Archive for Backstage

One More for the Road

Tonight, I say farewell to what’s become my little corner of the sky (Yes, I had to say it.). Mostly Sondheim is saying goodbye and this one’s going to hurt. Allow me to explain.

Way back in the day (no numbers, kids), I walked into the Duplex and climbed the stairs to the cabaret room, in the back. Just me, a couple of friends, and some stragglers who’d heard about this new late-night open mic thingy.

I’d never been and singing in public, alone, had never been one of my strong suits. I sang in ensembles, in the background. Just a disembodied, singing head.  It kind of terrified me, actually. But, I was determined to GET. OVER. IT. After about one and a half drinks and three and a half renditions of Being Alive, I jumped in. I got on stage and sang, Anyone Can Whistle.

I was… terrible. No, I can say with all confidence that that performance was BAD. But, the host was… kind, compared it to “giving birth,” and so, I was no longer a virgin. Boy, they don’t know what they started.

I became a regular, making my weekly pilgrimage: first from Hoboken, then Jersey City, then Astoria. I always managed to find my way there whenever I felt a song coming on. On that tiny, little stage.

I discovered my song staples there.

I got ridiculously drunk there.

I made friends there.

I announced to my little world that I would soon have both Children and Art. And subsequently, had to change my choice of drink. Hell, they even made non-alcoholic cocktails, just for my pregnant ass. Now, that’s love.

DIVA TAG!

With parenthood, the appearances got farther & farther apart. But, I always came back. To celebrate something. To mourn something. To test out a song. To meet someone new and sing with them. To support a friend, or to shamelessly self-promote. And, sometimes, to just hang out, get drunk and learn TOO much about our hosts. Molly’s one Hell of an over-sharer, but Brandon’s the King. (Two words: anal beads)

I watched stars emerge. I saw stunning moments that belonged to the people who were lucky enough to be there. To hear Kate hit that E, again. And, then go UP a third, after a shot of Patron. To hear Marty, and Brian, and Carly and Ben sing in 3 or 4 part harmony. To completely tank during an All-Skate. To watch Brandon and Ray… sing. Beautifully, to a suddenly subdued room. To hear Lovefool, in a way that I’d never heard before. (Still my favorite version, BTW). And, don’t even get me started on the Defying Gravity parodies.

And, one night, my friend Tesse and I got pulled into an impromptu quintet of “Your Fault,” with me singing the Witch’s part. Brian then segued right into “Last Midnight,” and I had to keep going. And, the image I take away from that night is Todd Buonopane, a guy who was singing 8 nights a week on Broadway in Spelling Bee was sitting on the edge of the stage, rapt attention, watching me sing. ME. That’s a real confidence booster, man.

I became a Performer there, not some disembodied head, singing in the background. I’m more of a performer now, than I ever would have been without those nights. I am indebted to you all.

So, here’s to the ladies who Belt. And Belt. And drink, and keep belting.

To Brandon and Ray and Kate and Ben and Marty and Emily and Carly and Colleen and Todd and Molly and Lindsay and Matty Dean and Deena and Charlie and Brian and Eric and Christopher and Robbie and Joshua and Will and Michael James and John Bronston and ALL of the crazy, beautiful, talented people that sang til dawn. All while saying, “I’ve gotta get up in the morning… Oh my God, no one SINGS this!” Here’s to the hosts, the audiences, the bartenders… Here’s to us all.

 

Everybody rise.

This is a story about Control

Let me be absolutely clear about this.

I. Love. Janet Jackson.

I have always loved Janet.

As a young child, I watched reruns of Good Times, just WAITING for Penny to get in the last word.

I kept tabs on her during Different Strokes, because I needed to know if she would ever straighten out that Willis.

Her short-lived run on FAME as Cleo? Yeah. I was there. That’s right, I said Cleo.

Miss Jackson, before she got the jump on the military look.

 

And eventually, my devotion was handsomely repaid. Not with the first two albums, mind you. But with CONTROL. Now, for anyone who grew up back in the day, you remember what it was like hearing “Nasty Boys” for the first time on the radio. (I won’t lie. I tried to imitate that walk. I don’t know anybody who didn’t.)

We knew she was a Jackson, but that album let you know she had become Janet. With a capital J. She had given herself her own identity and wanted everyone to know it.

And, we NEEDED to figure out how she danced like that.

