Wednesday, November 23, 2016

#Spotlight: In Conversation with Mickela Mallozzi

A couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with dancer, instructor and documentarian Mickela Mallozzi, best known for the public television series Bare Feet with... and Bare Feet in NYC.  We talk about how her initial idea to do an international tour program through dance eventually grew into doing a travel show through dance: first, as a blog; then, as a YouTube series, before finally pitching it to NYC Media.  We also delve into her previous life working in the music industry, and how she challenges balancing artistry with commerce.

For more Mickela-related goodness that'll keep you dancin':
Official Website
Bare Feet Tours
Bare Feet... on PBS
Facebook Page

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Pursuit of Happiness/Misery (A Reprise), or: A Return to Personal Blogging

A much-needed walk with Mummy-dearest on the High Line earlier this summer.
Photo  © Evelyn Taghap

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Sometimes the road ahead is paved with anything but good intentions.
Cameron Crowe

Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.

It's been a while since I've really done a personal post -- and by my calculations (or, more accurately, Google's) over the last couple years or so, those seem to garner a lot of attention on here.  Thus, I proudly announce a return to more personal blogging!  *cue yay-filled applause*

And why not?  All the Cool Kids are doin' it.  (And by Cool Kids I guess I just mean Crystal and Victoria, haha.)

After all, it was only ten years ago this month (eep!) that I had started this blog on an equally personal note; mostly, as a means to truly document my life, after my own realization that I hadn't done it enough until then, apart from a few angst-ridden journal -- and er, LiveJournal (double eep!!) -- entries back in high school.  And so, it was with this realization -- coupled with the heady double dosage of not entering college under a prospective major I didn't want (Nursing), along with the discovery of an entirely thriving community of blogs specifically pertaining to to the one I did want (Theatre, natch) -- that I found myself clicking on the orange 'publish' button which would eventually become both perpetual mocker and personal motivator.

The years went on and the blog slowly began to take shape, changing with each passing phase I found myself in.  I would not only come to write about a gazillion of those aforementioned angst-ridden (or, as I liked to call them, "emo") entries and go through an endless revolving door of blog titles (from All That Jess to The Chronicles of Jessica: The Uncle, The Double Major & The Commute -- er, don't ask), but also vacillate between different platforms -- from Blogger to Wordpress, before finally coming back home to Blogger.  I also found myself vacillating in the literal sense, moving from my hometown in Queens to the unfamiliar waters of South Brooklyn, only to be flung back to Queens yet again.  As I would later write, I'd eventually come to love Brooklyn, come hipsters or high water (ha!).  I'm not sure if it's this 10-year anniversary, or because I'd recently talked about it with a couple of friends and colleagues, or if it's just being simply back in Queens for the past 7 years -- but I'm thinking a lot about that time in Brooklyn, about self-discovery, about...displacement.

Ah, yes.  Displacement.  In the years since I've been back, I've thought a lot about displacement (I even talked about it here).  The word itself would come in the most surprising (or perhaps, unsurprising, depending how you look at it) of ways: in the form of a scene in Ran Xia's Word Play (which I reviewed here a few months ago).  The scene -- titled D├ępaysement -- borrowed from what is considered one of the most "untranslateable" French terms.  Roughly translated, it "can mean anything from disorientation to culture shock," but is mostly understood to refer to the feeling one has of not being in one's own country.  While my situation certainly didn't find me in another country, it definitely left me feeling disoriented all the same.  One might venture to guess that when one moves back to their hometown, one can finally 'go back' to oneself.  That should be the logical way of things, no?  The truth is, it isn't and wasn't -- at least, not for this writer.

It was during my time in Brooklyn -- when I'd taken a semester off in the Spring of 2008 -- that I would find myself at a crossroads (insert any and all Bone Thugs-N-Harmony-related references here, por favor).  Until then, I had been met with a barrage of disappointment, judgment and everything in between.  I had decided on a sabbatical of sorts in order to regroup and try to figure out whether the "road less traveled" was really the path I wanted to go down.  Sometimes, it takes getting lost to truly find oneself again, and as corny as it sounds, I feel like I really did find myself in Brooklyn.  From those long commutes along the Q/B line, the Brooklyn Bridge all lit up in the nighttime cityscape; to days spent happily flipping through the artsy, hand-crafted 'zines on display at the hipster cafe I would frequent (the now-defunct Vox Pop, then located off the Cortelyou stop) -- my heart, mind, and soul all finally felt at ease.

