An Unexpected Journey Started With Being a Cheerleader and Meeting A Giant…

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On Thursday,  I finally watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It was so breathtaking! I loved the breadth of locations and the transitions from scene to scene.  While the character development was brief but adequate, I am hoping that the sequels will have more  info on the backstory of each of the charming characters.

I really wanted more of Radagan the Brown and his rabbit sleigh.  I WANT A RABBIT SLEIGH!!!! AND A HEDGEHOG!!!

I think the storytelling was well paced and the dialogue snappy.  The only complaint I have is the three trolls that stole the four horses.  I thought it went  a little too three stooges. And I know that this is a special effects heavy movie but I wish that it wasn’t so obviously digital at times.  Regardless of those little gripes, I really enjoyed watching this movie. It actually got me to think about the unexpected journey that I have taken this year. But first I have to give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:

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Four big ol’ smiling faces! Hooray!!

As I mentioned, the movie made me want to do two things.  First, it made me want to take an unexpected journey of my own.  It made me want to travel to somewhere, anywhere and see new things and meet new people.  I think that may be why I love to try new things.  I began thinking “shoot, I have almost a week off maybe I should try to take a trip somewhere.”  Then the reality that my car may not make it kicks in and squelches that idea.

The second thing that it made me think about was the journey that I’ve taken this year and where it has led me to thus far…

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At the beginning of the year, I got to be the MC for NotBlueAtAll.com‘s A Fatty Affair.  It was a blast.  I loved being a part of something that is encouraging and positive.  I loved it so much that I am gonna do it again come January! And you are all invited!  Its a self accepting event where there are no judgements, just each of us enjoying the beauty that is you as you are and empowering you to believe it.

Then,  feeling great from the Fatty Affair gig, I thought I would try my luck with an audition for San Jose Stage Company.  It was one of the few auditions that I really felt pretty good about an audition.  I believe I may be getting the hang of this.  YAY!!  I didn’t get in and I wasn’t expecting to since many of the people they use are Equity.

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Next, I was really focused on more dancing and I loved it.  I got to perform a piece choreographed by one my teachers, Daynee, in various incarnations.  At one point, I thought it was going to be  a solo since it started out as a quartet then went down to a trio with different people.  Then, we were asked to try it as a duet, but then we couldn’t nail down a rehearsal time, so it was nixed.  It was great to perform it during National Dance week in Santana Row and at Western Ballet’s dance show as well as Zohar’s own dance performance.

It was there that I met Walter Mayes for the first time.  Actually let me reword that.  I knew who he was and I’ve seen him before, and he kinda scared me.  You see, the first time that I was actually in the same room as him, he was physically throwing this little guy out of a house.  Imagine seeing this 7 foot man (if not that then very nearly) picking up this little 5 and a half foot guy and carrying him to the door.  He had this booming voice, and I thought to myself, “I am just gonna stand over here and stay out of his way.”  So when he came up to me after the dance concert, I didn’t know what to do.  He asked me to audition for Promises, Promises in the middle of the year.  I told him that I didn’t think I was going to and I gave him my reasons, but he insisted that I audition anyway.  Eventually I caved.  It would be a good learning experience to work with a new director.  Auditions came, I flubbed it and I secretly was hoping to be done with it.  But somehow, Walter offered me another shot during callbacks and I landed the role of Mr. Kirkeby.  So I had to wait until the end of the year to begin rehearsals (which are going on now).

While I was waiting for rehearsals to begin, I began to feel a little braver thanks to the conversation with Mr. Mayes.  So I auditioned for a brand spanking new musical about the buddha, but this time it was a woman.  I travelled to San Francisco and was there for a hot minute, and came back home with an appointment the next week for audition #2!  That was exciting.  Sadly, that was as far as I got in the process.  Not to worry, I didn’t fit any of the physical character breakdowns so I knew that it was ending soon.  But that little try helped me to see that auditioning wouldn’t kill me or maim me in any way, so my intense fears were completely pointless.

Feeling bolder, I auditioned for the national tour of Green Day’s American Idiot.  It was just like any other audition.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and I think I was building it up way too much in my head. I didn’t screw it up, but I don’t think I was flawless either.  hahahahaha.  Live and learn, right? Again, I was a face your fear situation and I walked away the winner of that battle.  Then the audition well, dried up for a month or two.  So I was twiddling about with nothing but my 9-5 to keep me busy.

