When did you first start writing plays?
The first time I wrote a complete play was my freshman year of college, after trying and failing to get into several BFA Acting programs. But I’ve always been telling stories. I used to write “novels” on printer paper and hand them out during elementary school recess. In high school I wrote notebooks upon notebooks of rap lyrics, which, in its own way, was storytelling. I’ve always been preoccupied with language, as well as with the way people treat each other. Drama came naturally from that.
Was there one play that really inspired you to become a playwright?
I can’t pinpoint one play, but Caryl Churchill, Harold Pinter, Sam Shepard, and Paula Vogel were my playwriting obsessions in college.
Did you study playwriting in school? If so, where did you attend?
I took an essential playwriting course at Ithaca College, where I was a Drama major and had a Scriptwriting minor in the Communications school. I then went to the MFA Playwriting program at the New School for Drama.
What do you think is the most important thing you learned from a professor or mentor about writing a play? If not one, several?
Oh, man. It’s really hard to pick just one thing! But a common theme from all of my teachers and mentors has been about pages only resulting from hard work. There is no shortcut; there is no magic trick that pulls a scene out of your mind. You open the notebook or the document and you work.
Beyond that, most of them have stressed the importance of being honest with your self: you have to tell the truth as best you know it at this moment. Virginia Woolf’s urging that “If you do not tell the truth about yourself then you cannot tell it about others” seems to have been passed down, and often.
In terms of craft, the things I often repeat back to my own students are “if the characters don’t care about each other, it will be difficult for an audience to care about them,” “we’re more likely to anticipate an event that a character is personally anticipating,” and “information is often most effective when received through action.”
Do you have a certain process when writing your plays or does it vary and change from piece to piece?
It certainly varies. My play, Sunrise Highway came about over several rewrites - scenes changing order, backstories transformed - over the course of two years. My play, The Blameless was written almost entirely in two weeks at Ojai Playwrights Conference - after a year of thinking about the subject. Every play so far has required its own process. (But I can’t stress enough that sleeping well, eating well, and maintaining my relationships has always led to greater artistic output.)
Some playwrights swear by plot while others swear by character. What do you find most interesting or which drives you most when writing a play?
When I was younger, I would have said character is vastly more important, but now, I’d have a difficult time describing what the difference between character and plot is. Characters’ actions and decisions create the plot; the decisions and actions you show through plot create the character. Situation is usually where I start though - a dilemma, an event, an upheaval - and characters spring out from that.
What inspires you to write your plays? Do you draw from personal experiences? Or do you attempt to step outside of yourself and create something completely alien? Again, does it vary from piece to piece?
The pattern seems to be that I get deeply disturbed by something going on in the world, then I set up a wide net and wait for a story to get stuck in a way that speaks to that disturbance. From there, I usually infuse the story with personal details that make it more vivid and help me invest in it.
In an age of television and movies, what do you find most integral about live theater?
I’ve always felt that theater is an exercise in empathy. It’s an actual workout of our capacity to feel for other human beings. This happens by feeling for the performers who are right there with us, but also by reacting off of the people around us. I love film, but I often feel pretty isolated from the rest of the crowd while watching, and I have my TV obsessions, but that’s even more insular. The live nature of the performance in theater - when it’s working well - makes an organism out of the performers and the audience members.
What has been your most interesting (good or bad or both) experience in workshopping, having a reading, or a production of one of your plays?
I was doing a talkback after a reading, and a woman raised her hand and proceeded to let me know how vulgar she thought aspects of the play were, and how unrelatable she found some of the characters. What can ya do, ya know? That was her experience. So I was just gritting my teeth and bearing it, but then this one guy raised his hand to offer a different perspective. He said that he works with teenagers like the one in my play, and that he found the characters to be really authentic, and what it helped him realize is that these kids are experts at taking care of the people around them but have no clue how to let someone care of them. He thought it was beautiful. The reason that stuck with me is not because the second response redeemed me or is better than the first. It’s because it seems to be a microcosm of the whole experience of putting stories out there - some companies reject them immediately, others can’t wait to work on them; some critics think you have no clue how to write a play and others think the play couldn’t be more moving. And you have to take all of that in and just keep being as honest as you can be. If you please everyone, you will thrill no one.
In the recent past, you took part in the Drama Book Shop's “Write Out Front” series. Could you tell us a little about what this is, and how your experience was participating?
Write Out Front is an awesome project produced by Theaterspeak. Playwrights are set up with a desk in the window of Drama Book Shop, and a live feed shows passersby on the street what they’re working on. It’s designed to call attention to the time and space that writers need to get work done, and I had a blast doing it. I was self-conscious, for sure, but I think there was also a gentle pressure built in to just get words on the page, which actually led to me pushing through a trouble spot in my play Black Fly Spring.
Moving on to your personal projects, could you tell us a little about your new play, The Glow Overhead and what's next for that play?
The Glow Overhead is inspired by true events, in which a deep freshwater diver went in search of the missing body of another diver who had disappeared. But it wasn’t ever intended as a documentary or biography, and I immediately departed into an imaginary telling. It’s about the depths in which we can get lost - the depths of grief and the depths of what we can’t know about others - but it’s also about that light above the surface that reminds us that there is love despite the darkness. My friend Sherri Barber will be directing a workshop of the play at Chautauqua Theater Company the first week of August! They have a great team there and we’re really excited.
You also teach playwriting from time to time. Could you tell us a little about what programs you work with, and what it means to you?
I’ve taught for Naked Angels’ 3 Thursdays for three summer sessions, twice for the New School for Drama’s BFA New Works Festival, and this summer will be my first times working with Merrimack Repertory and Ojai Playwrights Conference as a Teaching Artist. I love to teach playwriting because I get to flip a common expectation that the students come in with. The point of the workshop is for them to tell us what we need to know, not the other way around. My job is to offer them some tools and some elements of craft, and to encourage them, but at the end of it all, they should feel validated in saying what they need to say.
Guns are an extremely hot button issue right now in America, amongst many other societal and political issues. You are currently developing a new play centering around the boundaries between intention and accident in violence. Could you tell us a little more about this play and what you hope to achieve with it?
I don’t want to say too much about plot, because I’m in the middle of the first draft! But it’s not really about guns so much as it is about this trend I see in which, in some acts of violence, there is an insistence that the perpetrator was a lone wolf detached from society, and in others, it was a person influenced by and representative of a larger culture. I’m interested in questioning that line between “this is an isolated incident” and “this is a reflection of culture.”
You will also be having a world premiere of your play, The Blameless, in 2017. Could you tell us a little about this play and how to the opportunity to work with The Old Globe came about?
The staff at Old Globe had read the play after I finished it at the Ojai Playwrights Conference. They invited me out to the theater to do a reading of it, which went great, and we took it from there. The play is about a grieving family who has suffered a violent loss as they break bread with a man who has a unique connection to that violence. It’s a tribute to people who love each other and get through the day amid profound loss, and it’s my own way of asking about the possibilities and the limits of forgiveness.
Who are your favorite playwrights and/or plays that you always return to?
Plays that I return to about once a year: A Number by Caryl Churchill, Top Girls by Caryl Churchill, True West by Sam Shepard, Dying City by Christopher Shinn, How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel, Shining City by Conor McPherson, Punk Rock by Simon Stephens.
Where do you suggest aspiring and veteran playwrights go in terms of resources for playwrights and opportunities to get their work out there?
Aspiring playwrights in NYC: I’m certainly going to leave some out here and kick myself later, but Ars Nova, Page 73, EST, the Lark, Pipeline Theatre Company, Crashbox Theatre Company, Wide Eyed Productions, Playwrights Realm, The Amoralists, SoHo Rep are all great companies with programs for early career playwrights. Check out their opportunities and go see the work they’re doing. The Samuel French OOB Festival and the NYC 15 Minute Play Festival are great venues to present shorter works. Join the Dramatists Guild and check out the Resource Directory.
Veteran playwrights: you tell me!
Where can we find out more about your work?
My website is: www.nickgandiello.com.
Today, we speak to Lizzie Klemperer on her extensive performance career, including her current work on the new Broadway musical, Bright Star. Lizzie tells us how her passion in the arts began, her process, and some wonderful insight of her most memorable moments on stage.
Are here any shows you did growing up that made you seriously consider this as a career? Any particular role that is most memorable to you?
I'm not sure I was ever certain about pursuing acting as a career because I knew how hard it could be. When I was about eleven though, I did a A Christmas Carol at Syracuse Stage and that gave me a peek into what professional theater was like and I thrived on that whole experience. Several of the out of town actors have had huge Broadway careers since. We were lucky to have that caliber of a theater in Syracuse.
The most memorable role that I ever played in Syracuse was probably "Charity" in Sweet Charity. It was totally out of my comfort zone vocally and physically. It was a huge challenge especially because the show is basically just her from start to finish and I had never done something like that before. I think I grew immensely as an actor and really fell in love with that character.
Did you study performance in college?
I studied musical theater in college, at the University of Michigan. I wanted the full college experience while also being In a conservatory type program. Those were the greatest four years. Go Blue!
What brought you to New York City?
At the end of your senior year at Michigan, the graduating class performs in a showcase that the school produces in New York for agents and casting directors. After mine, I met with an agency and signed with them. I moved into an apartment in Queens and started auditioning for shows.
Do you train with anyone in the city?
I should be taking more class than I do! I want to get back in ballet class soon and there is an acting class that I am eyeing. I have studied voice for years with an incredible teacher named Matt Farnsworth (who was actually in A Christmas Carol with me in Syracuse back in '97. I have studied on camera acting with a genius man named Bob Krakower and also Ellen Novack.
You toured extensively for two very different types of shows. Could you let us know what those shows were, and how each experience was?
I first toured with a production that was a musical adaptation of The Little House on the Prairie. It was an amazing first job out of college. I joined Actors Equity and got to see the country. A lot of the cast was young and a couple of the others actually went to college with me so it was very comfortable. It definitely felt like an extension of school in a lot of ways. I enjoyed working with the all female creative team and doing a show that nobody had ever seen. It was pretty unique when I think back on it.
After that I toured with The Addams Family for over a year. The experience was really similar in many ways, except we hit a larger number of big cities on that one. It was a fun rehearsal process because the creative team did a lot of major changes to the Broadway script and score and they were very happy to see these changes implemented. The show itself was really fun to do. It was high energy for the ensemble and the audiences ate it up. It always kept me on my toes. Even after a year of doing it, I can honestly say I was never bored.
I should also mention I did the musical A Christmas Story (based on the movie) the year after it was on Broadway and did a three- city tour that culminated in a six week stint at Madison Square Garden. It was a whirlwind and a total blast!
What was the most rewarding experience, and what was the most challenging? Any horror stories from the road?
Understudying, and understudying. I understudied three roles in Little House; Ma, Nellie, and Laura. Each which came with its own challenges. Although I never got to go on as Ma or Nellie, I looked forward to playing them in rehearsal every week because I always had something to work on and that kept the show fresh for me. I did get to perform Laura and also Wednesday Addams on the road. Going on as a role you cover is a lot like jumping out of an airplane (which I did do on tour, in Phoenix, AZ). You just have to do the preparation and jump. It is the most thrilling thing I have ever done. Afterward you have this crazy high... I was all giggles!