The most precious Fairy Tales you'll ever come across.  (And yes, those are my hands.)  Photo  © Crystal Rivera

Years later, I'm finding myself at a similar, yet different type of crossroads compared to the one met by my twenty-year-old self that Spring.  Since coming back to Queens seven years ago, I've been faced with the unique problem of having to navigate versions of my Selves -- both Past and Present, and figuring out how to reconcile the two.  Is there a way? Perhaps there isn't.  Still, there's something quite jarring about taking the same bus route you once took in high school, only to have it pass by the street you once lived.  All of it feels like a step back -- in Time, in Space, in Memory...but mostly, just in general.  The internal (and, of course, external) growth I felt in Brooklyn had reached its most exponential height; and it was at this peak that I was able to gain independence, knowledge, and experience, culling together an education of sorts I couldn't attain at any school.

Recently, I revisited Miss Misery, and -- as with everything one revisits -- it gave me something distinctly different this time around.  Former Grantland staff writer Andy Greenwald's novel centers around a young, twenty-something freelance music critic (sound vaguely familiar?) named David Gould, who finds himself in an identity crisis of epic post-Millenial proportions -- one in which he has to face himself.  As in, literally Himself.  After his human rights lawyer girlfriend Amy leaves for a highly publicized case at, of all places, The Hague (that's in the Netherlands, in case you're wondering), David is left feeling bereft and paralyzed by his own indecision.  As a writer, he could essentially live anywhere -- yet he chooses to stay behind in the Park Slope flat he and Amy share.  The story then goes into all sorts of directions -- from a Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist-esque romp around New York as David meets his online crush Cath Kennedy (the titular MzMisery herself), to a face-off with The Other David (heavily reminiscent of Fight Club) -- before finally ending on an unsurprisingly predictable note.

What I had initially loved about the novel, in all its admittedly hipster-y Hipsterness, was not only Greenwald's beautiful descriptions of modern life in New York (he has a whole passage dedicated to the F train and its seemingly fickle loyalty to its own riders -- namely, himself), but also how surprisingly introspective his book was.  Perhaps it was just the fact that I had read much of it on my daily commute on the Q line (oh, how I miss Brooklyn!), the light beaming down through the windows in just the right way, as I sat in my usual spot in the back crook of the car.  Or maybe it was because I had come across the book during that crossroads in my life.  It's funny when things come your way when you need it most -- I had been so miserable up until taking that semestral break, and here was this book, with a character totally mirroring the same things I was going through.  Reading it again ten years later was a similar sensation, if not more so.

Just as the Universe seemed to know just when to give me a lil' nudge and lead me back to this book, it also seemed to conspire in other ways, as well.  Lately, just as my heart was tugging me towards my longing for Brooklyn, it seemed that the Universe was reminding me of my ol' homestead of Queens.  As I mentioned, being confronted with your Past Self (and, by extension, your Present Self, as well) upon returning to my hometown presented some unique challenges.  For a long time, I felt stagnant...that is, until I started to branch out and explore once again, as I had all those years ago in Brooklyn.  The trick is to be open to everything that is offered to you in the moment.

And what a Moment it's been, lately.

After 3 years of feeling like a perpetual college student in limbo working at my alma mater, I made the gulp-inducing (and stomach-churning) decision to transition out and see if the freelance writer life was something I could manage.   I had expected for maybe a month or so of braving the hell that is the Job Hunt Gauntlet, but in an unexpected turn of events, I landed a freelance gig at a television production company through an equally unexpected recommendation; soon after that, through re-connecting with an old friend, I had learned about the small theatre community tucked in the Astoria/Long Island City area -- particularly, a non-profit theatre company he had had a play produced.  Later on, he'd told me they happened to be hiring, so on a whim, I applied.

And then, I waited.

I would have been a complete ball of Anxiety if not for my dear friend Crystal and her invitation for me to accompany her to the (quite aptly-named, now that I think about it) Brooklyn Grange, to pick up Tory's CSA.  Of course, as soon as I realized that the Brooklyn Grange was located in Queens, I had to wonder if the fates were joking with me.  We ended up having a lovely day, wherein we picked up the cutest lavender-colored eggplants we've ever seen (they are called, of course, Fairy Tales), shishito peppers, and so much more.  Afterward, we stopped by COFFEED before heading back to her place, where I (for the first time EVER!) assisted in cooking our lovely findings.  Needless to say, the food, wine and conversation flowed quite deliciously, as it does when in company with good people.