 

Then, just when we thought it couldn’t get better, we were gifted with Rhythm Nation. And, that was the LAST time she was tagged as “Michael’s Little Sister.” She was fierce and ferocious, all by herself. She became an inspiration and an icon, for lots of people. Especially me.

Every new song brought a new video. Every new video brought new innovation. And a new Janet. She went through at least 4 different phases and 16 different hairstyles in that album alone.

I mean…  Come on, now.

Then, she gave us janet. And, she showed a… whole new side. You wanted sexy? Here it was: big, bold and unapologetic. And, NEW DANCE STEPS for the kids to sweat over! She did that a lot.

Set your truth free, children. We ALL did the breakdown.

 

And, then came The Velvet Rope.

And All for You

And Damita Jo. And so on

Over decades of trends in music, fashion and fierceness, she has always been my number one. But, I have never seen her live in concert. And, any time she announced that she would not tour again, I wept bitter tears of regret.

So hopefully, this helps you understand the gravity of the situation, when I say this:

My best friend got a pair of tickets for us to see Janet in her UNBREAKABLE tour!!! 

Yes, this is a lot of drama over one artist, but in my oh so humble opinion, she is WORTH. IT. This is momentous.

She has always inspired me. And so, I am giving myself a Janet-inspired challenge. I have 150 days until the concert. I am making a change in my life, and it starts tomorrow. Hopefully, I will stick to it. I need to, for my own sake.

More to come, kids.

Now, You Know

So, let me tell y’all about the first time someone called me “Nigger.”

Yeah, I know. Bit of a sharp turn. But these days, we don’t have the time to ease into things.

I should clarify, though. This is about the first time someone called me that, to my face. I’d heard the word before, of course, but never directed towards me in its intended context. At least, never before where I was aware of it.

I was 11. I was in New Jersey. And, we were in the middle of a church youth group event.

At that age, I was a good Christian girl who did as she was told. I was also a bit of a hothead. Got bullied a few too many times, so if an argument or trading of insults came along, I wouldn’t back down. ever. Boys getting up in my face did not scare me. I had too much mouth and way too many boy cousins for that. And, when you reach that time as a kid where you’re in between childhood and adolescence, everything is on high alert.

One of the guys in my youth group, started bringing his school buddies to our church’s events. I detested him. He was a blond, bloated brat of a child, who only seemed to enjoy Group when he was pissing me off. He was the prototype for every Class A Jerk from every ’80’s high school movie.

But, I had to learn to get along with everyone. Because, after all, we’re All God’s children. I had other theories regarding his origin, but I digress.

Let’s face it. They were interchangeable.

We were having a spirited game in the basement of a local church, with another Youth Group. And once again, (we’ll call him CJ) had started in on me and I tried to ignore him, shout him down, whatever. I would not be dragged into a confrontation that day.

Until he stared and smiled in my face, and quietly said “Nigger.” Calmly. Effortlessly. Softly enough so that only I could hear him.

Bad. Move.

Well, between that and a lethal combination of hormones, hot-headedness and general disgust for “CJ”, I saw Red. Like, literally. To be honest, the next couple of minutes, I don’t remember seeing or doing anything. I just remember my 6’6″ pastor, prying me off this kid, and dragging me upstairs. It was humiliating and enraging, and I wanted to tear him limb from limb. He laughed it off. Probably because I had not yet learned about the vulnerability of testicles.

I realized that the whole point of that exchange was just to get me into trouble. He used “that word” to provoke me to act out. My pastor knew me as an honest kid, so it made it easier for him to believe that I was telling the truth. But, the damage had already been done.

After that, I realized it was a word that was going to follow me, everywhere. For the rest of my life. Whether or not I was what people expected was irrelevant. Whether or not people said it out loud made no difference. You could see it in their eyes. You could hear it in their condescending tones.

When some old biddy in helmet hair “complimented” me on my speech, I knew it was quantified.

“You speak so well.” – (you know, for being Black and all)

“You’re not like the others.” (I don’t have to watch myself around YOU)

“I don’t see color.” (that one’s just a lie, and we all know it)

“Smile! I can’t see you in the dark.” (never liked that one, but “it’s just a joke.”)

When you walk into a store and get “extra” attention.

When the authorities just HAVE to know where YOU’RE going.

When you just don’t kowtow enough for their satisfaction.