How did you get involved with Bright Star?
I was on the west coast doing Hair this summer and my agents got me an initial audition for the production which at the time was only playing the Kennedy Center with broadway dates TBA. I had my eye on the show for a while and was fascinated by it so I knew I had to somehow get seen! I sent in a video of me doing the material in my hotel room. I got a callback and booked a last minute redeye to New York, which was not cheap! A few weeks (and another video) later I came in for a dance session with the choreographer and assistant choreographer. It was just me... At that point I was led to believe the job was probably mine if I didn't completely mess up. At the end of that hour Josh Rhodes hugged me and said "Welcome to Bright Star". I was still unsure so I just laughed and hugged him back! Then I got the call from my agent that afternoon saying it was official! Every audition is like an investment and this one paid off big time.
Can you tell us a little about what the show is about, in your own words?
The show tells the story of a female magazine editor in North Carolina in the 1940s. The show goes back and forth to the 1920s, and we discover that she had a baby when she was very young and that the baby was taken from her. The show depicts her search for the child as she reconciles with her past.
How was the development and rehearsal process for a brand new show?
Being a Swing on Bright Star, I got to witness a lot of the creative process in a really unique way, because I was sitting behind the table for basically all of it. It was an incredible learning experience because I got to observe the actors and how they conducted themselves while also seeing the big picture and how they fit into it. I definitely think it will change how I approach my next role. It's also interesting doing a new show as a swing because when things change, they change times 4 for me. They added a new opening number during tech and so I had to learn all new blocking for all of my tracks.
What has been the most important thing you've learned in being a part of Bright Star?
The most important thing I have learned doing Bright Star is how to bring myself into every role I understudy, instead of trying to reproduce another person's performance. I can't get away with it because they are so different than I am in size/age/vocal quality.
What was it like working with Steve Martin?
Working with Steve Martin was everything you would want it to be. He is the most hard working, talented and generous person. He was always sitting behind the table rewriting and being generally quiet, then every so often, when the timing was right, he would say something to make the room erupt with laughter.
You've recently went on in the role of Florence in the show. What was that experience like?
I found out in the morning that I was going on for this role and it was the one I had rehearsed the most so I felt very confident, but of course nervous. There are a lot of elements in the show that are hard to rehearse alone (props, costume pieces, set pieces and partnering) so I came in very early that day and walked through as much of it as I could with my dance partners and dance captain. It was nerve wracking because the show is such a well oiled machine at this point and I didn't want to do anything to disrupt that. I got through it and when the curtain came down, I was on top of the world.
What do you hope people will take away with them after seeing the show?
I hope people leave the theater feeling a sense of peace. The performances are very honest. I hope it reminds people that there is beauty in simplicity.
What advice would you give aspiring performers?
I would relay the piece of advice that I was always given: be your own authentic self. Pretending to be somebody else won't serve you. Try to have confidence in the person that you are and be FEARLESS. This is something I am always trying to master.
What is next for you?
Hopefully Bright Star will run for a long time! Also, I want to find a commercial agent and start branching out into that whole world.
Where can we find out more about what you do?
Visit: www.lizzieklemperer.com or search my name on YouTube!
For more info on Bright Star, CLICK HERE.
Today, Ryan interviews Sebastian Danzig, member of the Vegas-based fashion-art rock band, Palaye Royale. Danzig clues us in on how it all began, what it was like beating out Coldplay for an award, and what is next for this extremely progressive band.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
In my generation, you are usually given the gift of academics, athletics and/or the arts. I was fortunate enough to receive all of these. I was awful in school but excelled in sports and music, as well as chess. I was classically trained in piano from the age of six, picked up the guitar around twelve, was almost a grandmaster in chess by fourteen and played AAA ice-hockey until I was fifteen. But, being a lefty made it difficult finding guitars, so I didn’t have that much focus on learning for the reason that I didn’t have a Gibson, Fender or Gretsch. Basically, I wanted to look “cool” more than anything and a Tennessee Rose or a Les Paul can do just that. The reality is no parent will give a two thousand dollar guitar to a child because most children change their minds daily. I really wanted to play hockey professionally, but that dream ended due to injuries. That led me to devoting my life to music. I’ve literally been doing this “professionally” since age fifteen.
Who were your biggest inspirations?
Musically, I am inspired by The Animals, The Faces, Small Faces, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, David Bowie, T. Rex, and Velvet Underground. Honestly, anything from the 60’s and 70’s. I also enjoy some 20’s and classical. I also pull inspiration from film-makers, philosophers and fashion designers.
When and where was the inception of the band?
The inception of Palaye Royale was created through a time of separation from our youth (Remington Leith, Emerson Barrett & myself) . If we are getting on the “time grid”, I believe it was the summer of 2011 in Los Angeles, CA at Charlie Chaplin’s house.
What role(s) do you take on in the band?
The autocrat, asshole, dictator, leader, influencer, guitarist, organist, and mouth-piece. Whatever you want to call me.
What is the meaning behind the band name?
Palaye Royale is an old dance hall in Toronto where two souls very near and dear to our hearts, met.
Fashion plays a big role in the band. In terms of your own style, is there a message you’re aiming to convey? And what would you consider the most important takeaway about Palaye Royale’s collective image?
Youth movement. Really being what you want to be. We look like proper musicians who sound just like they look. As well as trying to instill that it is about the music AND the image, something I learned from my idols.
Could you touch on what each member of the band brings to the table throughout the creative process?
Emerson Barrett, aka The Pirate: is the heart.
Remington Leith, aka The Vampire: is the panty dropper front-man.
Sebastian Danzig, aka The Gentleman: is the brains. (I despise speaking about myself like this.)
Writing is a collective effort from first note to final mix. Our only goal is to keep the pure intention of our art alive. We are extremely hands on with everything from videos, production, etc. We have a very hard time listening to outsiders.
Okay… we’ve seen the term: “Soldiers of the Royal Council” floating around the internet. Can you explain just exactly what this is?
It is our lovely cult like fan base but are more of a family these days.
The band achieved a major victory in MTV’s 2014 Musical March Madness, when you beat several very notable bands. What was that experience like and how did you personally celebrate?
It was absolutely mind-blowing – I owe it all to the “Soldiers of the Royal Council.” We celebrated by having a night of debauchery at the Chateau Marmont (We are fancy like that!)
Being an unsigned band, you have broken many barriers and continue to grow. What do you believe are the pros and cons of remaining unsigned and/or signing with a label?
The pro of remaining unsigned is that you have to do everything yourself. And yes, that is a pro. It comes down to you making “it” happen. The con is that it is ridiculously hard to be paid from any financial avenue. The record label will always stop you in your tracks to the point of starvation and living in your car. We know this from experience. You need to hear “no” a million and one times before you get that “yes”, meaning those golden gates open for you. We are happy to say we have paid our dues, been kicked in the teeth, and have proven ourselves . We are finally signed, and with a label that sees the vision of the band. It is quite exciting, to say the least!
You have had a pretty grueling recording and touring schedule. Any rituals or routines you’d suggest to other bands or musicians who want to stay productive and healthy while traveling and performing?
Keep you pure intention of your art alive and enjoy every moment of it. You can be your own worst enemy. I’ve learned the hard way of chasing fulfillment of “glorified fame”. It doesn’t happen that way. Also, keep away from debauchery on the road. It only leads to a miserable and lonely time. Do that all at home.
You guys just finished recording your first full-length album. Can you tell us more about the process and experience?
It is about time. We constructed the idea of this record two years ago. We just needed the funds to do so. The process of recording was classic rock n’ roll brought into the 21st century of modern technology. We were lucky enough to work alongside James Iha, of the Smashing Pumpkins, to co-produce the album. We are currently in the mixing phase and the mixes are sounding brilliant. It wasn’t a walk in the park though. The debut album is titled, Boom Boom Room. We just released a video for the first track, “Live Like We Want To”. We were lucky enough to shoot it on the original CBGB stage, which was re-built at YouTube Studios in LA.
Your music videos are pretty grand in scale, with some stunning visuals. Do these concepts come straight from the band, or have you collaborated with directors and/or writers?
We do almost everything when coming to the films, from set design, directing, and editing. We do have our trusted guys to make sure everything runs according to visual plans, though.
Could you talk about your relationship to music growing up, and how it has grown or changed as you’ve evolved?
As corny as it sounds, the music has and will always be there for me. Through happiness, sadness, light and dark. These recordings will grow from my youth to my last day, and hopefully live past that. It’s quite beautiful.
You’re gearing up for both the release of your full-length album, Boom Boom Room, and a North American tour. What are you looking forward to most about the tour, and are there any cities you’re looking forward visiting to most?
I’m looking forward to meeting all of the “Royal Council”. And of course, growing even more as a live act. I can’t wait to play the cities in Canada, my home country.
What is next for the band and for you as an individual?
I know exactly, you just have to witness. Revolution.
Check out more from Palaye Royale at the following links:
Website: CLICK HERE
Facebook: CLICK HERE
Twitter: CLICK HERE
Ryan interviews artist, Dale Hendrickson. We talk about Dale's extensive career, his work as a character designer for The Simpsons and Futurama, and what's next in his artistic endeavors.
Where are you originally from, Dale?
I grew up in Taylor, Michigan in the Detroit suburbs. Motown and muscle cars.
Did you study art in college or institution?
After graduating high school, I knew I wanted to do art for a living. My math grades kind of shut the door on being an astronaut, or veterinarian, so I took the first grant I received which was for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I was interested in animation, but also enjoyed architecture and graphic design. But at the time, I didn’t seem to hear much about animation schools. Everything in the Detroit area was heavily geared to drafting and industrial design and commercials. Mostly for the auto industry. So I left Detroit for Pittsburgh. They didn’t have an animation program, so I signed up for the commercial art program. It was a well-rounded curriculum taught by working professionals in the field.
What made you want to move to Hollywood?
Insanity I guess! No really, though. After graduation, Pam (Dale's wife) and and I talked about where to go from here. I met Pam in Art School. She was majoring in Fashion design. I wanted animation. She wanted Fashion design and layout, which was probably equally available in New York or Los Angeles. Since we both had enough of cold winters, it became a no-brainer. LA!! Also, one of my friends at school graduated a few quarters ahead of me and kind of blazed a trail in to animation out there, and told me to come out. Hannah and Barbara was running a night class, and I might be able to get in that way. So we threw everything we had under the bus and took a one way ticket to Hollywood. I enrolled in the night class with a portfolio review, and began learning inbetweening. This is the process in which hand drawn animation was done back in the day. The inbetweener did all the drawings in between the main animation drawings. An animator would rough out 5 or 6 drawings of a 24 drawing scene or about one second of film time. So , I learned to clean up the animators rough drawings and then do all the in between drawings. And in a month, I got hired at Hannah and Barbara, famous for Yogi Bear, Flintstones, Scooby Doo, and my personal favorite... Johnny Quest!
