into why I feel like there's this huge wall between me and effective video production. (There really should be some sort of a catchy neologism for "realizations or insights you have while blogging." Maybe "blognition"?) Currently, my artistic "fall back position" is theater. I can make good theater in my sleep. I want cinema to be my fall back position!

Thus the decision to pursue the Cinema degree program at LAVC.

(On a side note, I often bitch and moan to my wife about how I miss having access to a "Union House" quality theater; full scene shop, costume shop and make-up studio etc. Our college experience may have been a bit rocky at times, but we had access to amazing tools and facilities, all for the price of tuition. Studying Cinema, I'll be able to get my grubby hands on the tools of the trade, I'll have ample time to feel things out and figure out what I'm doing, and I'll have the resources to create to my heart's desire. Hey -- it worked for learning theatre!)

So there. This changes nothing as far as The Felties is concerned; I'm pushing ahead with production. This is more of a "me" thing. Call it "self-improvement through higher education."

07 February 2006

Tuesday's Artists I Love

Pamela Moore
Originally uploaded by scrapsflippy.
I'll never forget that autumn evening I picked up my date and went to the Hot Springs Art Center in historic downtown Hot Springs Arkansas, to see a production of Julius Caeser (set in 1940s Chicago.) My date was a very lovely girl, very sweet. We were good friends, so at the very least we'd have a fun time watching a play together.

Yeah. That was until I caught sight of Pamela McWilliams. She played Portia in the show, wife of Brutus. She was elegant, poised, and compelling. Not to mention hot. Her hair had curl that night. She wore a mid-thigh length dress and nylons.

As lusty as I felt about this girl, I was even more disarmed by her talent. She had chops. She handled the language of Shakespeare with such grace. She communicated the intention of every line with absolute clarity . . . and she obviously understood every line. She had done her homework!

I tried to meet her that night, but some bone-headed old retiree kept her tied up in compliments and I couldn't reach her. Also, I may be a scoundrel, but I try to be a gentleman as well. Rather than dump my date and pursue the red-head,I opted for sharing a cup of coffee and ending the date pleasantly.

Fate would intervene. Pamela and I wound up on stage together in The Crucible. She transformed from the mature, powerful Portia to the seductive, nubile Abigail Williams. She'd take on the role of Pamela Moore, my wife, a few months later.

Okay, I'm biased, but I've also seen Pam From the viewpoint of a director, a fellow actor, and an audience member. So here is why she's one of the artists I love:

Pamela is a "character" lead. What that means is like a Ewan McGregor or Gwenneth Paltrow she has the looks and skill to be the romantic lead; like those two actors (and a few others . . . Charlize Theron and Jude Law for example)she's better in a role that defies pigeon-holing as "romantic lead." Dirty her up a bit, and she'll really shine through. In life she's loud and ballsy or soft and fragile depending on her mood. She brings that richness to any role I've ever seen her tackle. Infusing an emotional life into an onstage or on-screen persona is like second nature for her, and she has no problem shaking even the darkest of emotions out of her system once "cut" is called. On set, she's very professional and personable. No one dislikes this girl who's taken the time to speak with her.
There's much more to her than just acting, too! She's another creative "Buckaroo Bonzai". Her blog (which is ostensibly about acting) often wanders over into all her other artistic pursuits. (It happens to be a good read, too.)

She happens to be a terrific mate as well.

Happy Birthday, Pam.

03 February 2006

Humor and Commentary

So I have this comic strip I've been doing on and off for a couple of years. I post the strips in the coffee shop I work at on weekends. They tend to be political, which gets me into all sorts of hot water. (My politics are libertarian, which means I step on everyone's toes. Except other libertarians.) That's fine, I like being a trouble maker. It keeps me feeling young.

My trouble with this strip is, I want to post the strip online, at the "Up to Bat" blog I've started (but neglected.) I feel as if I should write a brief abstract of the news I'm commenting on so that six months from now, people will know what the heck I was going on about.

Every now and then I catch a "classic" episode of Saturday Night Live. Invariably some of the humor flies right over mi cabeza. Because it's dated. It may have been the funniest thing on television at the time, but who cares now if no one gets the "current event" humor of thirty years ago?

On the other hand, SCTV is far funnier to me. They didn't air live, so their humor had to be less topical and more . . . dare I say imaginative?

What do you think?

Should "Up to Bat" fly out of the coffeehouse batcave and onto the net? Or should it stay dusty and tucked away like the news it's based on?
Writing like Beethoven, Writing like Mozart

Here are a couple of observations on the nature of writing for performance.


Some years ago, I found myself taking a summer course in playwriting from a man I deeply admire and respect as a playwright (and scene designer, and director, and . . . You get the idea. His name is Allen Partridge, he's another Buckaroo Bonzai.) I was toiling away on what was to become Diving In, my only award-winning play (so far!) We students would turn in our pages each day, and receive his teacherly criticism the next day.

One day, Partirdge handed back my pages and he had written in red ink on the top page "Too many notes, Wolfgang!" It was the only note. I queried him and he responded "Watch Amadeus." So I did. Near the beginning of the film, a court official is criticizing Mozart's music. Mozart says "What's wrong with it?" The court official replies "Too many notes."

So I took this up with Partridge, and received the best piece of writing advice I've ever been given. Essentially, why use a paragraph when a well wrought phrase would accomplish the same thing? Economy of word leads to greater emotional impact.

I strive to exercise great economy, but I still tend to write like Mozart.


The way I learned it, when Beethoven went deaf, his music went nuts. Musicians complained about the difficulty of performing his music. The notes were too high, too difficult to reach; his passages were far too complex to play with human hands. And yet, the music is beautiful, challenging and nuanced.

Well, I try to write like Beethoven.

Oh, I don't get ridiculous with the demands I put on a performer. I don't expect them to sprout wings or bleed tapioca pudding.

However, I may write a character who makes an emotional turn "on a dime." I have a certain fondness for repetition in monologues that makes them difficult to memorize. I may even force a performer to say words and relate experiences that are horrible, embarrassing, disgusting, etc. It's only because I respect actors enough to bring my "A" game as a writer.