When everyone tells you, “if only you had… If you just hadn’t…” “You shouldn’t have…” “Don’t let it…” “Ignore it.. Address it… Don’t stand for it… You’re asking for it…” The responsibility is on you.

Being Black is walking on eggshells. Every encounter has the potential for danger, for blame, for death. All day, every day. You read about the NEXT deadly encounter that should not have happened, and in no time at all, the victim is dragged through the mud, on an unholy level. Every story about some poor man or woman, trying to walk away, or defending themselves, or exercising their rights, or giving UP their rights to comply. No matter what, the conversation devolves into how they set themselves up for destruction.

It is… exhausting.

It’s in everything. The clothes we buy. The news we headline. The tv shows we appear in. The tv shows we DON’T appear in. What we are being sold. What we are taught and especially what we aren’t being taught.

It’s being said, in every small little way. To provoke us. To dare us to challenge their authority and their position, knowing the result will ALWAYS be the same.

The damage is done.

I Know Things Now

So, I’ve been a little cranky about cancer, lately.
I know that sounds strange, but that’s pretty much the only way I can explain it.

In June, I lost a friend to cancer. Cas was… “The loud, pushy Italian mother” I always wanted. Not saying that my mother isn’t pushy, I’m just saying.
Cas was the type of guy who, had I ever stormed his house, weeping over some crisis… I could just picture him, comforting me while all the time rolling his eyes, going, “Sit down. I’ll make ya something.”

Then, just this past week, another person I knew lost her battle. I only knew her from across the room at our mutually favored haunts. A couple of piano bars downtown we used to frequent. She had a big smile, no hair and she loved singing along at Marie’s Crisis, and The Duplex. I couldn’t mistake her for anyone else. I imagine she’d been fighting cancer since before I knew her.

Cancer is a miserable thing. And, it hit a little too close to home, recently.

I had a mammogram, a sonogram and then came the call.
“You’re going to need to schedule a biopsy.”

It slams you in the gut, when that happens. My husband and I had had a fight the night before.
A petty, petty fight.
The word “biopsy”? pretty much settles all arguments.

Do we have your attention now?

The Peacemaker

 

But, after 2 weeks of agony and 20 minutes of pinching, you know what?
I’ve found that my new favorite word… is “benign.”

It was a gigantic exhale. For about a minute. Then, I found out that one of my aunts has just been diagnosed. Yup. with cancer.

See why I say it sucks?

Thing is, I’m now finding out that people I’ve known for years have gone through their own trials with it. People who have had leukemia, breast cancer, lymphoma, etc. have all faced it one way or another. Through their parents, relatives, close friends, even themselves. It affects everyone.

So, don’ t think you’re immune. Get checked. I put it off, and got the scare of my life.
Before you find yourself on a table, gritting your teeth, wondering if there will be more time for family, more time with your kids, more time to finish what you started, just do it.

Okay, I’m off my soap box now. Time for cat video therapy.

Because kitties make everything better.

Because kitties make everything better.

Move On

Stop worrying where you’re going. Move On.
If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone. Just keep moving on.


So, you may have noticed that I have taken down my band page.
There’s a very logical explanation for that.
I’m not in the band anymore.

For the maybe, 12 people who know, I have been with The Icky House Club for the past 5 years. And I’ve been enjoying singing with my friends for some time, in between stage shows and family time.
At times, it has been hectic and crazed, but I loved it.

But for the past couple of months, I haven’t loved it.
I mean, it has been fun, but somewhere down the line it stopped being enough. For a while, I couldn’t understand why.
Then I got to do a show in Connecticut over the summer and I kind of got the picture as to what I was missing.
I was missing the boards. I missed doing plays and musicals.
The camaraderie of a cast. The sure hand of a director. And a script and sets and scores.
I missed all of that.
A lot.

I chose and my world was shaken. So What?
The choice may have been mistaken. The choosing was not.


That’s where my heart truly lie and I wanted more of that.
I wanted to move forward in my career as an actor, not as a rock star.
Let’s face it, I’m no Joan Jett.
(Why Joan Jett? Because she will never NOT be badass. Good ahead, try and picture her non-badass. I’ll wait.
See? Can’t be done.)

It was a difficult decision to make, but in the end, we came to the conclusion that we’ll all be happier if I get to be an actress and the boys get to be a band.

So, I wrote all of this down to say, I’ll probably work with the guys on and off in the future, but as of now, I’ll be looking for more acting work, theater or otherwise.