When did you first get involved with The Simpsons and how did that opportunity come about?
I was working at a studio called DIC, working on some forgettable animated shows that wrapped up sooner than expected. A colleague told me about a little studio doing some kind of shorts for the Tracey Ullman Show. I was sure my career was probably over, so I went down and showed my portfolio. I got hired, with help I think, from a friend, Phil Ortiz, who I knew from my Hannah and Barbara days. Phil is an incredible artist and one of the friendliest people in the business. It turned out that I could draw this new funky style, even though I had a portfolio of almost all super heroes. The rest is sorta history!
I was at The Simpsons for the first 7 years. I left to art direct an animated show called The Mouse and the Monster at Saban Entertainment. One of my best friends, Jerry Leibowitz, created the show and it was a blast to finally work with him. I then co-produced Silver Surfer and built out the cg department to make one of the first combination traditional animation and CGI shows for Saturday morning line up.
After Saban, I started a studio with Jeffery Kater called S4 studios which reflected my interest in UFOs and Area 51. We also worked frequently with a studio called Area 51 who did a lot of breakthrough cgi work on Sea Quest, and the new Star Trek Tv shows. After having a few good years and some not so good years, we parted ways in 2006. I began working again freelance for the animation studios.
In 2011, I returned to The Simpsons full time. It actually felt good to come back to it. Meeting artists I hadn’t seen in some 14 years. But wow, how interesting to leave it in the pencil and Xerox machine area, and return in the full digital age!
What exactly is your job with The Simpsons?
My title is Character Design. Many people don’t realize that there are about 20 to 30 new characters in every show, or massive costume changes for all the characters known and unknown.
What is your process for creating these characters?
We get scripts. The scripts always describe what the character is and what he, she, it, is wearing, doing etc. We follow the writers descriptions. We rarely see or meet with writers. This process has changed over the years, however. Now, due to expediency, they are on the Fox lot in LA and we are in Burbank at Film Roman and don’t actually meet that often. We do appreciate it when we do meet up. I will rough out characters, discuss it with the director of that particular episode, get their feedback, then it goes for approval over at Fox Studios. Matt Groening, and select key producers give notes such as: "Nice", "Great!", or "This looks like its from another show!" Or, my favorite... "Try to make it funnier!"
What characters have you specifically created for the show?
My best known characters would be Kent Brockman, Cletus , Rod Flanders, Mayor Quimby, Fat Tony and the gang to a certain degree. I also created the Spinal Tap characters. There was alot of collaboration with the directors back then. They were all very talented artists and always had ideas about their particular episode.
Who are some of your favorite characters you've created and why?
As mentioned, Kent Brockman, one of my first characters that stuck as a main or regular character. And most recently, I was the lucky winner to do Elon Musk, a personal hero of mine!
You have also worked for several other animated tv shows. Could you tell us about these, and what you did for them?
There was development for Futurama, concentrating on Fry, Lela. Im told I get credit for Fry’s hair flip! Again, this was really collaborative with Matt and several others in a small office throwing sketches around. We'd get feedback from everyone, work at home, and then come into the office every couple days. I believe I was still on The Simpsons, or had just left, to work at Saban, so this was a bit on my own time. Probably most people know Barn Yard, the CGI animated series out of Nickelodeon. This was created by Steve Odekirk, writer of the early Jim Carry movies, and creator of Jimmy Neutron. Here, I worked with Steve to flesh out the characters for Barn Yard and do final character model sheets. I also worked in development with Steve Odekirk on several feature projects he was working on. He has an amazing creative space in San Juan, Capistrano. I would work at home and come down every couple of weeks. Steve was hilarious in person and working with him was a blast. He did Thumb Wars for God sake! Google it if you’ve never seen these mini movies!
You also worked with Bruce Timm on the Green Lantern animated series?
I worked on the beginning of the show, working out model sheets for CG animation and modeling. It was a short, but interesting project before going back to The Simpsons. I thought it was a great looking show!
Do you have a favorite comic book super hero? Villain?
I think my work on Silver Surfer opened my eyes to the amazing work of Jack Kirby more so than ever. The Silver Surfer character in particular. Although I bought my share of comics as a kid, I wasn’t an avid collector. So, I guess I was sort of a Jack Kirby late-bloomer. It was his graphic pencils that turned the human figure into a powerful abstract design. I loved the inking and used this very graphic style to help us marry the CGI to traditional animation. You could say that Silver Surfer and Galactus are two of my favorite comic characters. Their dynamic is so awesome. Such a bizarre relationship where morality gets very dubious and not black and white. I love that.
You also own your own studio specializing in animation and special effects. Can you tell us more about this, and what projects you have worked on.
After I left Saban, I opened a studio called S4 Studios. My partner, Jeffery Kater, also a Silver Surfer alum, was great with CGI and flash, and I worked to develop new properties and story board commercials and specials with him. One of our series was in association with Sun Woo Animation out of Korea. It was called Wild Animal Baby. It almost went to series with PBS. We also did this weird special for Cartoon Network called The Groovinians.
An odd but interesting project.
Odder still were the effects we did for a John Waters film starring Tracy Ullman! It was called A Dirty Shame. What goes around comes around, I guess!
We also did animation of squirrels having sex! Lots of reference required. Not sure I wanted to learn the details all that much, but hey, it’s a job right? I did art direction and scene planning and animation. Lots of fun, strange, and very educational!
One of my favorite projects we created was Rocketron, where the characters were all... you guess it. Rockets! We had many a great pitch and went up the chain at Disney a few times but in the end... no cigar. Such is the biz.
You also have some really interesting digital art on your website that you've created with various space and interplanetary themes. Do you have a keen interest in science fiction and/or space?
Yes, this is one of my ongoing personal projects. Development of sci-fi and fantasy and paranormal illustration and concept design. It’s the other side of my brain kicking in. I have always been a sci-fi geek. I would read everything and watch anything sci-fi and UFO-related. I sold my first painting at a Star Trek convention in Detroit to David Gerald. He of course is known for the tribble episode on Star Trek, among many others.
Where does your inspiration for these sci-fi art pieces stem from?
Not a simple answer, but sometimes I know what I’m trying for. Other times, it flows out of happy accidents. In the case of much of the work from this past year, It stems from sketches done for Facebook groups, like spit paint or speed paint. Subjects are listed each week, and you choose a topic and see what you can do in an hour or less. That was a great exercise because it really got me out of my comfort zone and made me think fast. Many of my current paintings are inspired from those exercises. It's also been exciting to capture the feel of sci-fi artists from the past that I was inspired by. Everyone from Foss to Kelly Freas, Frazetta to Gieger, and John Berky to Roger Dean.
One of your most intriguing pieces, to me personally, is that of Hybrid Child on a Hill. Can you explain the process of creating this piece, and what this specific piece means to you?
This one was interesting. I had no idea about it as I started. I was warming up with random digital brushes and the composition just kind of grew. Starting with the rock wall, or what began to look like a rock wall. After putting a top of grass, I began sketching a figure.The more I worked with it, the more it looked like a child figure, so I pushed further in that direction until I had this somewhat innocent child looking out at me. But not entirely innocent. I felt her pose demanded she is holding something and felt the composition needed a round shape, so a balloon seemed right. At this point, I began to get a feel that this character is playing with danger, but innocent and self-assured at the same time. The clouds seemed mysterious and dreamlike, and I wanted to see something in them. So the idea came to add the UFO in there, just barely visible. Playful like a child’s toy spinning top. Then it seemed to be a complete idea. Hybrid child, playful but with a self-assured agenda. The child knew her true identity is hidden in the clouds.
You've mentioned in the past that you have an interest in the UFO phenomenon. How did this come about and how are you implementing this into your art?
I have always been interested in UFOs. I think it was my dad that brought the story of Betty and Barney Hill to the attention of my brother and I. When I was maybe 10, my cousin who was a school principle at the time, suddenly began telling all the relatives gathered there, about a sighting he had with his eight year old daughter. Standing on his front porch, he witnessed a 30 foot (in diameter) disc hovering over the road. The bottom was so shiny it reflected the road on its surface. It hovered silently for a few minutes, then moved off over the trees and disappeared. I was stunned by his candor and seriousness.
In the late 80’s I made a silly documentary with a friend of mine called, What to See and Do Out in Area 51! . We actually went out to Rachel, Nevada on several occasions. I brought my Cannon High 8 video camera, and we got a great pan of the base. That was the highlight of our film. On one occasion, there was a mini UFO conference there and I had the opportunity to get a beer and a talk with Bob Lazar at the bar. Everyone wanted to talk with him as his story was fairly new. He was just beginning to get the harassment from the UFO community, which I never understood. I have always felt that he was the real deal.
I have recently began getting my development work and illustration out in a public way. Not sure what took so long, but from my perspective, it seems like the right time. I have graphic novel concepts for several ideas that I also want to turn into film, animation, live action, and basically, exploring all mediums including music. My passions now involve animal and human welfare and saving the planet through vegan advocacy and exposing the UFO phenomenon. All of which I consider critical to the survival of all earthlings. Animal and human. These will be major themes in much of my upcoming work.
Where can we find out more about the work you do?
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Today, I interview artist, Brian Kennedy. Brian talks to us about how his passion for art began, what led him to serve in Afghanistan, and how he was able to channel his art into combat zones and back home.
Where are you originally from?
Originally, I'm from Syracuse, NY.
When did your interest in art begin?
My interest in art began as a young child at the age of five or six. I found myself drawing alot of pictures that I saw, including cartoons I'd watch and landscapes that surrounded me. I also loved Legos because not only could I make anything with them, but they also helped stimulate my creativity. I grew up with a learning disability (my short term memory was/is terrible) My father knew that I was a visually oriented person, so when I couldn't make sense of math or numbers, he'd walk me through it with Legos. Basically, I could visually see the shapes, rather than numbers, on paper.
Did you study art in any type of academic setting?
I began a more advanced academic setting at an early stage, in fifth grade I was sent to a gifted school in Syracuse, called Blodgett. The school was full of very bright, intellectual children who excelled at different areas such as music, writing, drawing, and painting, like myself. I found this to be a very comfortable setting for creativity. I remember, at the age of fifteen, studying the Renaissance Masters like Da Vinci and Michelangelo. I was so impressed that I began to mimic their styles. I even drew the Mona Lisa in two days! Later that year I drew a baseball player hitting a home run and it was chosen to be displayed for the 50th anniversary of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.
Is there a specific medium or type of art you feel you excel at over others?