I like to think that the Universe-With-a Capital-U is pointing to all these things for a reason, that he or she (or whichever pronoun one describes the inanimate, omniscient cosmic fates) was cleverly winking at me from above -- my Present Self clueless as to what was to come.  Turning Points in life are funny that way.

I have grown so much over the past decade, and so has this blog.   It's been a bit embarrassing at times, for this silly little online journal to bear witness to all of it -- but looking back, I wouldn't have had it any other way.  Bon Anniversaire, ma famille -- thanks for coming along on this crazy journey with me.  I hope you stay along for the ride.  

Here's to another ten.

Friday, September 23, 2016

#StageReview: Marta Mondelli's TOSCANA, OR WHAT I REMEMBER

Nicole Kontolefa and Scott Barton as Sue and Fred in Marta Mondelli's "Toscana."  Photo  © Seth Perlman

The Body Keeps the Score.
Marta Mondelli's 
Toscana, Or What I Remember
exercises some muscle memory

For many, memories can be a wonderful thing.  They have the ability to transcend time and space -- perhaps to when things were simpler or more innocent.  For others, they can often leave one paralyzed in more ways than one, stuck on a never-ending loop.  In the case of Marta Mondelli's Toscana, or What I Remember, it is the latter which seems to hold its grasp around the character Emma (played by Ms. Mondelli herself).  

The picturesque backdrop of Tuscany belies the painful memories it may bring to the people in it -- particularly, ex-pat Emma, who has just returned to her her native Tuscany for her father's funeral.  Upon her return, she is confronted by memories at every turn.  From the children's bookstore she remembers frequenting as a young girl; to the bakery which once stood across the street from her hotel; to even the familiar song a young girl nearby persistently sings (much to her annoyance) -- a bevy of seemingly fond childhood remembrances but which in reality are relics representative of a more troubled past.  At the receiving end of her frustration is Emma's American husband Fred (Scott Barton), who himself is bound to a wheelchair -- the result of a car accident, referred to later in the play through expository dialogue.  Between the two of them, these memories of past traumas leave their relationship stilted and in constant turmoil, both emotionally and physically.

Actress and playwright Marta Mondelli as Emma
in "Toscana, or What I Remember."
Photo © Seth Perlman
Serving as counterpoint (as well as some much-needed comedic relief) to the veteran couple is another couple on holiday: the younger and ever-so-cheery Coles, comprised of botany professor and expert Larry (Lance Olds) and his pregnant wife Sue (Nicole Kontolefa).  The Coles, who hail from Wisconsin, find themselves abroad due to a conference Larry is attending, and in awe at everything the Tuscan countryside has to offer (much, again, to Emma's chagrin).  The two seemingly mismatched couples clash by the pool, their differences  at first much more apparent than their similarities, whatever these may be.  

 After a few awkward run-ins and misunderstandings, Sue and Fred find themselves alone, pondering the mysteries of the human body, whilst Emma and Larry do the same, albeit with the latter dispensing some botanically-infused wisdom along with it.  He describes something called habituation, in which a plant learns to adapt itself to its environment:  "There is this plant that opens and closes its flowers," he starts.  "If you drop this flower, let's say, fifty times, the first few times the plant will take a long time to re-open its flowers.  Because that's a new stimulus.  But on the fiftieth time, it will take only a few seconds."

The flower within the play itself, of course, is Emma, whose own memory seems to wilt and diminish as the play goes on, the repeated stimulus of the young child's singing constantly haunting her.  Later on, when Larry encounters her once again by the pool, he witnesses Emma engulfed in yet another memory, splayed on a lounge chair and speaking to him in Italian, clearly mistaking him for her father.  She comes to, and once again, earlier musings on the effect of memories physically and metaphysically come back into play.  As she explains to Larry, the respective translations of the Italian words for "remember" and "forget" literally describe how memories lodge themselves within us: first, acquired through your heart (ricordare), before flowing through every pore of your body, eventually evaporating from your mind (dimenticare) and into thin air.  Emma's own tortured memories do not dissipate quite as easily and instead completely take over her.  Eventually, it is revealed that the incidents of mistaken identity between the characters aren't just scrambled memories, but rather something far worse: a muscle memory of sorts that Emma's body can't soon forget...even if her mind already has.