You know that feeling you get when you’re having a great time, but there’s that turning point? That moment just before the realization that “I’ve stayed too long at the fair?” That moment came.
I’ll miss the band stuff, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
I have a new direction, so I need a new road.
I’m moving on.

And that’s all there is to say about that.

I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So

I live deep in the world of struggling actors, and it is a world. (Seriously, we could secede and start our own country.)

And every once in a while, we beat the odds just a little bit and get the ever elusive job. And when that happens, we want to do everything we can to KEEP that job. Especially, when nothing has been signed, filmed or guaranteed.

Once, long ago, I got a job and lost it in a matter of a week, before I so much as stepped into a rehearsal. Long story and it’s easy come, easy go, I guess. But ever since then, I’ve been very superstitious about work.

So far this year, I’ve gotten a couple of jobs that have made me happy AND given me the experience I need. And now, there’s one in the works that I’m going to be so excited about… when I can actually say something about it. 🙂
I can only hope there’s more on the horizon.

Freedom of Choice

When my husband and I were dating (back in the day when smart-phones did NOT roam the earth), he was living in Jersey City.
Not the oh so desired downtown section people associate with Jersey City now.
No, there’s that section of the town, the Heights and then there’s the REST of Jersey City.
One afternoon, he was looking to pick up some food at his local market. Being a native of the city for many years, I had to object to this plan
In his area of the city, there is one major supermarket, but it’s downtown and not conducive for those with a relatively small grocery list & no car.
The ones closer to home were not as… desirable, so to speak.
Once we entered, his face fell.
He was shocked to discover that the produce was… less than appetizing, and expensive to boot. He was surprised. I wasn’t.
Bruised, squashed, overripe food that cost more than it was worth.
He wanted something else, something better. He kept asking, “HOW?!”
I said simply, “because they can.”
The store knew people had nowhere else to go, so they felt free to sell customers whatever they wanted, in whatever condition, at whatever price, because the local residents had nowhere else to go.
And the management knew it.

That’s kind of how I’ve been thinking about this whole Monsanto thing.
The idea that genetically modified ingredients for food have already been added to our groceries is unsettling.
The idea that they can add what they want and not have to inform the consumer is disturbing.
The idea that they practically have a monopoly on SO MUCH of what we consume is a little too “Big Brother” for my taste.

But the fact that the attitude is simply, “we will do with the food what we want, we DON’T have to tell you anything about it, you will BUY that food and there is NOTHING you can do about it”…

That’s the last straw.

I am NOT a fan of the idea that my mind gets made up for me. Ask anybody.
I don’t appreciate this.
I am willing to give up Oreo’s for this point.
OREO’S!
Because Nabisco is one of the many, MANY companies that oppose having to label their GMO-laden products and have donated MILLIONS to remain so.
Now, I have an app (Thanks, Buycott!)that helps me realize exactly HOW big this is. And my friends, it. is. BIG.

I’m not saying this is something I can fight by myself and make an impact. But if enough people in the world make it rough for these guys, maybe we get back our freedom of choice.

Because we can.

Alabanza

Audrey Heilmann.
You won’t find her name in any books. There’s no monument to her name.
But she was important to me.

Audrey Heilmann was my old church’s organist and choir director for over 40 years. She directed me in my first choir. She was the person to put me in front of a mic when I had no idea what to do.

She taught hundreds of kids how to play the piano over the years.
I was no piano protege, but she was my teacher nonetheless. From the first day I sat in on my first choir session, she was teaching me.
She was gentle, kind, firm, devoted and she loved music, especially choral music. She loved the sound of all of the voices coming together.

She loved the sound the organ made when it was tuned and played right.
Nobody could play it the way she could.

Every Sunday, she would sit in the front pew, until it was time to play the piano for a solo or the organ for the choir.

Every Sunday, she walked across that creaky sanctuary floor in her black shoes that somehow made no noise. Wearing one of her dress suits, with her silvery white hair, perfectly pinned and frozen in time.

And any Sunday she would ask, I would sing.
All she had to do was ask.
Anyone else in the world, I would shrink away from that situation, but for Audrey, anything.

Then she got older.
Then I got married.
Then she got sick.
Then I moved away.
Then she stopped coming.
I’d hear about her every now and then.

