Friday, August 26, 2011

MFA Acting Orientation

I'm bracing myself for a weekend of reading, writing and running from Hurricane Irene, but before we're evacuated (true story- I live in the coastal evacuation zone- in a basement), I wanted to share some thoughts from yesterday's orientation at Brooklyn College!

First on the schedule was a meeting with the head of our department. We talked a bit about what to expect on this journey, got our schedules and went over our first assignments. My program is very small- there are seven first year MFA actors (including myself) and 7 second years. The second years came for an informal Q & A and we got to know each other a bit, which was wonderful. They were so kind and welcoming and helped relieve a lot of our anxiety about starting school. I feel very blessed to be a part of such a supportive group!

Next we attended a department-wide orientation (where we got to meet the MFA Directors, Designers, Dramaturgs and Theatre Managment students). It was inspiring and a bit humbling to meet everyone and hear a bit about their story. Our department seems to have students representing every continent, many states, all ages and backgrounds- each of us brought together by our love of and dedication to the theatre. It's a powerful thing to sit amongst so many others and hear what they've been through to get to this point. Additionally, we learned that Brooklyn College's Theatre program has been ranked 14th in the country by the Princeton Review. 

I went out with some of my classmates and fellow theatre department friends last night- it was wonderful to get to know everyone better! 

I'm currently finishing up/ tweaking a few assignments for next week, including a writing piece about the story of my voice and some general assessments of where I am right now as an actor. As soon as I'm happy with them, I'll be sharing pieces of the assignments on this blog. Check back soon!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

'Twas the Night Before Orientation...

Tomorrow is Orientation, and then on Friday, I begin my first day of MFA Acting studies at Brooklyn College.

Deep breaths. 

I'm thrilled to get started, but a bit nervous about the unknown. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As One Door Closes...

Box of tissues ready? Check. OK. Here goes....

never, ever wanted to be a teacher. My grandma, father, several cousins and one of my sisters are all teachers. I am genetically pre-dispositioned to shape the minds of young people, but for a very long time, I wanted nothing to do with it. I wanted to break the mold, buck the trend and do what made me happy. And that was (and still is) performing. I've always been an advocate for arts education because I know first-hand how life-changing free, no strings attached arts training can be, but it hadn't really occurred to me that I should be the one teaching it. 

The more I learned about the tragic and sickly state of arts in public education and the huge disparities between high and low-income areas, I felt physically ill. It touches close to home. As a quick recap for those of you who don't know my story, financial struggle was a very large and ever present part of my upbringing- at times affording basic survival necessities was difficult, so spend extra money on arts training was not realistic for our family. I was blessed to have been born into a family that appreciated the value of art, however, and they worked hard to find opportunities for my sisters and I. Through the gracious and generous donation of time and instruction from my very kind dance teacher, we were allowed to attend class even when we couldn't pay for it, and several impactful theatre directors volunteered their personal time and resources to help me grow and prepare for further actor training. I am forever indebted to these individuals who believed in me and more importantly, who believed in the importance and power of art. 

At the end of the day, arts education is NOT about grooming the next generation of artists (that's just an added benefit). Kids need arts education because it provides: 

-permission to be unique
-a positive outlet
-an opportunity to learn about yourself and other people
-a way to look and make sense of the world we live in
-a platform on which to stand and express what's important to you

Being the person to give that to these kids is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

And now that I'm weeping hysterically, here's a recap of my final day teaching. 

We did a full run-through in the AM with costumes, props, etc. It went smoothly, so I let the kids enjoy a few hours relaxing before we prepared for the show. 

We played in the gym!

And then we went outside. 

The kids LOVE stealing my iced coffee and then impersonating me. Evidently I stand like this?! 

We played salon (which basically means I let the kids tear out braid my hair until I can't handle the pain any longer). 

And I hung around with some of my favorite boys. 

When we went back inside, the kids had lunch and I fed them THE COOKIES (a huge hit), and then it was time to start makeup!

 In our costume closet super fancy makeup studio.

 I got some much needed help from my awesome co-worker Ivan, who did all of the "old people makeup". 

