August 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
When I joined the New York Neo-Futurists (NYNF) in 2006, one of the most joyful aspects of the experience was being able to recommend the show (Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind) without hesitation. Up ’till then, I’d done a bunch of plays here and there in NYC, but they often suffered one way or another from being off-off-Broadway productions (lack of time, lack of money, etc.)*. But the Neo’s were different. They had figured out how to make those limitations work for them and it felt so good to be so proud of something I was a part of.
I feel the same way about Gemma & The Bear. Like Too Much Light . . . , Gemma & The Bear (GATB) is actually for something of a niche audience and I don’t actually think that either is for everyone; certainly neither is perfect. I do think both are, in turns, innovative, delightful and well-made and I am uniquely unabashed in my promotion of GATB as I was with Too Much Light . . . .
So, it has been a bit of a frustrating surprise to grapple, these last couple of months, with just how difficult marketing a (micro-budget) web series can be. I recently watched a popular vlog that argues that the internet creates a meritocracy in which “if the video you’re making is interesting to anyone . . . all you have to be concerned with is making something that someone else wants to watch.” This was more or less my assumption going in to Gemma & The Bear, but here in the episode-release-and-marketing phase, where the measure of marketing success – views on YouTube – seems to have been equated with the quality of the content (at least as far as generating press, industry attention, etc.) and where spending money to boost posts seems like the only way to be seen at all, that argument about meritocracy feels a bit false . . . or at least naive.
I’ve been naive all my life. Also: impatient.
The other night, at a birthday gathering for a neighbor, I had a conversation with some people I’d just met about the social norms of meeting new people (how meta). I was expressing my frustration with the apparent taboo of asking people what they do. They countered that “what are you up to?” or “what’s new?” or “how do you spend your time?” are completely acceptable alternatives. I’m not sure I agree but, in any case, those alternatives don’t address my real want which is to grab these new acquaintances by the lapels (maybe just figuratively) and say something like “who are you?! what’s your story?! tell me everything!!” I don’t want to be coy, making small talk and teasing out the information slowly; I want the story up front! (Looking back, my entire first date with my husband was just me interrogating him the entire night including important questions like “what are your three favorite sounds?” I guess his tolerance was an early good sign?)
Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind wasn’t an overnight success; the company has gone through tremendous growing pains and, while they’ve come incredibly far, they’re still working hard to grow and improve. And, of course, that’s the story almost everywhere.
So maybe it isn’t that the meritocracy of the internet is false (although marketing dollars certainly play a role, albeit a complicated one), maybe it’s about staying the course so we can find our audience . . . or they can find us.
I really wish they’d hurry up about it, though.
*To be very clear: I think off-off-Broadway is great and of tremendous value. All artists need a place to practice, experiment and grow and for theater artists in NYC, OOB is often it. Furthermore, over the past decade, I’ve seen the OOB community as a whole grow and improve the quality of its work. So, no dig at OOB. I love it, in fact.
July 30, 2015 § Leave a comment
Previously, my kiddo went through a phase where he told kid-style jokes which he mostly learned from a library book about Fozzie Bear (whence he also learned to punctuate his jokes by saying “wokka wokka”) and popsicle sticks.
Currently, he has moved into a phase in which he makes up his own jokes. For instance THIS.
So here is my idea: an open mic night for toddlers! (and their parents!)
I imagine it would happen on, say, a Sunday around 5PM – early enough for the kids (aka “the talent”) not to be melting down because its too close to bed time, but still late enough for the adults to enjoy a cocktail in a socially-acceptable way. The venue could be pretty much anywhere, though it would be imperative that adults be allowed to bring in kid snacks.
The kids could go up and tell jokes and stories and do impressions. I feel like it would be all kinds of good practice for them in terms of public speaking, being a good audience member, empathy, delayed gratification . . . And while non-parents would think it was a horror show (and they wouldn’t be wrong), parents would find it totally entertaining (and maybe a good way to make other parent-friends?).
This would NOT ever be an opportunity for scouts to come find child stars of the future. It would be purely for the entertainment and gratification of kids and their parents. And while I’m sure much of the time it would be a mess, I’m also sure that it would yield Andy Kaufman-worthy moments of avant garde comedy GENIUS!
What’s your best kid joke? Post it in the comments!
July 17, 2015 § Leave a comment
My kiddo – who is 3.25 years old – has loved stories pretty much forever. He loves to be read to and he loves to be told made-up stories. I noticed a while ago that, if we were making up a story for him, he had a pretty high tolerance for a story much longer than the average picture book.
We dipped our toe in with The Invention of Hugo Cabret which alternates a few pages of plain text with many pages of text-free illustration. Later, over the course of a couple of low-energy sick days, we plowed through Peter Pan. So we continued.
Mixing longer books in with the picture books kept me from getting really sick of reading and re-reading the same five-minute story over and over again. Longer stories have also been great as a way to enjoy some quiet time after a big day at camp or on the playground, and they keep us all entertained on longer car rides or the occasional flight. There’s also something nice about having more entertainment in a smaller, lighter volume given all the other stuff we’re inevitably schlepping around.