Toscana, Ms. Mondelli's second outing at the Cherry Lane Theatre (the first of which being the excellent The Window, which I had the pleasure of reviewing for Off Off Online here.), is yet another example of the playwright's many strengths.  The ability to condense big ideas into an intimate piece of theatre is perhaps one of the hardest tasks any writer is given, and one which Ms. Mondelli not only tackles gamely, but also executes with ease.  Such ease depicted onstage must also be attributed to the trio of cast members at her side, whose collective commitment to their respective roles lends just the right amount of gravitas, humor and everything in between.  As a whole, Toscana is a lovely exploration into Memory and its grasp on places and people, and a piece worthy of self-exploration of one's own.

Toscana, Or What I Remember runs until October 1st 
at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street).
For more on Marta Mondelli and her work, go here.
For more information about this production and others like it, go here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

#FilmStrips: Richard Linklater's BEFORE SUNSET & BEFORE SUNRISE

Brief Encounter.
Richard Linklater's Before films 
stand the test of time

Those who know me personally (or have read my literary blog, starts & stops.) might also know of my particularly soft spot for Richard Linklater's Before trilogy.  (And when I say soft, I mean like...ooey-gooey-caramel-filled-Stroopwafel-melting-atop-your-espresso soft.)  (Yeah...that soft.) (Can you tell what I've just been snacking on before typing this?) (This is a lot of parenthetical asides, huh?) (Okay, back to the post, now.)  I first came across Before Sunrise (1995), the series' first installment, when it aired on the Lifetime network back in high school, around the time its sequel Before Sunset (2004) was released.  I was about sixteen or seventeen at the time, and though I'd only caught the middle portion of it, something about the conversation between the boyishly handsome American Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and the ethereal Frenchwoman Celine (Julie Delpy) that captured my teenage imagination.  

I never actually got to finish that first viewing, and it wasn't until roughly two years later, at what was then the Times Square Virgin Megastore (R.I.P., sob sob), that I would purchase my own copy and finally see the whole thing through.  Quickly after that initial purchase followed Sunset in its wake.  By then, I was a freshman in college -- and as one on the cusp of her early twenties, heavily steeped in culture  and armed with a personal "yen" for travel, the idea of having a philosophical, intellectually-charged conversation with someone whilst traipsing around a European city over the course of an evening was, at the time, just about the highest form of romance there was.  

The intervening years between each film viewing  were, naturally, a highly formative growth period for me (and one which this blog can certainly attest to).  Since then, just like the cherry blossoms that promise their bloom every late spring and early summer, Sunrise & Sunset became a pair of perennial favorites, and I would find myself amiss if the changing seasons were not accompanied by a viewing of both films.  As a result, Linklater's examination of Time and Memory's effects on human relationships (most recently and notably evident in his Oscar®-winning film Boyhood [2014]) would eventually become hugely influential in my writing, reflecting my own curiosities.

Ethan Hawke (left), and  Julie Delpy (right),
as Jesse and Celine in Before Sunrise.
As author and Film Comment contributor Phillip Lopate described in "The Long and Winding Road," his review of the trilogy's third installment Before Midnight (2013), the initial two films center on "the flowering of a mood over a period of less than a day between two characters: an American, Jesse, and a Frenchwoman, Celine."  They happen upon one another on a train across Europe -- she, heading back to Paris after visiting her grandmother in Budapest; he, wandering aimlessly on a Eurail pass after getting dumped by his girlfriend in Spain.  After witnessing a petty argument between a German-speaking couple next to her, Celine gets up from her original seat and settles across the aisle from Jesse at the back of the train, unbeknownst of what is to follow.
What follows, of course, is the above-mentioned philosophical, intellectually-charged conversation.  The two eventually decide to get off the train at Vienna and explore the city on foot, making their way past various postcard-worthy locales: the famous Prater ferris wheel; a cemetery filled with anonymous graves; an alternative record store; and even find themselves at that most universally requisite of twenty-something haunts, a seedy dive bar replete with pinball machines and musicians decked out in plaid and baggy jeans (this takes place, after all, at the height of the grunge era).  They run into two quirky theatre actors who playfully joke at Jesse's linguistic ignorance ("Do you speak German, for a change?"), as well as a seemingly omniscient fortune-teller and a homeless man who writes poetry in exchange for money (Jesse: "I like this Viennese variation of bum.") -- the conversation forever flowing all the while, bouncing off these interactions.  They, of course, flirt -- not just with words, but with pauses, silences and sidelong glances (Celine: "I like to feel his eyes on me when I look away.").  As the day turns into night, it is not just the characters who fall in love with one another's beguiling turns of phrase, but the audience, as well.  Here is where the film's (mostly) real-time premise lends itself perfectly, providing a wonderful, ineffable immediacy to their seemingly spontaneous exchange.