 EVERYONE in the older grades gets stage makeup. Even the boys. And I think they like it... 

 Haephestus from Pandora's Box, looking old and busted. 

 Sometimes the boys end up looking prettier than me. I try not to be jealous. In my defense, he is  wearing more makeup than I am in this photo. 

 Drama also teaches valuable life skills like NOT twitching when there's a mascara wand up in yo grill. This kid's got it down pat. 

I made a quick transformation (as I was narrating/ emceeing) into one of my favorite Forever 21 dresses I picked up years ago- last worn here, and my wedding shoes!

There are few things better for your confidence than working with kids. I was told I looked like "a princess", "a super model", "a movie star", "a mermaid", "Hannah Montana" (compliment?) and "Princess Peach". I'll take it!

 Getting the show started with one of my handsome co-hosts. :)

 K/1st telling the Cherokee legend of Why The Trees Lose Their Leaves

 2nd/3rd's presentation of the Maori legend of Why The Kiwi Lost It's Wings.

 4th/5th's rendition of Pandora's Box. 

 Watching proudly from the wings. 

 Pandora and Hope. 

 DANCE TIME! K/1st doing a Native American dance. 

 2nd/ 3rd's Polynesian dance. 

 My little divas doing the choreography from our Cardio-Dance elective class. 

4th/ 5th lyrical dance. 

And then it was time to say goodbye. Ooof.

 One of my students gave me the lei they had made for their costume! :)

 I started out smiling...

 But the tears weren't far behind...

 I got to share a few last silly moments with some kids.

 And some more serious ones with others...

 I don't get to interact very much with parents because I don't sign the kids in or out of the program, so it was nice to have the opportunity to tell them how amazingly talented their children are. 

 With a few- of MANY- amazing co-workers. I couldn't do it without these guys.

I snagged all of my teacher swag and headed home to finish packing for HLS and run to the train station. 

I could go on for another six or seven pages, but instead, I'll end on a note of gratitude to my students and the organizations that make the work I do possible. 

Teaching has given me: 

-A true appreciation of unconditional love and adoration.
-A much stronger sense of purpose and self. 
-Gratitude for my parents and former teachers. 
-A clearer idea of what's important to me. 
-An unchangeably galvanized belief in the power and importance of arts education.
-Faith in future generations. 

Thanks for listening to the ramblings of this weepy and emotional girl. It'll be a few years before the next "Miss Keelie" post, but I'm excited to begin my adventures in graduate school, which I'll be blogging about here. Orientation is Thursday!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fringe NYC Reviews

I had the privilege of seeing three Fringe shows this past weekend as a reviewer for I didn't care for two of them, but LOVED the third. You can read my review of Mic at the Flamboyan Theatre here

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Before I Die...

I first came across this interactive public art project earlier this year, and was taken aback by how beautiful, simple and universal it is. Answering the "before I die...." prompt might be an interesting addition to character study... 

Check it out here

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thoughts and Reflections: "A Practical Handbook for the Actor"

I'd call this a book report, but it's not. Let's go with "free response". I'm including a few passages from the book that stood out to me, and what they made me think. Abandon all dependence on rationally organized thoughts, ye who enter here. 

"Acting requires common sense, bravery and a lot of will: the common sense to translate whatever you are given into simple, actable terms; the bravery to throw yourself into the action of the play despite fear of failure, self consciousness and a thousand other obstacles; and the will to adhere to your ideals even though it might not be the easiest thing to do."  (p6)

When truth and virtue are so rare in almost every area of our society, the world needs theatre and the theatre needs actors who will bring the truth of the human soul to the stage. The theatre may now be the only place in society where people can go to hear the truth.” (p.7)

-What does it say about us as a species that we create replications of ourselves to tell ourselves the truth? I ask this more out of curiosity than condemnation. What is so bad about the truth that we choose to refract it through art? Are we not designed to be able to handle/ process truth in it's simplest form? Is the truth so simple and mundane that we change it- sculpt, mold, twist, bend, paint, conceal and tear to adorn it with more intricacy than it possesses?