I love it all. But I grow bored of doing the same things. Like portraits or landscapes. I am constantly trying to create art in new and innovative ways. For instance, I like to paint pictures of people and things that others can relate to. However, I want them to see how I interpret them from my eyes. Strangely, I interpret color and size as right angles. Certain colors push forward and others pull back. So in a lot of my work, you will see that right angles sometimes make up the entire piece. I like the idea of mixing traditional drawing and painting with digital images. For example, some artists work like the old masters, drawing and painting on canvas or paper. Others work only digitally with Photoshop or Illustrator. I like to combine them because they bring different things to the table. So sometimes I will draw a picture on my iPad and then print them out on transparent sheets. I will print the same image on 3 or 4 sheets and then hand paint tonal values on each one using more blues and greens on one, yellows and reds on one, and blacks and whites on another. Then I mount each one on mats, and stack them on top of one another. What I end up with is a three dimensional image that is transparent, but the color looks like its weaving in and out of the image. Thus, truly mixing traditional drawing and painting with digital imaging.
What is your favorite type of painting?
My absolute favorite is abstract painting. I don't call it abstract, however. I call it: Art Therapy for Artists. The reason being that sometimes artists spend so much time trying to create something that is ultra- realistic. And although I do excel at that, it's mentally and physically exhausting. I often find myself stepping away from those types of projects and just painting from within. The sub-conscience is a very powerful thing, and I often end up with huge paintings that I'm not even thinking about. I just "let go". And that is by far my favorite, because it's essentially your soul crying out. It has a far deeper meaning then illustrating anything from life. It is truly unique and one of a kind, just like our DNA.
When did you decide to join the Army? Was there something specific that inspired you to do so?
I decided to join the army in 2009. Prior to me joining the military I was sort of a party maniac and I really had no direction. I drank heavily and did alot of drugs. I could feel myself slipping. I became depressed, losing all of my direction and inspiration. I was dating a girl at the time who broke my heart, and after the breakup, things just got worse. I needed direction in my life, and I needed distraction from the pain I was experiencing.
What was your highest rank, and what job were you assigned during your deployment?
My rank was/is Sergeant. I am currently the Communications Chief for the 222MP Company in Rochester, NY. I attended Basic Training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. My M.O.S (Military Occupation Specialty) school was at Fort Gordon in North Carolina. That was a total of 19 weeks. Since then, I've attended many other military schools such as Combative's Level I (hand to hand combat), Combat Life Saver Courses. I also attended many schools on different military radio types, as well as computer networking. My position in Afghanistan was Assistant to the Public Affairs Officer. I created artwork that included portraits of soldiers, murals and newsletters for 2-108th Infantry Battalion. I also designed the Company Coin.
How did your art in Afghanistan begin?
Being an artist for the 2-108th Infantry Battalion actually began at the national training center at Fort Irwin, California. It’s where we were sent to prepare for our deployment. We trained there because the terrain, temperature and many other factors were so close to that of Afghanistan. My M.O.S actually has nothing to do with drawing at all. My close friend, 2LT Jason Uhlig, was the public affairs officer. His job is comparable to that of a writer and photographer of sorts. He worked directly for the XO Major Flynn and the Battalion Commander Joseph Beihler. I was drawing in my sketch pad one day, and Jason showed it to the Commander and the XO. He had an idea that we could pair up and work together. I would create artwork while also working with the translators who spoke Farsi. We would then create anti-terrorist propaganda. This in turn could be given out to the civilian population and we could catch the bad guys. It could be compared to something like a Missing Person's add on a milk carton, or a Wanted Add for a fugitive.
You have been praised in your hometown for a specific art piece. Could you describe this piece and how it came about?
The Dinosaur BBQ piece was originally created in Afghanistan. I was inspired by the old WW2 pinup models who were painted on the sides of planes. I wanted to do something like that but modernize it. I remember eating in the DEFAC and I saw a bottle of Dinosaur BBQ sauce. It took me back to being safe at home and enjoying Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, so I sketched up a little image of the logo, but instead of the dinosaur holding a plate of food and a towel, I replaced it with an M-4 Carbine, had it smoking a cigar, and put dog tags and a Kevlar helmet and combat boots on it. I showed the sketch to Jason Uhlig, and he recommended I paint it on the concrete bunkers that protect us from incoming fire. Later that night, I replaced my assault bag, which consisted mostly of ammo, with art supplies that were sent to me from friends and family back home. I had a flashlight that I could attach to my head, and I went out that night and painted it on the wall. The next day, people came out, saw the logo, and were stoked! I could see that it really brought them joy and took their minds off of where they were. It was the first drawing I did on the bunkers. And at the time, no one knew who did it.
You were coined a “warrior graffiti artist” while deployed. What, in your opinion, does this mean? Do you embrace this title?
I do very much embrace this title as it represents so much of who I was and who I have yet to become. In the beginning, no one knew who was painting all the murals on the walls in Afghanistan. Thus the idea of being a graffiti artist, I felt like I was working in secret. I was so stressed and full of fear. Other times direly bored. I couldn't sleep so I told myself that I would do something productive that would serve as an outlet. At first it was for me, but later seeing the joy it brought the other soldiers, I realized they were created for all of us to share. The “warrior” part was based on being a soldier, but when I think of the word warrior, I think of the Warrior Ethos which states, “I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, I will never leave a fallen comrade.” We live by a code and that is very much a part of being a soldier and very much a part of who I am and what I will always bring to the table.
You sketched everyone at the tactical operations center, and even sketched portraits of Afghan National Police. Why was it important to you to sketch the police?
There is nothing like being an artist, and what separates them from a photographer or a film crew is this: drawing and painting encompasses what the artist is visually seeing, that goes it into their mind, and the feelings become part of what comes out on the other end through the hand and onto the paper or canvas. Essentially, it is filtered through the artist and the end product is much more intimate and personal and unique. As for sketching the Afghan Police, there's some of that I cant talk about. But I can say that most of it was anti terrorist propaganda. In other words, they were used to catch bad guys. It would be an image of a mosque on fire, schools being shut down, and hospitals closed. In the center of the image would be a picture of the terrorist who was responsible. The Afghan National Police and Army would be in the background with a phone ringing. The message on the artwork was written in farce, and it would say, "If you see this guy, call the Afghan National Police and they will help you." People were amazed at the portraits and drawings. They couldn't believe what they were seeing.
What about Afghan culture and life particularly struck you?
What struck me was how much they didn't have. It made me grateful for the family and friends I have and the things I've worked so hard for. Their country is vastly different than ours. It saddened me to see people suffer so badly, especially the children and women. They would tie their hats to their feet sometimes because they had no shoes. There were children with chemical burns on their bodies from their parents making homemade explosives. As for a people, I found them to be very humble and they would help anyone if they could. I didn't want to leave because I knew there was so much we could to do help improve their lives. I was attached to an Infantry unit, but the crazy thing about it is that we ran almost 80 humanitarian missions to help the civilians with food, medical treatment and clothing. I remember coming home to Syracuse and I was at a restaurant. I overheard someone complaining about their food and their chair. It made me so angry because Americans don't realize how good they have it. I got up and told the man that he should be glad he has money to go out and eat at a restaurant and that he has two arms and two legs. I think I put things in perspective for him.
Was there a particular project you started on upon your return home?
When I returned home, I was saddened. I thought about all the men and women who had served and died over there. I felt guilty about making it back unscathed. I tried to make sense of it. I thought to myself, what can I do to give back? What would those who lost their lives want me to do? I realized that they would want me to live on and do what I love most; creating artwork. And more importantly, creating artwork that could help other men and women who served. The first thing I did was to re-draw the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que logo and put it on a t-shirt. To date, that t-shirt has raised over $27,000 for Veteran programs, such as Warrior Salute, and The Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Jason Uhlig and I also created a t-shirt for Syracuse University that raised thousands more.
What made you want to join the National Guard upon your return?
I've always been with the Army National Guard since the beginning. I like the idea of being able to serve your country and go to school, work a job or whatever it is you want to do in your free time. Both of my grandfathers served in WWII. I intend on continuing the tradition.
What are your thoughts on the treatment of veterans dealing with PTSD and TBIs in the VA hospital system?
The VA Hospital system is entirely too slow. Why should men and women who have served their country honorably and have risked their lives... why should they have to wait or pay for health care at all? In my opinion, they should be able to go to any doctor, dentist, or therapist at low or no cost at all. Why do we have to be filtered like cattle into one facility? This also goes for homelessness. There is no excuse at all why any of these Veterans should come home with no place to live or no job to work. As a matter of fact, instead of having people focus on how we are broken or a risk to certain types of employment, why not focus on the fact that they have a better work ethic than most civilians? These men and women work 16 hour shifts, back to back, and are incredibly loyal and hard-working. If you served your country, you should be taken care of. Period.
Could you explain the inception and concept behind Iron Art? What inspired you to start this company?
Iron Art was created in 2012 in Afghanistan by Jason Uhlig and I. We wanted to start a graphic design company that could help Veterans. The "Iron" part of Iron Art came from our battalion motto : Blood and Iron Never Forget. The artwork and concepts would be solid, like iron. The logo consists of a nautical compass which would represent being able to go in any direction, as well as versatility. The second image was a drawing compass. This represented Jason and I and how we worked together for a common goal. The needle represents Jason being solid and grounded as well as being able to control the pencil part, which represented me.
Have you seen a shift or progress in veterans who engage in art therapy? Has Iron Art helped you as a veteran since you got started on it?
I have seen a dramatic shift in progress in veterans who engage in art therapy. As a matter of fact, when I returned to my civilian job, I wanted to speak with an art therapist. I met Jennifer Delucia, who is an Art therapist for The Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester NY. I began speaking with her every Tuesday for a one-on-one session to talk out some of my issues. While talking, I would also be drawing. This helped me tremendously. In addition, I was invited to an open art group on Wednesdays with the other veterans. At first, I did what I usually do; draw from in my head. But a few weeks in, I looked up from the paper I was drawing on and realized that I was at a table full of Veterans from all different branches of the military and service times. Instead of drawing from within, I began to focus my attention on the other veterans. I started to do black and white charcoal portraits of them. The best part about it was that I would ask them questions about themselves and there service. They felt comfortable talking with me because I myself was a combat veteran. The more they talked, the better idea of who they were and experienced came to surface. In turn, it made their drawing even better and more intimate. Eventually, I was asked to paint a mural for the Veterans Outreach Center. It's called "The Wall Of Honor". It's a 20 ft wall attached to the Richards House, which is a home for Veterans recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. I put it out to the media that I'd like family and friends or people who are currently serving or who have served in the past to submit photos. The results were astonishing. I received close to 200 submissions. These photos span all the way back from the Civil War up until now. One by one, I'm putting all of there faces on that wall. Once the weather gets warmer, I will paint every last one of them.
Is there something pivotal you learned about yourself while in the service, and did it influence your art?
I've learned that unlike anything else, art, drawing, and painting are such a powerful healing tools. It doesn't matter how well you draw. What matters most is what you find out about yourself and everything around you by creating. It creates bonds. It builds bridges. It takes a certain fearlessness to be willing to put your work out there for the world to judge. I remember seeing these soldiers come back from sixteen hour missions, their faces dirty and sandy, and I could see that they were exhausted. When they came closer, they'd stop and look at the artwork that I had created. I could see the their expressions immediately change. They didn't look as tired. And they smiled. They began conversing about what they were seeing in front of them. They could have just walked by and went to sleep, but they didn't. It was then that I knew I was doing something special, something truly unique and life changing. I think that being in the military gave me drive and determination. It kept me focused and it made me believe that I was capable of doing things that I physically and mentally never thought possible. I was proud to be an American and give back to my country. In the army, I felt that I was part of something unique and a family extended beyond my blood. Experiences like those push me to continue my pursuits as an artist as well as a soldier.