The series' second instalment, Before Sunset, picks up where Sunrise's ambiguous ending left off (they part ways, vowing to meet again six months later amid a flurry of hurried kisses and rushed goodbyes).  This time around, Jesse encounters Celine in her hometown of Paris, where he is on the last leg of a promotional tour for a book he's written chronicling their night together.  A few minutes into Sunset's opening scene, wherein we find Jesse in the midst of a Q-&-A session with members of the press at the legendary Shakespeare & Company bookstore, a young reporter in the crowd eagerly asks him the question we all want answered: "Do the two of them ever meet again, like they promised each other?"  Jesse struggles to find a satisfactory response to this, playfully brushing it off and instead moving onto a query about his next project -- only to glance to the side, where he finds the answer in the form of a smiling Celine standing betwixt the bookshelves.

After a few verbal fumbles at the mere sight of her, Jesse finally finishes the session and walks over to the still-smiling Celine, sharing in an awkward exchange of hellos.  From there, it's back to the postcard-worthy locales, the likes of which only Paris can provide (from coffee and tea at Le Pure Cafe; to walks down High Line pre-emptor, the Promenade Plantee; to a dreamy ferry ride along the Seine), as well as the ever-familiar restraints of Time (they have until -- you guessed it -- sunset, before Jesse must leave to catch his plane back to the States).  Despite some moments of awkwardly finding their bearings, the two fall right back into the thick of things, continuing the conversation they had started nine years before.

As Celine thoughtfully says to Jesse towards the end of Sunrise: "If there is any kind of magic in the world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something."  This magic is also due, of course, to both actors' on-screen chemistry and eventual off-screen collaboration by the time Sunset and Midnight come around.  The brainchild of Linklater and original collaborator Kim Krizan, the two characters and the story surrounding them only seem to fully take shape once under the guiding hands (or more accurately, voices) of the actors portraying them, by the time its sequel comes around.

"The auteur of the Before series," Lopate affirms, "must thus be considered a triumvirate...Hawke and Delpy share two-thirds of the screenwriting credit with their director [...] and it's probable that a fair amount of dialogue came from them."  Linklater and Krizan's original Sunrise script certainly portrayed the hopeful naivete & navel-gazing platitudes commonly spouted by many a twenty-something Gen-Xer of that era, and much of that magical dialogue is still evident in Sunset.  In fact, one might even come to realize just how strikingly (and marvellously so) the unfolding conversational themes in each film, echo one other -- especially when viewed together.

Perhaps the most obvious of these is what Lopate dubs the "Time Machine" motif, first seen in Sunrise, wherein Jesse says to Celine:"Think of it like this -- jump ahead ten, twenty years, and you're married.  Only your marriage doesn't have the same energy it used to have.  You start to blame your husband.  You start to think about all those guys in your life, and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them.  So, think of this as time travel from then to now, to find out what you're missing out on."  As we literally jump nearly ten years later in Sunset, we see this very scenario enacted through Jesse himself, who confesses to being stuck in an unhappy marriage, his years spent together with his wife occasionally punctuated by thoughts and even dreams of Celine and their almost-romance.  (This motif, as Lopate further points out, is once again invoked by Jesse at the end of Midnight.)

Celine, too, does some invoking of her own, with the motif of an "old woman" alter-ego.  She states, in Sunrise,"I always have this strange feeling I'm this very old woman laying down about to die -- you know, that my life is just her memories or something."  As the two meet once again in Sunset, she says to a frustrated Jesse: "But we're not real anyway, right?  We're just characters in that old lady's dream.  She's on her deathbed, fantasizing about her youth, so of course we had to meet again, right?"  Other thematic elements occur between the two threads of conversation in each film, from musings on religion and spirituality, to the ever time-honored debate over the social expectations of Man versus Woman.