One day in my inbox, I got a notice for Santa Clara Players, a company I have never worked with. I considered auditioning, but I never heard of the show, nor did I like the title of it.  So I trashed it and paid it no mind. Things continued like normal until the day of auditions.  I did all my usual errands and went to visit my family.  Then on the way home, I was literally on my street, I decided to give it a shot.  I first got lost trying to find this place but once I did I couldn’t turn back.  So I walked in completely cold and performed a monologue I’ve had in my back pocket since high school but stopped using.  It got me my first leading man gig!  Of course he was like the 4th important character, but finally I had this type of role.  I cannot tell you how much of a booster that was.

During the middle of the rehearsals, I got an email from a friend to participate in a read though of his scripts so he can tweak and adjust them and address any questions that could possibly come up.  I have a draft of the post that was supposed to go up, but I didn’t finish it.  I will work on that tonight!  That was the first time I’ve ever been invited to give input on a script that’s just been written. I mean I’ve done it for AMT when I worked there, but that was because I didn’t have anything else to do.  Someone asked me, as an actor, to do this, so I was shocked.

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So as I am performing in Nana’s Naughty Knickers, rehearsals begin for Promises, Promises.  I didn’t know what to expect when I got there so I kind of kept quiet and watched the people for the first week.  Now having gotten to know many of them, I have to say, they are a fabulous bunch of people. Some I’ve worked with before, and some I am meeting for the first time.  But all are so helpful and friendly. Then to make the process even more painless, the staff is awesome.   Mr. Mayes is such a positive and detail oriented director that it makes you want to work that much harder for him. Lee Ann Payne our choreographer has made some adorable numbers, hard as all get out, but adorable.  Dan and Anita who handle the music and vocals respectively are so helpful.  This staff has been described as the “dream team” and I have to admit they may be right.  I am having a lot of fun so far and I can’t wait til this show gets put on it’s feet at the end of January.  You can purchase tickets HERE!  So get’em cuz we may just sell out! Screw that, we WILL sell out!

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Then a few weeks ago, there were auditions for Sugar.  I knew the movie Some Like It Hot which the show is based off of.  I really wanted to participate in this show and I wanted to keep this momentum of getting to auditions and not freaking out, so I gave it a shot.  Since I couldn’t possibly rehearse for two shows at the same time, I thought my chances were slim to none. I thought my song was good, the tempo was slower than I would have liked. The reading went fabulously, I felt, especially since they were laughing a lot.  So I got a call back for the two leads and a character that tap dances to his death.  The callback felt a bit rough, but I tried a ton of stuff even if it didn’t make sense, I wanted to push and not play it safe.  We must’ve read about 6 times a piece with different partners then switching the roles. Every single time, I tried new stuff.  I tried not to repeat what the other guys were doing, and I had to hope that it worked.  Then I was told that since I was going to be missing the first three weeks of rehearsal, the director really had to think hard about the ramifications of offering me one of these main roles.

AND I GOT IT!!!!

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So come the new year, I will be rehearsing two shows at the same time!! Gah!! I already began working on Sugar and the script is so funny and I feel so blessed and grateful that the director trusts me enough to do this.  But to be safe I have an understudy, Ian Douglas, who is a great performer.  Talk about pressure!!

So I look forward to seeing where this newly found “bravery” takes me.  Its time to plan for next year. And I am planning bigger and hopefully better!!

Onward and upward, my friends!!  I hope that you too take a look back on your 2012 and see the unexpected journey you have taken.  Have things turned out as you hoped?  Have you learned something new about yourself? Leave a message below.

Les Mis Left Me Le Meh….

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To this day ever since seeing the live theatre event that is Les Miserables, once the faint singing of “Do you hear the people sing/Lost in the valley of the night/It is the music of the people/Who are climbing to the light”  I feel the sting of tears flood my eyes and a lump forms in my throat and my ears start to burn.  Then the music begins to swell and the voices sing out louder and louder taking me over the wall and into the revolution with them.

Seeing this masterpiece of a show on a stage has such power that there, simply put, isn’t a way to match it, unless it’s to film a live production of it.  You know, like they did with RENT.

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I try to pretend that the movie with the original cast was never made.  Its just that bad.