Early on, we had some hits and some misses. The Wizard of Oz was great . . . except for that scary chapter where she sends her pack of wolves to attack Dorothy and friends (yikes!). The Enormous Crocodile was a pretty big (if slightly intense) hit which got me excited for more Roald Dahl, but The Magic Finger which focuses on characters who hunt ducks introduced a slew of concepts we weren’t necessarily excited to discuss and Esio Trot was too much about spelling or romance (or both). James and the Giant Peach seemed like it would be a good idea, ’till I started to read it and realized that James’ parents are killed by an escaped rhino in the first two pages. Duh, mom.
But, with the help of the wonderful people at our favorite local book store, Bank Street Books, we’ve really hit our stride this Summer. These books all hit the sweet spot of being a great story, but with mostly accessible vocabulary for a younger kiddo, a picture on every page or two, and content that doesn’t venture too far beyond their years. And they’re fun to read as an adult.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I’m a lifelong fan of Dahl, but most of his books are too edgy for our kiddo right now. Not so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we borrowed from the library and read all the way through at least four or five times before returning it a couple of weeks later.
My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. This is a trilogy, although I happen to like the first book the best. Each is about 70 pages long with a picture on every other page or so. They are stories of a young, kindhearted and very independent little boy going on an adventure to find and rescue a captive baby dragon and the adventures that ensue.
Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo. There are six books in the Mercy Watson series beginning with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, about the (mis)adventures of a toast-loving pig named Mercy, her owners Mr. & Mrs. Watson and their neighbors on Deckawoo Drive. All the books are lushly illustrated in full color by Chris Van Dusen. The books feel old-fashioned and wholesome though they are contemporary. The characters are a bunch of delightful oddballs.
Bink & Gollie by Kate Di Camillo & Alison McGhee. We discovered Bink & Gollie through the Mercy Watson books. There are currently three books in this series about a pair of best friends who love roller-skating, pancakes and each other most of all. These books feel a bit like the Elephant & Piggie books for the next age group up and they’re the shortest books on this list.
The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne. This is a fun series because it involves time travel and magic. The first book in the series – Dinosaurs Before Dark – was an instant favorite. A word of caution, though, as other books in the series dip in and out of being little-kiddo appropriate. A book set during the Civil War, for example, (which I never should have agreed to read, so that’s on me) prompted a discussion of war in general, and an explanation of slavery – it was just a lot for a 3 year old. So these are recommended but not without some parental vetting.
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Because the first book is about kids who are alone in the world, fending for themselves, we skipped it and went right on to Book Two: Surprise Island which is delightful old-fashioned. Four siblings are allowed a summer largely to themselves on their wealthy grandfather’s private island where they gather and prepare their own food, craft their own museum, and discover American Indian artifacts. These books are probably the biggest wild-card of the group and, like the Magic Treehouse books, should probably be vetted on an individual basis for appropriateness, but the kiddo and I are well into the Woodshed Mystery (#7) and having a great time with it.
What are you reading with the kiddos in your life this summer? Leave a comment!
July 8, 2015 § Leave a comment
It’s called Gemma & The Bear and we just released the first two episodes this past Monday.
It was over two years ago that it all began – sometime between giving birth to my son and my mom’s brain tumor being diagnosed. Kevin and I wanted to make something together and I thought it should be a web series. We’d done theater together, but I wasn’t doing theater at the moment because I had a tiny child to take care of. Something on-camera felt more manageable.
So we began. We met and wrote and had a reading and got rid of everything we’d written and started again. Working on the project was always a joy; it was also my artistic life-line. Without the luxury of time I used to enjoy, it became important to focus on doing one thing well, and that was our show.
Late last summer – almost a year ago – we began our casting process (we paused so I could have back surgery), in the late fall we launched our Indiegogo campaign, and in December we finally – FINALLY – started filming.
We shot for seven non-consecutive days in December, January and February, going by location rather than chronology of the script. When our office location fell through the morning before the shoot, my brother came through with his office for us and we squeezed what we’d planned to film in three days into two. We made third graders stand outside on one of the coldest days of the year. We re-cast a major role at the last minute because our original actor was injured. We called in favors. We got it done.
I handled the craft services and, later, the payroll. I wouldn’t choose to take on those extra roles again, but it felt really good to support our cast and crew in a loving way through food, and later, to appreciate them by redistributing about 75% of what we’d raised to make the show in the form of checks to our artistic and technical collaborators.
I thought the hard part was over. And then I found myself a producer of a project in post-production.
But now it’s here! Gemma & The Bear. Kevin R. Free was my collaborator in all things – writing, acting and producing – and Matt Scott as director, editor and co-writer has provided invaluable additional vision and input. This has been one of the most rigorous and most rewarding artistic experiences of my life and while I learned a lot (and would do some things differently if I had to do them over) I am incredibly proud of what we’ve made.
We’re still working on episodes 3, 4, 5 and 6 – they’ll be out in August – but for now I hope you enjoy episodes 1 and 2.
Episode One: HE’S BAAAAAAAACK!!! – Gemma gets a big assignment at work and graduates from therapy, but a blast from the past threatens her security.