Just as with its predecessor, Sunset also ends on an open note -- however, one much less ambiguous in comparison.  By the time the pair's jaunt all over Paris ends up at Celine's apartment (with Jesse's driver waiting by the courtyard below to take him straight to the airport), it is clear that he won't be crossing that ocean by day's end, after all.  As Celine playfully dances along to a Nina Simone track (the very aptly-titled "Just in Time"), she turns to him and says, "Baby, you are going to miss that plane."  At which he softens into a grin and simply replies, "I know."  Ambiguous endings or not, the unforgettable chemistry between Linklater's characters are anything but.   From the way Hawke & Delpy each tackle the dialogue, to the similar ease with which their characters seem to bask in one another's company, the first two films in the Before Trilogy prove to be a unique walk down memory lane -- one we'll want to revisit again and again.  

Friday, June 17, 2016

It's Quiet, Uptown.

Photo  © Jessica Taghap
I'm putting off my original plan of finally posting a few long-drafted entries this week to take some time to put down a few thoughts and feelings about many things that have been brought forth into the public sphere over the past week or so -- particularly, the horrific events that occurred in Orlando.

The week started out with a lot of noise -- namely, about the Stanford rape, social media blowing up with plenty of strong opinions on consent and the proliferation of rape culture.  For a while, the noise over these issues only seemed to grow louder over the course of the week, even as news came of the untimely murder of singer and former The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie at a concert in Orlando this past Friday night.  In about less than 24 hours the verbal noise of the ether would find itself quieting down to a standstill, giving way to gunfire -- this time, at a gay nightclub.  Indeed, as one survivor of the shooting -- whom, admittedly, had never heard gunfire before -- had described: the shots had initially registered not as the sounds of cold-blooded murder, but that of music from within the club itself.  In the midst of joy and laughter and revelry, nearly fifty lives would perish.

As a writer, all I have are words -- and over the past week,  I have heard lots of words bandied about, but cannot myself rise above the din with my own.  Cutting through all the noise -- the opinions and calls to action and harried pleas and utter blame and endless debate -- I honestly don't know what to make of any of it.  At times like this, I very much wish I had an opinion to give, that I had all the resources in the world to give back what is lost.  But every time something like this happens -- another Columbine, another Sandy Hook, another San Bernardino -- I just feel...ill-equipped.  I do not understand.  All I know is that my heart is weary, and left with a terrible, terrible sadness at the world we are living in.

How does one even begin to comprehend such a thing? 

In Alan Bennett's play The History Boys -- about a group of Oxford- and Cambridge-bound sixth-formers in 1980s England -- the students ponder the same questions in what becomes a heated discussion about the Holocaust and how it could ever be taught in schools.  One of the students, Posner, the only one of the boys who is of Jewish descent, argues, "But to put something in context is a step towards saying it can be understood and that it can be explained.  And if it can be explained, then it can be explained away."

I am jotting some of these thoughts down into my iPhone, on an F train coming from the Upper East side, where the sight of a building lit up in the colors of the Pride flag has just greeted me as I left work for the day.  In this, I take solace.  I take solace in the quiet of the summer night, in its crisp air, in the simple ability to be able to breathe it in for just one more day.  I take solace in the sight of a couple walking in front of me, tenderly holding hands as a song from Hamilton ("That Would Be Enough") begins to flood my ears, its opening lyrics carrying a new resonance:

Look around, look around
at how lucky we are to be alive right now 

As Lin-Manuel Miranda said in his acceptance speech this past Sunday night: "Love is love is love is love is love is love is love..."  That's all we have.  That's all we can give.  And that means so much more than just mere words.  It means so much more than hate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

#Randomosities: The "Your (Yellow) Face is Problematic" Edition

I know.  It's been a while since I've done one of these, and in the intervening time since the last one (whoa, has it been THAT long?!), a lot has happened.  Seasons have once again changed -- the snow has thawed, given away to lots of rainy days (and, er, Mondays); the flowers and trees have bloomed (my favorite being the myriad cherry blossom trees lining sidewalks and parks, which reminds me -- did anyone go to Sakura Matsuri this weekend?)