This brings me to my point.  Watching the “midnight” showing of Les Mis last night with my friend, Tressa and with Perry, left me feeling like I wasted my money.   I love the show, I really really do.  So when people try to Hollywoodize a Broadway show, I know there will be differences.  What I don’t understand is why someone would take this show which has worked as written for decades and rewrite some lyrics or switch them or cut a song.  Is it because movie audiences just wouldn’t get it?  It’s possible.  I mean the characters of the Thenardiers (played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter) were blown up so over the top it was terrible.  But they were bastard versions of the characters so that typical movie audiences would be okay with watching a musical.  Yes, I know its a downer of a show and they are the light moments, but making them clowns isn’t necessary to showing the funny in their behaviors. I think that was a horrible choice for the casting director (Nina Gold).  They may as well have put in Adam Sandler in for Cohen.   I couldn’t wait for them to get the eff off the screen.

Speaking of horrible choices, Ms. Gold, what were you thinking with Russell Crowe?  No, really.  I would love to know.  I understand that simply as an actor he looks and can play the role of a hard-nosed inspector in France in the 1800’s.  But his singing was just atrocious.  I felt bad for him.  And myself.  Did you have him actually sing “Stars” at the audition?  Wow.  His rendition gave me nightsweats!

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I know I am being a little mean to you Ms. Gold, so here’s some good to go with the bad…

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Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Huttlestone, Anne Hathaway and Aaron Tveit were great.  I could close my eyes and see all of them as part of a stage production.  Of course Ms. Barks has already been (see the clip below) and Mr. Tveit has been on Broadway as well (Catch Me If You Can).  As the lovelorn Eponine, Ms. Barks, my favorite part of the movie, is heartbreaking but never defeatist which makes me root for her all the more.  Huttlestone as Gavroche was perfection as the feisty little revolutionary.  I loved the moment he sings “Think you’re poor/Think you’re free/ Follow me/ Follow me…” He is standing in the window of a carriage singing down to an aristocrat with one foot on the ledge in a position of power.  It is a great shot.  One of the few that I enjoyed in the movie.  Marius’ epic “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” was for me the showstopper of the movie and Redmayne was mesmerizing.  Anne Hathaway made Fantine strong and delicate but such a fighter that she is worthy of the Golden Globe nomination.  Mr. Tveit was on point for this role! He was my other favorite actor in this movie.

Samantha Barks sings “On My Own”

Oh, speaking of Golden Globes, Mr. Hugh Jackman, while doing a very very good job in the movie was kinda weirdly uninteresting at times.  Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Hugh, but there were moments where I just had to scratch my head and say “WTF?”  For example, during the new “song” (it doesn’t really fit in the show, style wise, I feel) Valjean is supposed to be stroking Cosette’s hair while she is sleeping on his lap.  First, his hand is held in an awkward position, and then when you really watch he’s not even touching her hair.  To make matters worse, the director cuts to a close up and shows him tenderly (or as I like to say fakely) caressing her hair.  Then during his rendition of “Bring Him Home,” he starts almost in a belting voice which leaves nowhere for the song to build to.  I just wanted to close my eyes and wish for Colm Wilkinson to take over after a few lines.

AND I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION: It was so awesome to see Colm Wilkinson (The original Jean Valjean) as the Priest who gives Valjean the silver to remake his life.   It just brought the biggest smile on my face.

One thing that the movie can do better than the musical was show in greater detail the battle scene.  It is powerful and heartbreaking.

The other thing that bothered me was the lack of new angles and shots when it came time to sing the songs. Each solo was filmed head on with only one person in the shot. Even the duets are filmed in this way.  If I remember correctly, all the songs were sung as they were being filmed live, so I can understand why it was filmed like this. But for a movie that is 97% sung it gets old fast.

I will hold firm that the best musical converted to a movie is Chicago.  I don’t think Les Mis is an entirely lost cause, but I think I should have waited for a matinee to shell out some dough to see this “show.”

It is a pretty good movie, just not as amazing as I was hoping.

I can only give Les Miserables

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Two smiling actors.  Maybe I will upgrade review when the dvd comes out.

Kids: They’re Like Little People…

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A few months ago, I was approached by two of my wonderful teachers, Ehud and Daynee, to assist one of them in a class.  I had to check what the work schedule was like and everything, but it turned out that I would totally have the time.

Once I got back to them, I was told it was to help teach preschoolers about dance.

Kids?? Oh no!  I am terrible with kids.  I have so many nieces and nephews that I have a poor relationship with, how am I going to be able to do this?

So when Thursday rolled around, I dragged myself out of bed to assist my dance teacher with a class of preschoolers.