What advice would you give a young artist?
Never give up. Don't ever throw away any of your sketches or drawings. Don't be afraid to share with other people and other artists. If you ever become discouraged about anything that you've created, use that anger or frustration to your advantage. Let it drive you to become even better, and push through to the other side. Becoming an artist is more than just drawing something and forgetting about it. It's about learning from what you've done in the past. The best thing about being an artist is that your artwork is never truly finished. Things can always be changed or manipulated, and things can always evolve and become better.
What is next for you and for Iron Art?
Well thats a good question. I'm currently working three different. jobs. My main job is an IT tech for CDS Monarch. I'm also currently serving in the New York State Army National Guard and working Iron Art on the side. What I'd love more than anything is to be able to work Iron Art full-time. I'd like to find a grant or a business loan that will help me pay the bills if I decide to really follow my dreams. I work 40 hours a week, then go home and paint my ass off until I go to bed and wake up and do it all over again. I'd really like Iron Art to expand with other artists besides myself who may or may not be veterans. This Spring and Summer, I've been given permission by Wall Therapy to paint a mural on a three story building in Rochester, NY. I would also like to have a gallery opening that consists of artwork that is a mix traditional drawing and painting, with digital imaging and photography. For example, have you ever looked at particular piece of artwork and thought to yourself how was that done? Well lately I've been doing a lot of digital drawing (in other words drawing on my iPad with my finger) The program I use allows me to export whatever drawing I've done as a video. This allows the viewer to see the entire process from start to finish. Now imagine a gallery full of HD Monitors that allow the viewer to come up and interact with the artwork. They could press play and watch it be created.
Visit the Iron Art website at: www.ironart315.com
To learn more about Brian and Iron Art, google search the following:
"Iron Art 315", "Sgt. Brian Kennedy", "Combat Dino", or "Military Otto."
Ryan interviews Renée Albulario on her time with the ground-breaking musical, Here Lies Love. Renée gives us an inside look on the show, what the whole process was like, and what's next in her creative endeavors.
Where are you originally from?
Orange County, California!
When did you start performing?
I knew I loved singing and dancing as long as I can remember, but I really started performing at the wee age of 4.
What was the first show you ever performed in?
In pre-school, I did a lip-synced number to “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. My mom made me this awesome sparkly mermaid fin that completely covered my legs and feet so my big brother had to carry me around all night. It was awesome. I wish someone would still carry me around backstage. I think I’m too heavy now though.
Did you study at a conservatory/college?
Yes I did. I received my BFA in drama at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts at CAP21.
When did you first get involved with “Here Lies Love”?
I started with the show back in the fall of 2011 in an early workshop of the show which we performed in a black box theater at PS 122. I really knew nothing about the piece, except that the creative team was throwing around this crazy immersive concept for the show. I also knew, of course, that there was some awesome David Byrne music.
What sets this show apart from other musicals?
The biggest thing that sets it apart is that it attempts to immerse the audience in the world of the story. I think it's very effective. The action happens around the audience, rather than the audience watching a traditional proscenium stage from seats in the house. There are seats in a second floor gallery that look down on to the floor, but the show is best seen from the floor. The audience stands on the floor of Club Millennium while the action happens among them on moving platforms throughout the space.
What was the audition process like?
The audition process was not unlike other auditions. I was sent the musical sides, “When She Passed By” and “Eleven Days” in advance. Once I got in the audition room, I sang both songs for the creative team. After that first round, I was called back with a handful of other actors to dance for our choreographer Annie-B Parsons to a song now cut from the show called “You’ll Be Taken Care Of.”
When/how did you learn that you had been cast?
I heard from my agent shortly after my callback that I had been cast in the 2-week workshop. At the time, I had no idea that this little workshop would grow to be such a cool and innovative show!
How was the rehearsal process?
There were two developmental workshops produced by The Public in 2011 which each lasted a couple weeks each. We then spent about a month rehearsing for a week long run the summer of 2012 at MassMoCa in North Adams, Massachusetts as part of the Williamstown Theater Festival. Early in 2013 we started rehearsals at The Public for our initial off-Broadway run and I began my position as dance captain to the show. In 2014 we began our commercial run back at The Public where I was dance captain and was lucky enough to understudy Imelda Marcos!
What, in your own words, is the show about?
That's a great question! The show revolves around the former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos and the rise and fall of the dictatorial Marcos regime. It opens with Imelda as a young woman of very humble beginnings. When she becomes the wife of a successful politician she suddenly has access to an overwhelming amount of political celebrity along with the excess, power, and corruption that come with it. In the end, the show really is about the resilience and heart of the Filipino people who drive the Marcoses from the presidency and lead them to their demise.
What about the show do you relate or connect to most?
Considering my parents lived in the Philippines at the time of the Marcos regime, I actually had very little knowledge of Philippine history before I worked on Here Lies Love. I’m thankful to have learned so much about my own heritage through the process of developing the show.
As an Imelda understudy it was fascinating to try and create this very human and vulnerable character as opposed to portraying her as a caricature of the actual woman. She is basically a poor small-town girl…turned beauty queen…turned first lady with this sudden accessibility to copious amounts of wealth and power. I wanted the audience to empathize with her and share that same rush she must have felt during her infamous rise to power and eventual fall from grace.
Is there a message you feel the show conveys overall?
Well, putting it simply - Power corrupts, and ideals can't be assassinated.
Do you have a certain routine ritual you perform before a performance?
There a big riot scene in the middle of the show, so the actors all get to the theater 45 minutes prior to curtain so we can “fight call” our stage combat. I basically run at Natalie (Cortez) her with a big shield, throw her down to the floor, and then she attacks me with a machete. It’s real fun. I then go down to the greenroom 30 minutes prior to curtain to do my hair and makeup and to get into costume. I usually make myself a cup of throat coat and bring it back into the theater while I warm up my voice and stretch.
What is your favorite part of the show?
“Please Don’t” has always been my favorite number to perform! It’s just so fun and has some killer Annie-B Parsons choreography. But my favorite number to WATCH has to be “Just Ask the Flowers.” It’s just such a beautiful number. The funeral procession coming through the house on the platform is one of the most moving things I have ever seen in live theater.
What would you say is the most challenging aspect of the show?
Platforms. Definitely the platforms. As actors, we are much more accustomed to performing on a flat stationary stage. Performing on moving platforms that are constantly being reconfigured definitely took a lot of getting used to.
Can you describe what it was like performing the show for the first time?
It was exhilarating! It was like nothing I’ve ever done before. Having such close proximity to the audience makes our connection to them so exciting and intimate.
What is success to you?
As success is never really final, my idea of success always changing. I do think it's so important to keep dreaming big and striving for more though. As artists it seems there is always that unrest inside us that keeps us always moving forward.
Any interesting or fun stories from a performance? Something that stands out?
As a matter of fact, yes! At the end of the show the cast goes into the audience for a a big Here Lies Love sing-along! I spot an enthusiastic redhead, so I decide to dance next to her. We're singing to each other and clapping over our heads when the next thing I know, my finger is stuck in her hair. Whatever happened next felt like it happened in slow motion...
I start to pull my hand away, and to my shock and surprise I end up taking her long, curly, red hair with me. Oh shit! I look to Enrico (Rodriguez) and Natalie (Cortez) who look equally shocked, but we just keep singing. I look down and feel my eyes get huge as I look at the huge heap of red curls in my hands. How the hell did I just pull off her WIG!? I look up at the woman and thank God that she isn't bald. I hand the woman her hair and we struggle to put it back on her singing along all the while. Lucky for me, the song ends, and in the darkness of the blackout, I gently grab her shoulders and whisper to her, "Oh my god. I am SO so sorry." To which she cheerfully replies, "That's okay!" I was definitely way more embarrassed than she was! I didn't even wait for the lights to come back up. I've never run out of the LuEsther so fast in my life! Now if that's not immersive theater, then I don't know what is.
What's next for you?
Right now, I’m back at The Public working on a reading of new show directed by Michael Greif called The Everleigh Club. It’s a new musical based on a high-class brothel which actually operated in Chicago in the early 1900s. It’s got a killer score and some incredible actors in it. I find it really exciting to be part of the development of a new piece. It’s one of my favorite things to do!
Follow Renée's Instagram at : @rennie11
Ryan interviews Damien "DMunzzz" Palacios, Hip-Hop artist and producer. Damien gives us an inside look at his fledging career, his creative process, and the challenges of the competitive music industry.
Where are you originally from?
I was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At age 12, my family and I moved to Spanish Harlem on the Upper East Side. I'm a thoroughbred New Yorker.
When did you first start getting involved with hip hop?
Growing up with two older brothers during the early 90s, Hip hop was the culture in my house. I grew up mimicking the way my brothers dressed and talked. Their style was Hip hop to the max. I guess it's safe to say I was born into it.
Who were your biggest inspirations when you first started out?
I think what inspires me is the overall challenge of the art itself. Being able to communicate to people in rhythm and rhyme and to have people relate to my concepts. Growing up, I really liked Biggie Smalls, Ma$e, Method Man and Eminem. They were definitely the artists I studied and wanted to be like.
What was the club scene like growing up?
The club scene is a very interesting place. I've grown so much from when I first started going out. I would use it as an escape from all the hard work I was putting in at the studio; a place to unwind and not focus on my goals. Then I started to notice how important the club scene is In this field. Meeting and networking with Djs, label execs, and even other artists is crucial. So now I try to use it as a business breeding ground. Some people close deals on the golf course... some close them in the club.
When did it become a business for you?
In 2010, I started learning about networking and brushing shoulders with DJs and other industry heads. Landie Love, (my producer) is a master at networking and using events/venues to have an impromptu informal meeting with people. I've seen him close deals and book me shows while dancing in the club.
Was there a pivotal moment/person/experience that solidified that this is what you wanted to pursue as an artist?
I've been writing songs and lyrics since about the 4th or 5th grade, but I mostly kept it to myself. By 8th grade, I had gained more confidence in sharing my music. I became a little more popular and everyone in school knew who "D-Money" was. (D-Money was eventually shortened to DMunzzz) Even the faculty knew about my music, and I was actually asked to write and perform a song for a musical my school was putting together. It was my first real performance! I got to rap in front of my classmates, my parents, strangers, and even my principle. I've never felt more free and in control in my life. It's a high that I've been chasing ever since.
What do you feel you bring to the table that other artists may not?
I think I bring a lot of honesty. Alot of the stories or situations I mention in my music come from a real place. Whether it's pain or partying, it's something I've either dealt with or someone close to me has encountered.
I'm a private and quiet person around strangers so I look at my music as a way of opening up to people about who I am and what I perceive. I also feel that with alot of newer music and artists, there tends to be alot of facade. They want to be "cool" or they want to be "badass". I've never wanted to be an image. I've always just wanted to be me.