Y'know the drill.  Here's a lil' digest of linkity-links and doodly-doos (I don't really what doodly-doos are, but just humor me for a second, internet) for your clicking pleasure:

♡ PULITZER PRIZES, 2016.  It seems that two of my FAVES won Pulitzers this year!  (I only idolize smartypants geniuses, apparently.)  One them happens to be a favorite writer of mine, The New Yorker's Emily Nussbaum, won a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.  Here's a compendium of her work for the publication, as well as my personal favorite: a write-up she did on Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."  Just as the people at the Pulitzer described, her writing is done so "with an affection that never blunts the shrewdness of her analysis," and is certainly an example of what I aspire to, not only a discerning critic but as a writer in general.

Oh, and the other winner?  None other than our lord and savior Lin-Manuel Miranda, of course!  (He won the Prize for Drama, of course.  So, it should be no surprise that this happened as a result.)

♡ ANYWAY, SPEAKING OF WRITING... My cousin Faith wrote a beautiful piece over at Thought Catalog, musing on the idea of Past Selves titled, "A Letter from the Ghost of You."  (And, if you're familiar with my writing, you'll know how much I'm into Past Selves.)  It's a lovely, soul-stirring read that'll make you want to re-visit old journal entries.

HAMILTON.  Ah, yes.  When do I ever not blog about this show?  (I think we all know the answer.  Duh.)  Lately, it's been keeping its snug position in the headlines: aside from the Pulitzer, there was also the recently successful launch of its #EduHam program a few weeks ago; the publication of Hamilton: The Revolution, the official book companion to the show (a.k.a. #Hamiltome); as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda featured in TIME Magazine's annual 100 Most Influential issue!  It perhaps is far from an exaggeration to say that LMM & Hamilton are having a VERY good year -- and all this before the Tony Awards® nominations were even out yet!

(Just this morning, the nominations were announced -- and yes, #yayhamlet broke those records, too.)

#TONYNOMNOMNOMZ, OR: DIVERSITY, PART I.  We all know how controversial a year it's been so far, re: diversity in the arts (oh, hello there, #OscarsSoWhite), so it's no surprise that diversity would be a hot topic not only in film circles but in theatre, as well.  And upon this morning's Tony Awards® nominations, many took to Twitter to hash out some thoughts.

Here, a noteworthy comment from The Washington Post's Peter Marks (@petermarksdrama):

This has been just the tip of the enormous iceberg of dialogue that has occurred within the past month or so, starting with Diep Tran's keynote speech at this year's American Theatre Critics Association conference (#ATCA2016), held in Philadelphia.  The speech, titled "Perspectives in Criticism," declared a call to action for not only more inclusion regarding future generations of critics, but also for older generations to help guide and nurture upcoming talent:

We need to find a way to ensure that newer critics are being trained and encouraged to write, and we need to find a way to pay them. My boss Rob Weinert-Kendt has been talking about creating a fellowship for theater critics of color. I don’t see why ATCA can’t do the same, or partner with American Theatre to help fund theater criticism as the traditional outlets are shutting them down. If we want diversity, we need to be intentional about it. 
I recently read articles on Buzzfeed and Poynter that said this: It said that journalists tend to mentor people who remind them of themselves. And since most editors are white and male, it all but ensures that this exclusive club of journalists remains homogenous.
Tran, a woman of Vietnamese descent who currently writes for American Theatre Magazine, further directed her frustrations towards the content we see onstage, attributing the ongoing "one-sided conversation" to irresponsible assumptions.  She alluded to a previous article she wrote for American Theatre, titled "4 Ways Theatre Critics Can Be Less Racist", wherein she posited the following four points:

Point 1: Don’t ask the playwright of color questions that you would not ask a white playwright. 
Point 2: Avoid stereotypical adjectives when describing different ethnicities. 
Point 3: Call out problematic representations when you see them. 
Point 4: Own your mistakes. 
Each of these certainly great guidelines for writers out there who are not of color, and each worth remembering even if one is a writer of color.  LET'S LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD, GUYS.

DIVERSITY, PART II.  The dialogue continued last night with #BeyondOrientalism/#MyYellowFaceStory, a forum held at Fordham University in conjunction with The Asian American Arts Alliance, Asian American Performers' Action Coalition (AAPAC), Theatre Communications Group and the Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts.  Here, the full livestream of the panel discussion:

I'm just about to catch up and watch it, myself -- but judging from the Twitter feed alone, it seems like we're starting to delve into some interesting stuff.  This definitely won't be the last of this discussion.