"The reason great actors are so compelling is that they have the courage to bring their personalities to bear on everything they do... you have the right and responsibility to bring to the stage who you are."

-How often are we so stuck in our own heads that we fear our characters are repetitive, or redundant, or too similar to ourselves? For a long time, my greatest fear was to go on stage and seem too much like myself- I measured the merit of my performance by the distance I could put between who I was on-stage and who I was in real-life. It was agonizing, and not very much fun.

"The person you are is a thousand times more interesting that the best acotr you could ever hope to be."  (Stanislavski, quoted on p 75)

-I often find myself concerned that I'm not doing the complexity of my character justice. Have I created a rounded, three-dimensional person? It's easy to forget that you already are one...

"Rehearsal is not a battleground but an incubator." (p 77)

-When dealing with conflicts, it's a good idea to keep in mind that everyone shares the same goal of doing the piece justice.

"Nothing is more cleansing or exhilarating than watching a human being standing true to his intentions, no matter how impossibly high the odds are against him."     (p 85)

Bruder, Melissa, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Oinek, Nathaniel Pollack, Robert Previto, Scott Zigler. A Practical Handbook for the Actor. Random House. New York. 1986.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Food for thought...

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.—Aldous Huxley

Monday, August 1, 2011

What's Genocide?

I recently came across this piece. It struck me as particularly poignant and unfortunately, too accurate in the struggles myself and my fellow educators in the NYC DOE (or really, in education ANYWHERE) face. 


their high school principal
told me I couldn’t teach
poetry with profanity
so I asked my students,
“Raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Holocaust.”
in unison, their arms rose up like poisonous gas
then straightened out like an SS infantry
“Okay. Please put your hands down.
Now raise your hand if you’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide.”
blank stares mixed with curious ignorance
a quivering hand out of the crowd
half-way raised, like a lone survivor
struggling to stand up in Kigali
“Luz, are you sure about that?”
“That’s what I thought.”
“Carlos—what’s genocide?”

they won’t let you hear the truth at school
if that person says “fuck”
can’t even talk about “fuck”
even though a third of your senior class
is pregnant.
I can’t teach an 18-year-old girl in a public school
how to use a condom that will save her life
and that of the orphan she will be forced
to give to the foster care system—
“Carlos, how many 13-year-olds do you know that are HIV-positive?”
“Honestly, none. But I do visit a shelter every Monday and talk with
six 12-year-old girls with diagnosed AIDS.”
while 4th graders three blocks away give little boys blowjobs during recess
I met an 11-year-old gang member in the Bronx who carries
a semi-automatic weapon to study hall so he can make it home
and you want me to censor my language
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
your books leave out Emmett Till and Medgar Evers
call themselves “World History” and don’t mention
King Leopold or diamond mines
call themselves “Politics in the Modern World”
and don’t mention Apartheid
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
you wonder why children hide in adult bodies
lie under light-color-eyed contact lenses
learn to fetishize the size of their asses
and simultaneously hate their lips
my students thought Che Guevara was a rapper
from East Harlem
still think my Mumia t-shirt is of Bob Marley
how can literacy not include Phyllis Wheatley?
schools were built in the shadows of ghosts
filtered through incest and grinding teeth
molded under veils of extravagant ritual
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
“Roselyn, how old was she? Cuántos años tuvo tu madre cuando se murió?”
“My mother had 32 years when she died. Ella era bellísima.”
…what’s genocide?
they’ve moved from sterilizing “Boriqua” women
injecting indigenous sisters with Hepatitis B,
now they just kill mothers with silent poison
stain their loyalty and love into veins and suffocate them
…what’s genocide?
Ridwan’s father hung himself
in the box because he thought his son
was ashamed of him
…what’s genocide?
Maureen’s mother gave her
skin lightening cream
the day before she started the 6th grade
…what’s genocide?
she carves straight lines into her
beautiful brown thighs so she can remember
what it feels like to heal
…what’s genocide?
…what’s genocide?
“Carlos, what’s genocide?”
“Luz, this…
this right here…
is genocide.”
- Carlos Andrés Gómez