The last time I saw her, I hugged her and I couldn’t get over how frail she felt. Over 60 years at an organ, after marriage, children, a world war and everything and she’d never been frail to me until that very moment.

Two days ago, I got the call.
It was only a matter of time, really.
That still doesn’t mean I was ready for it.

Smug Jerk Under Glass

So lately, everybody’s been talking about waiters and what patrons feel they should have to tolerate, much less pay.
Well, just last Friday, I had quite the dining experience.
Before picking up my Little Man from school, I was in the mood for sushi and found a place three avenues down.

I walked in, sat down at the bar and had to wait for the waitress to hand me a menu. And it wasn’t even a laminated one! I was annoyed for a moment, thinking, “Is it me?” But I let that pass.

And then, I was waiting for maybe ten minutes before the waitress even looked in my direction to ask me for my order.
I was so frustrated, I nearly threw my hands up in exasperation and thought, “What is going ON?! Geez! Can’t someone else handle…?”
But before the thought even finished in my head, I take a cursory glance around the room. That’s when I realized that no, someone else can’t handle

You see, she was alone.
And she was bringing water and tea and food and napkins and everything to approximately 9 separate tables, not including all of the people at the bar. All during the lunch rush. Small as the place was, she was on her own and trying to make sure everyone was happy and she was doing her job. So, I thought it might be best if I NOT be a crybaby and simply wait my turn while she does her work.

Which brings me to the Dumbass of the Week.
Yes, I realize the week just started.
But Kyle Smith of The New York Post made it pretty clear that he’s bucking for the #1 spot. And since there are TOO many people to blame for the sequester fiasco, we’ll just start with this guy.

His smug, dismissive take on “waitrons” that are too nice or accommodating for his taste just set me off.
Mind you, I haven’t done food service since my high school days, so I couldn’t possibly have an inkling as to how rough it is for the actor/waiter who works shift after shift to make enough tips to keep a roof over their heads and has to squeeze acting classes and auditions and workshops in between those shifts so that they can do what they came to New York to do. Hint: They didn’t come to New York to tolerate your ignorant, entitled butt.

I’m so glad that you love the wait service and “hands-off” approach they have in France. Yes, they let the food speak for itself. You know what else they do? Pay their employees enough off the top so that wait staff doesn’t have to depend on YOU to make sure they EAT. It’s different here.

I get it. You don’t need to do this menial job, but try to remember every now and then that plenty of people do need to do this job. And unless you plan on cooking at home a lot more, figure out a way to respect the people killing themselves to get you your service with a smile.

Oh, and one more thing:
They’re servers, not “servants.”
You don’t own them. It’s not your palace.
Stop. Watching. Downton Abbey.

What You don’t Know about Women

I do not understand men.

Strange, random men, who need to use the worst pickup lines on women.

This morning, after dropping off Little Man at school, I had to make a stop at the supermarket.

Now, mind you. It’s 8:00 AM, man. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep over the past two days. I’m not in my everyday glammed-up (HA!) version of myself.

I’m not expecting some random dude to come smiling up to me, while he’s unloading stacked produce.

What’s worse, it wasn’t even good. You seriously trying to mack on somebody at 8:00 am and you’ve got nothing better than,”How about you give me your phone number, so I can call you?”

Yeah, how about I snatch that dead caterpillar off your face and make you eat it?!

I got a little too New York when he did that, because I just turned around with a look of disgust and went, “SO. MUCH. NO. How ’bout ‘HELL NO?!'”

I felt like I needed a shower.

Now, there are some who will say this was the wrong approach. It’ll only encourage him, because he got a reaction out of me.

Yeah, well. Guess what?

There is no “right” approach. Not if that’s how you look at it.

If I say something, I’ve given him the attention he wants. If I ignore him and walk by, he takes that to mean I’m affected by him and it just encourages him to do it again to the next woman. Insulting him will just piss him off, maybe.

Any way you slice it, if you’re a woman, the onus is on you.

“You shouldn’t have…”

“You can’t do that…”

“You’ll just provoke him.”

What about, stop acting like a jackass?! No woman appreciates that caveman bull. And if you DO approach a random woman you don’t know, if you’re so compelled by her beauty to talk to her, you’d better come up with something way more respectful and more creative than, “gimme yo numbuh.”

Good rule of thumb: If you heard it on an old episode of “Fresh Prince,” don’t use it.

Man, sit yo ass down!