What is your process of creating?
It's a very unique process. Over the years I've collected a good amount of instrumentals/beats and have loaded my most recent favorites onto my phone. I also travel alot. So I write while traveling. I tend to write in bits and pieces. For example, I'll start writing one song/concept and only get a verse done or just a chorus and then when I feel the creative juices start to decrease, I'll just switch the beat to wake up my brain and start writing to that. It allows me to not feel the need to force anything while keeping me fully conscious of what I'm writing.
As for the concepts of songs, It usually comes from my experiences or what's happening around the world. Since I focus on being honest with my music, the themes and concepts come really easy but sometimes the subject matter is controversial. For example I did an Anti "Stop & Frisk" song. I wrote that because of my frustration with the NYPD and their prejudice.
Are there any certain themes or messages you really try to convey in your lyrics or rhymes?
Yeah, definitely. There are the party songs that I do and I make alot of that style of music because it's fun and it makes people dance. But I absolutely love making music with a progressive message behind it. I also like to write episodes of my life into the music. On my last release, Off-Campus Housing, I have a song called, "Broadcasting Live" which is really inspirational, positive, and progressive. Then you have "Last Words" on my upcoming LP, OCH 2: The Meal Plan. There's another song where I open up about losing friends. I try to convey real life emotions and scenarios. Just trying to stay reflective and honest. Those messages tend to be the best.
What is it about this genre of music that appealed to you most?
I was born into it. I grew up in the New York City Public Housing system with two brothers that used to graffiti, break dance, and rhyme, so it was all around me. Hip Hop is probably the most competitive genre. In Hip Hop, other artist will call you out if you're not being genuine. You'll never see Garth Brooks make a song about Taylor Swift, and that's fine. But what appeals to me is the overall competitive spirit of the genre. I love it.
Where did #offcampushousing originate from?
My producer, Landie Love, and I sat down to brainstorm a bunch of terms that can relate to the music and could also be a double/triple entendre. #OffCampusHousing was my favorite out of our list because it was able to inspire scenery in itself. When you hear "OffCampusHousing", it conjures up images of college parties and that type of stuff. That's the party side of my music. Then on the flip side, off-campus housing can embody the feeling of being off campus and in the real world. Out of school and trying to figure out the next move. This represents my more serious and reflective music.
Any interesting stories from your live performances?
Nothing too too crazy yet! But I have an interesting story. There was a time in Boston where I was supposed to perform about 30 mins at this venue. When we get there, we learned that no one had tested the equipment in years. The microphones barely worked, too. Since we had already traveled so fa,r we weren't leaving without rocking a crowd. So we took the risk of just playing the original songs and having me lip sync it. I just put the microphone really close to my face and over-acted each lyric. It worked like a charm! Probably because everyone at the bar was hammered drunk...
You've had an EP out for a while now. What was it called? What was it like recording that album? Any interesting stories?
Yeah I released my 2nd solo project called, Off-Campus Housing: The Legend of DMunzz. It's a fun process because although you have an idea of where you want to take the album, you never get exactly what you originally pictured. For example, with this new album I'm releasing, I finished recording all of the music in November. But since I've continued to write and record, while I've been able to add newer songs in and alter the overall identity of the project.
It's been really interesting to me when I check my social media sometimes and see people I've never met comment about my music. I have fans in both Oklahoma and Alaska. I've never even been to those states! But that's the beauty of the internet.
You take on many roles within your own career, something an up-and-coming artist often has to do. What jobs do you enjoy most in this sense?
Yeah I definitely take on a lot of roles. From writer, marketing, video organization, video production, promotion, bookings. I do as much as I have to. I would say I like doing interviews the most. It's a time I get to reflect and open up and just speak my mind more calmly than I would on a record.
What, in your opinion, defines success in your artistic pursuits?
Well, there are a couple of goals I have in mind when it comes to my career. One thing is of course the accolades and the recognition. I'd really love to win a Grammy one day. That would be a nice one for me on the success belt. The other goal is remaining true to my art form and believing in my process and my vision. I've been successful so far with creating quality material. I'd like to stay conscious of the message I'm sharing.
What is the new LP you are working on? Any themes or new styles you are attempting with this one?
Yes and no. The title is, Off-Campus Housing 2: The Meal Plan. So there is still the off campus theme. You will still get some club music and some thought-provoking music. I've added some faster lyrical flows on a couple of songs. But this is also "the meal plan", meaning this is what I've been digesting. This is what I've been eating that's helped me grow. So it'll be slightly more introspective.
What do you think has been the biggest change in the music industry in the past decade or so?
The internet. Without a doubt. It's changed so much from illegal downloads to global marketing. So many YouTube sensations and so many amazing stories from talent found on the internet. If I'm not mistaken, I think Justin Bieber was found online. Look how that turned out.
What is next for the LP?
Right now I'm at an interesting crossroads. I have all my music recorded and I'm in the process of filming the videos for the singles. Also gathering all emails and websites that I plan to bombard with promo. So this is where I actually stop being an artist and transform to the business/managerial side that I take on.
Any gigs coming up?
Yeah there's always little gigs here and there that pop up. January 17th at Karma Lounge in NYC, I'll be doing a short 30 minute set. I've been lucky enough to know the right people at the right venues. In March, I plan on putting together my 2nd annual "Night Off-Campus" concert where I'll most likely do an hour of live performance. Last year was a super success so I'm really looking forward on riding the momentum!
Where can we find out more about your projects?
www.DamienPalace.com is the official website. It has my vlog, upcoming show dates, music, and more. But of course we are Currently renovating the site so in the mean time, talk to Google. Google and I have a pretty good friendship. So type in Damien DMunzzz Palace and I'll pop up.
Ryan interviews Danielle Otrakji, artist and illustrator. Danielle speaks about her creative process, her inspirations, and the turbulent life of a progressive artist in today's ever-evolving industries.
When did you first discover your talents as an artist?
Early on, I knew this was where I would want to be, in some way or another. I knew I would be an adult, still drawing and painting. I don’t think I thought about the financial aspect of it until much later on. Everyone always says “I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember”, and really, I have. It never had a ‘starting point’, it was just always for me. I never thought I was very good or “talented” growing up, but I won many awards (small, silly, insignificant awards, but awards nonetheless), and I think that gave me the confidence and encouragement to continue to move forward with it and to grow as an artist.
Did you train or go to school for art? What did you study? Where?
I have been fortunate enough to have some serious training in art since high-school. I focused on fine art and primarily painted on wood and canvas. I had figure drawing classes early on and had the chance to dabble with a lot of mediums and techniques most ‘highschoolers’ did not have. My instructor and friend, Mary Abreu, played such a huge role in my development as an artist. Some of the most important concepts I refer to until this point come from her lessons and instruction. I am currently a student in my final year at Ringling College of Art and Design, and throughout my course at Ringling, have majored in both Computer Animation and Illustration.
Did it begin with illustration, or did you dabble in other mediums before deciding that this was a specialty?
It has taken quite a bit of experimentation and exploration in different mediums, projects, jobs, and majors to finally figure out where I am going, and even still, I can’t say I’ve totally narrowed myself down to one specific ‘career’ or ‘specialty’. I love animation. I love editorial illustration. I love storyboarding. I love painting. I love comics and narratives.
I needed to experience my time studying animation to learn that I may not enjoy working in that field as an animator. There is a great sense of patience and time that an animator is demanded of to create each individual course of action. I may not possess that level of patience, but I do have imaginative and intelligent ideas, and cinematic visions for those ideas. By implementing the principles and fundamentals of animation within my illustration work, I have found a great passion for comic book illustration and graphic novels.
Similar to animation, comic books are visual narratives and through panels, they create movement from one page to another. I can dedicate more time illustrating key frames and interesting compositions without the in-betweens animation requires.
As I mentioned previously, illustration was not where I technically began. I primarily enjoyed painting in large scale and produced a lot of personal work. I studied fine art in high school and produced more conceptual pieces than ‘illustrations’. I continue to do so, especially with monotyping and roller painting. Both are very expressive techniques and require very little control or limitation. It is an intuitive process, contrary to that of my illustration work.
Who would you consider your biggest inspirations in your artistic pursuits?
I am most inspired by Jean Giraud, also known as, “Moebius”. My father introduced me to his comic book series titled, Lieutenant Mike Blueberry, a western comic written in French. As I grew older and more intrigued by his western illustrations, I discovered so much life and variety in his collection of other works. He never limited himself to one specific genre or medium, and had no ends to the subject matter or content he included in his work.
Another illustrator, writer, character designer/visual developer I have always been greatly influenced by is the creator of Hellboy, and comic book artist, Mike Mignola. From his very early works, to his current work, he has been most recognized for his simplified shapes, heavy ‘blocky’ inking, and exceptionally effective compositions.
Another huge inspiration, is one of my instructors and good friends, George Pratt. His war related artwork has greatly influenced my work, and his covers and interiors for DC in both the Batman comics and Enemy Ace are visually unforgettable. I am most motivated by his process and the amount of work he puts out on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. For a long time I would panic before producing anything and wouldn’t draw for days and weeks at a time. It was George Pratt who encouraged me to produce as much as possible without hesitation. Since then, I draw or paint several times a day and have improved tremendously because of it.
Is there a certain style, genre, or medium that you favor over others?
I can’t say I favor one genre over another. It is totally dependent on the project at hand and my mood. I have the tendency to gravitate most towards the horror genre, though I go to the Fantasy, Fairytale, and Science Fiction genres often as well. The mediums I most enjoy working with are ink, graphite, watercolor, and I especially enjoy using rollers either directly onto board, or in the process of monotyping. I enjoy painting digitally, but rely on it as little as possible. Not for any particular reason, other than the fact that I enjoy working traditionally more than digitally. It feels more natural to me.
I also have a passion for sculpting and 3D illustration. I don’t do it as often as I would like to, but the few times I have, it has been one of the most enjoyable processes, from the designs, to the sculpts, to the final stages of setting up and photographing it.
What inspires you to draw?
Everything … and sometimes nothing at all. I am inspired when I am overwhelmed, and I also produce when I have absolutely nothing going on. I am inspired by love, heartbreak, my friends, my family members, the war in my country, wars from a time when I hadn’t even existed yet, my cats, ravens, my dreams, my nightmares, the behavior of children, aggressive music, soft whimsical music, old films, photography, other artists, the bible and religion, the circus, death, birth… and the list goes on, and on, and on. In fact, I have created a long list of almost every single thing that inspires me, and refer to that list whenever I have trouble starting something. I add to that list every time something new comes to mind.
Sometimes, I have ideas brewing and generating uncontrollably, because I’ve just witnessed or experienced something emotional and evocative. Sometimes I could be sitting around, looking at a wall, thinking about absolutely nothing, run my pencil over a white paper, and somehow construct a drawing from start to finish that way.
What is your process? Does it differ with each piece?