Episode Two: MEET THE BEAR – Gemma visits her dad, Hank, to try to get to the bottom of the Bear’s reappearance in her life.
This isn’t theater so I can’t see your faces; leave a comment!
June 4, 2015 § Leave a comment
The other day, I found myself googling one of the people in my community. I’d visited the website of a local business to get the phone number and, while I was waiting for the call to go through, saw the full name of one of the delightful employees. So I started Googling.
I’ve done this before. Kind of a lot.
I get fascinated with someone – for any number of reasons – and it just isn’t socially acceptable to start interviewing people with whom you have only a passing acquaintance, you know? So . . . Google.
Two things about this:
- I’ve been surprised by who is easy to google and, conversely, how many folks are really hard to find on the internet. Sometimes it’s just a common name, but more often it seems like a lot of people just don’t show up on the web and that kind of fascinates me.
- It occurred to me to wonder, in my most recent bout of “research,” how normal this is. Do YOU do this kind of Googling?
Then I thought, I can ask people! You! I can ask YOU! But asking for your response in the comments – especially about something like this that might feel embarrassing to have on the record – seemed like not a great way to find out. So . . . (drum roll) . . . I made a SURVEY!! It’s short – only six multiple choice questions – and in a few weeks, I’ll share the results. HERE IS THE LINK!
FUN, right? Or is this just another way that I’m weird . . . ? You can leave your answer to that question in the comments, no survey required. ;)
May 28, 2015 § Leave a comment
This past weekend, my husband, the kiddo and I explored a cool public art exhibit that’s going in in Central Park right now. Presented in conjunction with Creative Time, the exhibit is called Drifting in Daylight (all the info if you click on that link). It’s based in the northern parts of Central Park and it happens Friday and Saturday afternoons through June 20th.
We had a great time visiting Spencer Finch‘s ice cream truck and watching a brass sextet perform on a boat on the Harlem Meer. The former was fully delightful and delicious while the latter was lovely to behold and surprisingly moving.
Days later, my son asked his babysitter “Do you know Spencer Finch? He has an art thing. You should go. There’s ice cream! You have to wait in line. You should go.” That and the fact that he wanted to stay for three performances by the sextet make me fairly confident that he liked it too. Recommended for families.
We’d started the day with a visit to the Natural History Museum, so by the time we made it up to the Meer, the boy was exhausted and it was time to head home to walk the dog, but we hope to go back to see the rest of the pieces which include visual art as well as dance and performance pieces.
Have you seen this exhibit? What did you think?
May 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
I’m still trying to get a handle on family dinner. It’s kind of like a mechanical bull for me: the whole thing feels always on the brink of disaster, but somehow I manage to hold on. And, to me, holding on – however tenuously – is worth it. I always feel better – physically and emotionally – when I’ve cooked for my family and we’ve had a meal together.
The challenges are that the dinner must be:
- ready in 45 minutes or less. My husband comes home at 5:30 to spend time with the kiddo while I cook and with a 7:00 bed time, I like to have dinner on the table by 6:20)
- semi-three-year-old friendly. We want to keep exposing him to new foods, but anything too completely foreign and/or spicy just means he won’t eat dinner. We’re working up to those . . .
Some weeks are more inspired than others and I’m in the process of compiling a list of go-to dinners to reduce my incidences of 4:00 panic because those moments are inevitably followed by pasta. (This New Yorker Cartoon comes to mind at least every other day.) In the meantime, I wanted to share my favorite and easiest dinner: Fancy Eggs on Toast.
Here’s how it goes:
- Get your water boiling.
- Start cooking your vegetables. I usually like to do some greens (most recently we were using up some spinach) as well as some mushrooms. I sautéed the mushrooms first, pulled them out when they were done, and use the same pan for the spinach.
- Slice some really nice bread (I buy whole wheat multi-grain loaves that we use for everything – morning toast, sandwiches, this – from our local bakery. I keep them un-sliced which allows me to make thinner/easier to eat sandwiches for the kiddo and then cut thicker slices for something like this.) Maybe brush it with a little olive oil if you want. Put the bread (one slice for each person) on a baking sheet under the broiler for 2-3 minutes, flip it over and do the other side (which will take a bit less time). When you pull them out, consider rubbing each piece with the cut side of a halved clove of garlic. Why not?
- Cook some Seven Minute Eggs. OR some poached eggs. OR some fried eggs (these do not require boiled water, so that can be a plus). Your call. I like the Seven Minute Eggs because they require the least hands-on attention which means if I start the whole process by getting the water boiling, I can put the eggs in and keep cooking and everything ends up ready at more or less the same time, which is good because the major flaw of this dinner is that it gets cold pretty quickly (and it’s tough to warm plates in the oven when you want to be using the broiler).
- Top it with salt and pepper. Maybe grate a little parmesan or pecorino on top for fun . . . ? You do you.
And that’s it. Even when I went through a dark phase of accidentally overcooking eggs that were meant to be soft-boiled, this dinner was delicious and filling and pretty healthy in the scheme of things (and NOT pasta!). It’s not rocket science, nor is it particularly surprising or innovative and I think that’s the genius of this dinner: it’s flexible, it’s relatively quick and it’s reliably delicious.