Upon arrival at the Head Start Preschool in San Jose, I immediately got the “new kid” syndrome.  I think at one point or another, everyone has had this feeling.  It’s the one where you become apprehensive and anxious because you don’t know anyone or where anything is in the place… Yeah, that feeling.

When I finally found Ehud, I was told that we had to have the class outside because the usual room was being used for testing for the school across the parking lot.  I began setting up per Ehud’s instruction and when I was done, he took me through the classroom and I got to meet this energetic, very loud group of children, who were so cheerful (for the most part) and excitable.  There were two or three shy kids that wouldn’t say hi to me.  Just as I think I’ve seen all the little ones, Ehud tells me that we have to go and meet the others.  When I ask him how many more there were, he said that there were about another 20. “Sure is a big class.” I joke.

Then comes the news that it was three classes.

My mind was trying to figure out how this was going to work.  I thought I would just be volunteering for an hour or so.  But three classes couldn’t only be an hour so this was a puzzle for me.  I still had all my other normal day off errands to run.  Then the anxiety begins to build.

We take the first class outside and begin all the things that Ehud does with them.  My role is basically to demonstrate what Ehud would like for the children to do.  Somehow in the middle of the class, it becomes less like “assisting” Ehud and more like playing with the kids.  I rolled around on the wet ground with them. I jumped like a rabbit and a kangaroo, then watched them do the same.  It was just fun.  By the end of the class, the kids were okay with playing with the “new kid.”  When the first class was over and the teacher rounded them up, they turned and said “Bye, Jery!”

That’s when I realized how important this volunteer gig would be.  The next two classes were just as fun, and flew by.  One of the aides was even dancing her own little style off to the side.  She said it was a great way to exercise for the day.

As the Thursdays came and went, these little people welcomed me into their school shared with me laughs and stories about things like what they dressed up as on Halloween, who their favorite dancer was, which dish was their favorite food at Thanksgiving dinner, and the most important, what they want for Christmas.  All these bright little eyes wide with excitement as they chatter away.  I can’t help but to smile and just enjoy these moments.  It’s so different than my first Thursday with them.

The teachers and their aides were so helpful and willing to help these kids do what Ehud wanted them to do either by translating or speaking to them on a one on one level.  The teachers also had the tough job of keeping the kids focused while the music needed to be changed or as we had to pass out props. They smiled as they watched their students laughing and smiling while dancing around.

Not every day was a good one.  As kids tend to have bad days, I’ve had a chance to witness a few and see the nurturing way the teachers cared for them,  only to see them bounce back by the end of the class where we played a game called “Freeze Dance.”  Freeze Dance is simply when music plays and everyone dances but once it stops we have to as well, just like “a frozen chicken” as Ehud would say.  The kids would all laugh when he said that.

Looking back at the last couple of months, I see how this has changed them.  For example, there is a sweet little boy named Nhat.  He doesn’t speak much english and has a small mobility problem.  When I first started, I noticed that he didn’t really move as much as the others.  He would just move his arms while standing in place.  Watching him now, he slowly runs with the rest of his class screaming with delight.  Somehow, the “Freeze Dance” game seems to become a time for the group to run laps around the room by the end of the song and Nhat now joins in the madness rather than just walking off to the side.  I try to be as respectful to them the exact same way I am with adults and I don’t know if that is why, but at the end of class often times I am surrounded by little arms that are reaching for hugs.

As I write this I feel like I understand children a little better.  At the same time, it makes me feel bad about the relationships I have with the little ones in my family.  It certainly makes me want to be just as willing to play with them as I do with Ehud’s little dancers.

While I have had a blast assisting, I would like to see some things happen over the course of the spring session that just may help the outreach program grow.  I would love to get the kids to learn more of the true dance terminology and steps.  I think it would have a great impact on them learning to focus on the class and help them to learn routines more quickly.  Of course the additional upside to that would be maybe the kids would want to take classes in a studio.  I feel like sometimes the energy that they have would get a little out of control, so maybe start the class off with a short meditation.  I’ve seen the effects of it when Ehud would do it at the end; they were much quieter and calmer after.  Follow that with a little bit of stretching then dancing then a wacky game at the end and that should mellow them out for an hour or so I would imagine.

In any case, I’ve been so lucky to get to meet and hang out with these little people on Thursdays and it reminds me that you are never to old to play.  So to them I say “Thank You.”