It definitely differs with every piece. There are some illustrations I can produce in a rather formulaic manner, in that I have an idea or a prompt, go into it with a solid plan, and execute everything as intended from beginning to end. Others are created with a completely emotionally and intuitively driven process with no time constraints and with little planning or strategy involved. Both processes work for me in different ways. The formulaic pieces, typically made up of a solid pencil drawing, large areas blocked in with ink, and monochromatic coloring in photoshop, are best for deadlines and editorial pieces. The other method is good for personal work and exploratory pieces.
Some of your pieces seem to be comic-book oriented. What is your interest in the world of comic books? Any certain super hero, villain, company, or story that speaks to you more than others?
Getting into American comics, I was first introduced to a lot of Marvel characters, like Spiderman, Wolverine, and Iron Man. Those were my first favorites as an adolescent. Overtime, I grew to appreciate characters like Hellboy and Batman a lot more for various reasons. Hellboy is such a well developed character, not only in his backstory, but in the way he was designed aesthetically. The red skin, the big bulky physique, the tail, the massive stone fist, and of course, the signature horn stumps on his forehead. There is something so exciting and refreshing about his design. I especially appreciate the concept of Hellboy and his purpose. The story consists of WWII elements, Gregori Rasputin, nazis, and so many other concrete, historical themes. He is the ultimate ‘anti-hero’ in that he defied his demon nature, fights for good and not for reward or recognition, and all throughout, carries a strong, sometimes sarcastic and dry sense of humor.
I also love Batman, for obvious reasons, he has a batcave, is equipped with all of the cool gadgets, and has one of my favorite superhero costumes ever designed (all throughout it’s progression and reinventions). I have also always liked that he has a simple back story, dark enough to have driven him to be ‘the Batman’. He has been illustrated in several issues by some of my favorite artists of all time. Most importantly, I love Batman because without Batman there would be no Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Catwoman, Harley Quinn, Bane or The Riddler. Half of the reason I enjoy comics is because of the villains, and some of my favorite villains exist because they feud with DC’s Batman.
You've done some print magazine work as well as both an illustrator and model. What was this experience like?
Both experiences modeling for, and illustrating for, magazines are very different but equally gratifying. In many cases, my modeling experiences have opened doors to illustration jobs with those publications. I modeled for Inked Magazine several times, and in introducing myself and my work through that experience, I managed to be one of the only two illustrators they have ever had. Another one I have modeled and illustrated for is VNDL magazine, and twice, they have featured my artwork at the same time as a modeling spread, paired with an interview all photographed and edited by creator, Gavin Thomas. They are both opportunities for me to not only be represented or introduced to readers as an artist, but to also be exposed physically, as a person, and that has given me a great sense of confidence in my work and in myself. I’ve also really enjoyed modeling for designers, primarily because I love the pieces and garments I get to wear. I have had the opportunity to work with many photographers whom I respect and look up to artistically, and for that I am very grateful.
You also are a musician. What instrument do you play? How long have you been playing?
I have played guitar since I was about 8 years old, and started with classical, Spanish style guitar. As I grew older, my taste in music geared mostly toward punk rock, and I played electric guitar in a few bands between the ages of 13-17 in Miami. At the time I played a Fender Stratocaster, and currently I switch between classical guitar, and electric guitar when I produce solo music. I have a Gibson SG and hope to play with a band again some day. I also play the accordion. One of my accordions was passed down to me from my uncle, and ever since, I’ve loved playing it and integrating the accordion sounds in the music I record.
What advice would you give a young artist just starting out in their career?
First and foremost, I would advise any artist to draw as often and as consistently as possible. Worry less about the financial benefits or outcome of your work, and just focus on becoming a better, more well-rounded artist. The more drawing and painting one does, both from observation and from memory/imagination, the more comfortable and confident they can become, and the more comfortable one is while drawing and painting, the more enjoyable the process will be. With that being said, if this is a career you plan on pursuing, make it as enjoyable for yourself as possible. it is hard work, and long hours spent on the work that we do, but at the end of the day, we are doing what we naturally love, and being comfortable in your process is crucial for production. Most importantly, learn to accept failure and rejection. Not everyone in the world will like what you do, and that’s alright. Move on, move forward.
What, in your opinion, is success, when dealing with what you do?
There are different levels of success in dealing with what I do. There are the small successes, like finishing and illustration in one day, being paid on time, with a couple of hours left to spare for sleep. Or trying a new medium and actually using it properly and achieving really great results in the end, like my experience with gold-leaf. There are also the longterm, big successes, like having an idea or a book I’ve worked on, getting recognition from a company, and either have it published by that company or readapted into a film. A really big dream of mine is to create a comic or a graphic novel, and have the opportunity to turn it into a film while working with some of my favorite directors and producers, playing a role in choosing the cast, and accompanying the film with music composed and orchestrated by my favorite composer. Whether success is defined by monetary gains, or feeling like you have made some kind of a change or an impact on someone’s life, or even in your own, it is important, in my opinion, to measure success in having a goal, or a purpose, and accomplishing it. Whether it’s a small one, or a totally ‘impossible’ dream goal, working hard, everyday and accomplishing it is success in my opinion.
What has been your most rewarding experience in your artistic endeavors?
I used to think that seeing my work in print, in a book or magazine, was the greatest achievement. Or that receiving an award, or showing work in an exhibition was the highest experience one could have in this field. The most rewarding experience, without a doubt, is receiving feedback from someone who has in some way been affected by a specific piece I have done or a concept I have communicated through a drawing or a painting. I also relish being positively critiqued by a colleague or professor who is known to be harsh and direct.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I am working on a Graphic Novel based on my father’s retelling of the war in Lebanon, where I am originally from. It will be based on both true and fictional events depicted with dark, realistic war imagery, as well as fantastical, dream-like imagery. I won’t expose much of the story or plans for this graphic novel quite yet, but it is definitely something to look forward to and one of the more ambitious projects I’ve worked on yet.
Any upcoming exhibits, showings, or cons?
I will be attending Magic City Comic Con in Miami , January 16th – 18th. I have a few other conventions planned throughout the year in New York, Orlando, and several others on the East Coast.
Where can we find out more about what you do?
Currently, I post a lot of my work and events on facebook and instagram. I also use Tumblr.
Ryan talks with actor, Dean Haglund, best known for his television work on The X-Files and the cult-spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Dean speaks about his experiences on set, his new UFO-based documentary, and the possibility of a third X-Files movie.
What sort of research did you do to create the character of Langly?
At first, it was just the dictionary, because the writers used a lot of big words. Then I met with various hackers and conspiracy researchers, like Jordan Maxwell. Still to this day, I meet with some of them to keep current on all the latest in the conspiracy world.
In the same vein, how much influence did you and the others have in the writing of your characters in both shows?
As I got to know the writers, they would incorporate my various mannerisms and speech patterns into the script, which was pretty cool to see.
RS: Had you had any interest in the UFO phenomenon before you began work on The X-Files?
I’d have to say somewhat, having never seen anything nor knew of anyone who did. I certainly heard about it from my brother, who was really into UFOs growing up.
What would you consider your favorite episodes (featured in and not featured) with The X-Files?
My favorite, not featured in, is Humbug. I was a huge fan of the Jim Rose Freak Circus, so I was thrilled to see them on the show. My favorite, featured in, is Unusual Suspects, because I got to play D & D for money! Also, it was great getting back-story for all our characters.
Speaking of characters, it’s been said that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are the complete opposites in respect to their beliefs in the paranormal. Is this true?
To a degree, but they would listen to opposite opinions. They weren't rigid in their beliefs.
The writers used many inside references to actual UFO cases and throughout the series. What do you think was the most interesting use of this technique?
Well, there’s no specific line of dialogue I can point to, but I was always impressed with the bookshelves of all the writers. Typically, a TV writer will have books on “How to write a screenplay” or "Best 100 movies of all time”, but these guys would have “Ancient Religious Rituals of Mithra” or “Quantum Mechanics Made Easy.” Likewise, the research that went into every episode was very far beyond the scope of the average show for the time. Now, you see that more frequently in shows like House or NCIS where they pack a lot of info into every episode. But The X-Files was the first to put this in practice and it really paid off.
What are your thoughts about Steven Spielberg or even Chris Carter being hired to disclose small truths to the public about the E.T. reality?
I have heard that, or that the opposite is also true; that by making it "popular" entertainment, it is easy to write off anyone who may have had legitimate experiences as just watching "too much X-Files". Either way, it seems like it gives a lot of power to the artists, whose job it is to connect to a collective zeitgeist anyway. It is more likely for an official to cover up as much as they can and film makers to run with the limited information that is out there and make it more interesting than it may be in reality.
Is it true that Chris Carter was briefed on certain cases to help create some of his story lines?
I have had FBI agents come up to me from time to time and be very impressed by how close the show was to numerous cases that were known in the Bureau. Also, there were some FBI and forensic consultants on the show from time to time to help with some details.
The pilot episode of The Lone Gunmen centered around a plot to crash a plane in to the World Trade Center. This was some time before 9/11. Do you believe this to be an extreme coincidence or perhaps something a bit more controlled?
I never made the connection until late in the afternoon of 9/11 when I got a call from someone in production pointing out that it was our plot being played out on TV. It was very freaky, and then for the media to say "Nowhere, in books, on TV, had this ever been thought of..." even though our show aired a few months before. Again, an artist connecting to a collective unconscious is the more probable of the explanations.
How much of your interest in the UFO phenomenon continued after both shows were over?
It certainly continued and has even grown. I’m currently working on a documentary entitled, The Truth is Out There. I had a camera crew follow me for a year as we went from convention to convention trying to uncover the simple question, "What is truth? And how do we know when we’ve found it?" The answers were quite surprising. There is also a lot of great insight into the UFO field and the minds of various researchers.
What would you consider your most interesting conspiracy or case that you have researched?
Some that really interest me include: 1.) The real reason for the Gulf war that does not include oil, but instead, a fourth dimensional war of biblical proportions. 2.) AMA blocking Dr. Royal Rife and his work in curing cancer. 3.) Nazi Anti gravity technology and the possibility that they had a moon base.
Who would you consider the major contributors to the UFO field? Have you been able to meet any of them?
Dr. Roger Leir has removed 21 alleged alien implants from various people over the years. He started as a complete skeptic and has approached all of his cases from a medical standpoint that is quite refreshing. I say they are alleged implants because the one time a lab analyzed the material removed from the patient, it came back saying "of non-terrestrial origin" and then later called to change their findings. He has published a few books on this and I definitely consider him a leader in the field.
What do you feel was the most rewarding thing you took away from doing The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, and also with your work at conventions and festivals?
I am thankful to be given the opportunity to perform live at a lot of these events, where I use my training as an improviser and mesh it with my experiences on the shows, and create "An Improvised X-Files Episode!". I have performed this all around the world, and have even been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival three times with it.
Could you give us a bit more of a taste of what to expect with the documentary?
The four hour rough cut I saw was really cool, in that it showed a lot of the people you think you may know in a brand new light. I have known many of them for years and a lot of them have seen my act and know that I am funny. So that ultimately, the idea is that you leave after watching this film and realize that searching for the truth can be fun, even if the outcome is not what you would expect.
Okay, Dean… the question I've been itching to ask… should we be expecting a third X-Files movie?
That would be great. But I think the economics of movie making have changed so much, that if a movie doesn't make Avatar or Transformers dollars in its first weekend worldwide, then no studio can afford to risk it on another. If it does happen, it might have to be an indie, which I personally feel would be even cooler!
To learn more about Dean Haglund, and to check out the documentary, please CLICK HERE
Ryan talks with Ali Vesey about her extensive carreer as a singer, dancer, actor, and everything in between. We also get an in-depth look at her time spent with the ground-breaking show, Fuerza Bruta, what brought her across the globe, and what's next in her artistic endeavors.
Did you go to school for performance? If so, where?
Yes. I studied in multiple dance studios from age four through high school. Then I moved to California at age eighteen to study Musical Theatre at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Los Angeles campus.
Any particular form of acting, singing, dance that you studied?
Both stage and on-camera acting. All styles of dance. A variety of vocal techniques as well. My main course was for Musical Theatre.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you knew that you wanted to pursue a career as a performer?
When I realized I was terrible at math? Haha. I feel like that's every actor's excuse. But really, I knew when I was about sixteen that I wanted to make performing my career. I had done a few school plays by then, and I was constantly singing/dancing around the house. I was highly influenced by young actors my age on TV/ Film, as well. I just knew I wanted to do what they were doing.
How did the opportunity to audition for Fuerza Bruta come along?
I was fairly new to New York City, and I had heard from multiple friends to go see this show. I finally went. It impacted my life immediately. I had never seen anything like it. As an artist, I was in awe of the production value and emotional experience it offered. My friend and I asked one of the performers for a photo at the end of the show. He said we had a great energy during the performance and told us about auditions the following week. I called my agent right away to get me in, but we missed the deadline. So I attended the open call.
Can you describe the audition process/experience for it?
Since it was the open call, it was insanely crowded. Huge groups of people went into the space to audition. I think they took about eighty people into the theatre at a time. I was in maybe the 3rd (out of 6 or 7?) herd. The first audition skill was dance. We learned a short, but very specific routine from the show. I made the cut, and was asked to return for a callback the next day.
Day 2: Dancing again…they cut people throughout the day.
Day 3: Treadmill…..cuts throughout.
Day 4: Harness work…..cuts.
Day 5: Mylar(Water)….cut.
Day 6: Drummimg, and a little bit of everything from before.
Six days of auditions! Needless to say, the show is very specific. I couldn't believe I made it through the entire process. I had NEVER done most of the things required to do in the show. It was exhilarating, intimidating, and even therapeutic. The thought of getting to perform something so special every evening, was extremely appealing to me at this point. Especially because I could feel how much I would grow as an artist (and a person) if given the opportunity.
How did you find out that you were cast? What was that experience like?
My agent called the day after the final callback saying I was on hold. I went to California for a few days for a friend's wedding. My agent called again and said I had been released from hold. I was really sad, but also so grateful to have experienced the audition process. He then said I had been released from hold because I had been cast! He's a sneaky shit. I started crying. I was overwhelmed with happiness.
What was the rehearsal process like?
Intense. Overwhelming. Exhausting. We had alot to learn in a very short amount of time. Rehearsals were scheduled everyday for about 2 weeks. Majority of the new members, myself included, had never trained in harness work; a huge part of the show. Our show captains were tough on us, but it was great to be challenged. It was a very memorable and special experience. I'll never forget the team effort my cast mates and I displayed. It felt really good to be around hard-working actors whom all wanted to do their best.
Can you explain the show, in your own words?
Fuerza Bruta is freedom. It is a therapy session, where you can throw all emotions out there. For the audience and for the artists, the feelings unite. It's a mix of highs and lows. It's thrilling, yet dark. It's unlike any piece of theatre or art. It's constantly evolving. You can experience something different every time you perform it, or watch it.
What was the most challenging aspect of performing in the show? Most rewarding?
It was extremely emotionally exhausting. For the first seven months or so, I was killing myself just to understand it. I was so inspired by the veteran actors. I really wanted to get a grasp on it so I could perform it as they were. But I learned, in my own time, that I was hired as myself. I was not hired to act in this show. They chose me because of my individual persona. I needed to tap into who I really was and trust that what I brought to the show was special enough.
Any stories from a particular performance that really stick out in your mind?
I had a few memorable performances. But I'd have to say, having my Dad watch the show was my most special performance. My mother was there also, and she has been my # 1 fan all my life. My Dad and I recently started a real relationship, so it was really incredible to see him be vulnerable, having the time of his life.
What was your favorite part of the show?
The music. Argentinian composer, Gaby Kerpel is brilliant. I still listen to the tracks often. As far as which scenes I loved performing - It changed every week. I love the Argentinian street dance we perform, called The Murga. It's so fucking fun. I also really loved performing Cortinas ("curtains" in Spanish, where two females are harnessed, running along the perimeter wall of the theatre, high above the audience). I loved connecting with the other runner, and using my whole body to express the scene. It was challenging and alot of fun.
You had the opportunity to travel with a different production of the show. What set this show apart from the previous incarnation? Can you explain this show in your own words?
We opened a newer version of all of Diqui James' (director) visions. Wayra, meaning "wind" in Quechua (South American Spanish), is the latest and current production in NYC, Buenos Aires, and China. Four new scenes have been added, more cast members, and just more stimulation all around. It's not as intimate, and it's quite a larger spectacle. I personally prefer the older version. However, I do love the addition of the cast playing musical instruments and singing chants. The music is so powerful and truly epic.
Where did you travel?
England, Ireland and Japan.
Any interesting stories from the road?
Absolutely. This is one of my favorite stories of my life thus far! Fuerza Bruta NYC closed January 5th, 2014, due to renovations being done in the theatre. We weren't given a re-open date, so I decided to take myself on a trip! Fuerza Bruta has had productions in many different countries over the years. Main productions have always been in Buenos Aires, (where the show was created) and then NYC, 2007. Whilst closing the show in NYC, a production in London was just opening and would run until the end of February. I arranged plans for Europe for the month of February. I first visited Scotland, then I went to England. Besides the obvious thrill of visiting London for the first time, I was also looking forward to seeing some of my Fuerza Bruta cast members, experience the show in a new space, and to hopefully learn some new material by watching. Timing was eerily impeccable, because I ended up replacing a cast member who was leaving the production. Talk about being in the right place at the right time! I couldn't believe I ended up working on my joy trip. It was a dream come true, because I really wanted to keep learning and growing in the show, and I was given the chance.
The show just wasn't done with you, was it?
I worked in London for about a week, but I still had my own personal travel itinerary to stick to, so I continued to Germany as planned. Fuerza Bruta then extended my travels and asked me to join the cast for Ireland, in March. I flew back to London after one week of visit in Germany, then the next morning we all flew to Ireland. During the Ireland production, they asked me to join the upcoming Tokyo production!
What was your favorite place to visit? Perform in?
I have two... First, Ireland. Being half Irish, it was a huge deal for me. I dreamt of visiting Ireland since birth. To perform there was absolutely incredible! My grandfather was born and raised in County Sligo. He was a well-known Fiddler throughout the country. I wanted to explore where he grew up, and also had high hopes of meeting a few distant relatives I didn't know existed until only a few years ago. After multiple attempts, I finally got in contact with one cousin. She came to see the show in Limerick. It was so amazing. My heart beats harder remembering meeting her and seeing how much she looked like my family, because she was! I was the only cast member with any Irish blood, and as soon as word got out, local TV stations and radio stations were asking for interviews every week. I couldn't believe this show brought me to Ireland. I am forever grateful for that.
What was # 2?
Japan. The beginning of my two month contract in Tokyo was not easy. I was learning a lot of new material very fast. I already had an ear for Japanese, but I was working with all Argentinians, and only four Americans. Spanish was spoken mostly. I was trying to communicate in 3 three different languages, every single day. It was extremely exhausting, yet so addicting and stimulating. My brain now craves that focus. Being in such close proximities with different cultures is very challenging. Sometimes I just wanted to mumble some bullshit and know that everyone in the room would understand, but it couldn't be. It was so special to make connections with these people through Spanglish/Japanglish, but the language barriers would sometimes defeat us. Our manager was bi-lingual, and for the last month of our contract she offered English lessons to the Argentinians, and Spanish lessons to the Americans. It was so cool, and so helpful. I'll never have a more appreciative audience than the Japanese. Oh, and I am a complete Sushi snob, I miss the food so much!
How did the response differ from region to region?
The British were a bit uppity and reserved (surprise surprise!) They might've been impressed, but didn't show it much. The Irish had a wonderful time. They were blown away, and weren't afraid to approach us afterwards and share a chat. My people know what's up. The Japanese are fucking hilarious. Honestly. They're a bit robotic in their responses. They know whats happening is cool , so its a very audible "ooh" and "ahhh". They thoroughly enjoyed the experience, sometimes a little too much! We'd walk through in a line at the end of the show, and they were literally in tears screaming and grabbing us as we walked by. They went nuts for the dancing in the rain. It was really good to see them loosen up.
What message do you feel the show conveys?
To just remain open, throughout your life. You never know whats coming, and you can't control everything. It's about staying true to who you are and being comfortable in your own skin.
Is there anyone who has directly influenced/inspired your career?
My friends. I happen to have the most talented peers around me on a daily basis. They are motivating and they encourage me when times are tough. I have friends from college who are doing great things, friends from my first performing job at Disneyland I still get to create projects with, foreign friends from my contracts overseas whom are greatly succeeding, and friends from my first professional theatre jobs in Los Angeles who are now Broadway stars. I grew up next to these fine artists and they have inspired me throughout my entire career.
What do you feel is the most important thing to remember as a performer?
Stay true to what you want, and ALWAYS believe in yourself. If you want something bad enough, do the work and make it happen. I also love to keep in mind that everything happens for a reason. That's life in general, but I can't stress enough how much that motto has created peace within me. It's just so fucking true. No matter what crazy lessons you have to learn, no matter how many rejections, no matter which director doesn't like you or if he got the role over you….it's happening for a reason. Stay humble. No room for egos.
What is your dream job?
Dream job(s) have already happened. I keep dreaming of more to come. I just want to perform, and keep creating. I would love to be in certain musicals and plays and I'd love to do a great film. I want do it all. I also love working with children. I'd also like to be a flight attendant at some point to fulfill some more travel dreams.
What other projects are you currently involved in?
I just recently started performing in a burlesque show at a variety theatre in the Lower East Side. There's a lot of campy acting and sexy dancing. So much fun! I'm having a blast! I've always wanted to be involved in this type of theatre. I mean, come on… it's legit burlesque in New York City! I feel like I'm in a movie every night I'm there.
Where can we find out more about what you do, Ali?
I don't have a website. My Instagram might be my most prized possession at this socially awkward year that is 2014. It's basically my work, travel and photography diary.