Rubens, Bergdorf’s and the Importance of Girls

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I admit, it takes me a while to process new things and truly understand their meaning.  For example, when I saw Lena Dunham in a knee-length lemon yellow dress in a sea of black tie during the Grammy’s, I couldn’t help wondering what that was about?  Attention-getting?  Possibly. But she was there with Grammy winner Jack Antonoff of the band Fun, and I don’t believe she’s the sort to try to steal her boyfriend’s thunder. Besides, she gets a lot of attention, usually about removing her clothes instead of what she’s actually wearing, so I didn’t think that was it. Then I received an email ad from Bergdorf Goodman’s. (Why, you ask?  I’ve no idea.) And there was a model wearing the same exact dress as Lena’s. I just didn’t get the memo in time. :) Lemon yellow is the new black.  Or…

Perhaps it was a clever publicity strategy since Lena Dunham and Jenn Konner are  developing a new series based on All Dressed Up With Everywhere To Go, an upcoming memoir from New York fashion doyenne Betty Halbreich, 85, a longtime personal shopper and celebrity stylist based at the Bergdorf Goodman department store. Among her clients are Glenn Close and Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex and the City. (A show that I think sounds awesome! Imagine Maggie Smith, Betty White and Anna Wintour all rolled into one!)

Now, for some reason, I hadn’t gotten around to watching the show Girls beyond the three episodes that screened at the WGA way back when the series began. So I recently decided to do a Girls marathon to see what everyone loves and/or hates about this show, and why Lena Dunham is such a lightning rod of controversy. And so now, I’m willing to add my own humble opinion to the discourse!

It is true.  Lena Dunham, reigning queen of awkward personal revelations, does take off her clothes a lot.  With abandon.  With joy. And seemingly with no sense of shame.  (Playing ping pong naked is a new sport that should definitely be further explored.)  And why not?  Sure, she’s a few pounds heavier than the ‘usual’ portrayal of a girl/woman her age. Or any age, on either TV or in film.  But, at least to me, she’s got a Rubens-like quality to her body, which the cinematography mightily exploits, particularly in one of the most recent episodes called Trash. Don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but several Rubens paintings, and even an occasional Renoir, comes to mind while watching the shots of Lena in her assorted naked poses.  Given her art background, perhaps it’s her way of subliminally reminding us that full-bodied naked women with smooth-skinned curves in luminous settings were considered beauty and art long before our current entertainment media made hard-bodied females with perfectly perky silicone boobs the norm. Of course, Lena looks like a teenager, as she’s only six years away from being one (which raises other disturbing issues that I’m just going to ignore for now) — and so she’s not quite as brave as say, Kathy Bates in the hot tub scene in About Schmidt, an acting choice that made her my hero forever.

I don’t care much for the depictions of low self-esteem, occasional rants to address her critics disguised as dialogue, and her character’s willingness to be humiliated and sexually denigrated in the name of ‘feminism’ and ‘sexual adventure’. (I also do enjoy the occasional cameo/walk-on by her agent Peter Benedek.)  But Lena’s best and most attractive self lies in her refusal to accept the ‘beauty norm’. I don’t know about her being the voice of a generation. It’s not my generation, so I’m not an authority.  But by having her characters frequently declare that her Hannah character is beautiful, she may just be able to convince a new generation to return to Rubens’s standards of beauty.  I certainly hope so — ’cause I’m getting awfully tired of going to the gym and cosmetic surgery will never be an option! :)

Thoughts on the Republican War on Women….

According to a recent New Yorker Magazine article, women make up the majority of the US voting population, 40% of wives now earn more than their husbands, and more than half of all university students are women. Yet, the Republic platform thinks that truncating women’s rights is a good campaign strategy?  Hammering away at the pro-choice and healthcare rights that have allowed women to achieve both higher education and better paying jobs. Why would they do this?  It seems like a suicidal strategy to me.  Which makes me think there’s a greater goal at stake.  Perhaps the Republicans are willing to sacrifice the presidential campaign for a much longer-term goal.  A jihad of epic proportion against women’s rights. Motivated by fear?  Perhaps.  Maybe they think the way to solve the unemployment rate is to force women back into the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant (voluntarily or forcibly)?  Discussions of how to extricate ourselves from crippling national debt; to end our military mindset in our dealings with other nations;  to improve our public educational systems so our children are equipped to lead our world; to provide affordable and non-judgmental healthcare for all; and to retool our federal banking structure with all its multinational effects,  moving us forward and keeping America and the US dollar relevant in the ever-growing foreign market; these seem like pertinent issues to address during an election.   Cloaking misogyny in religious fervor and insisting on its legislative validation is simply not what the founders of the constitution had in mind.  And it’s not in America’s best interest as a nation. In fact, this war on women is nothing less than shameful.

Perhaps it is time for women to band together and rebel, to prove that we are not all as ill-equipped and under-informed as Sarah Palin — and to act as Abigail Adams suggested, oh, so long ago…

“If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.” –Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams and the Continental Congress, March, 1776

The State of My Union — Entertainment-wisely Speaking

Hard to believe, but it’s 2012.  I’m starting my sixth year writing/directing for theater with West of Broadway, and my fifth year writing/directing/producing in film, television and internet media (third year with Lady of the Canyon). Okay.  Enough personal statistics.

What I really want to talk about is the definition of “projects with a purpose.” within the entertainment world. Because I think every successful project has a purpose — whether it’s a good cause or a theme I agree with, or a cause I don’t care for or a theme that doesn’t interest me.

Let’s take television programming for example. For me, what distinguishes an epic television show from a dud is:

1. Does it take me into a world I wouldn’t know about otherwise?                              2. Does it contain lead characters I’m unlikely to meet in the course of my day?         3. Does it make a lasting impression so that I’m still thinking about the characters and their lives after the show is over?

So, Without a Trace, CSI and the Law & Order franchises gave us a taste of the inner workings of the justice system, showed us what happens when a person goes missing, how forensic evidence works (kind of), all while providing a compelling and entertaining way to neatly resolve the real-life news horror stories. All while satisfying the above criteria.

The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Rome, Game of Thrones, Justified, Breaking Bad– all ‘teach’ us history of sorts, and/or give us a glimpse into the workings of regional power, crime and politics, all while thrilling us with the complexities of the characters, their conflicts and their obstacles — none of which we’re likely to encounter on the same scale in our own lives, but with just enough humanity to make the characters seem like they could be people we know.

The purpose behind 24 was ostensibly to entertain, but subliminally to make torture and privacy-protection infringements palatable to the audience so we would accept it as a governmental policy– a project with a purpose, but compelling television nevertheless.

Stay with me.  There’s a method to my ramblings…

I believe that the audiences who watch one-hour scripted dramas (and I can’t speak for reality non-scripted audiences, and I’m not addressing 1/2-hour sitcoms here either), I believe those audiences WANT their stories to have a purpose.  To teach them something.  To be able to come away with topics to think about and details to discuss with family and friends.

Lately there’s been an incredible number of fairy-tale projects: Grimm and Once Upon a Time; the soon-to-be released duplicate fairy-tale films based on Snow White and Hansel & Gretel.  I think TV and movie audiences have an unquenchable thirst for fairy tales in which the young and powerless face seemingly unbeatable odds, only to overcome them. Because it’s how we all feel.  Regardless of the social issues subliminal to the stories.

I believe, with all my heart, that FINDING HOPE is such a story.  It explores several unfamiliar worlds: the inner workings of a cult community and a human trafficking organization; a big-city underworld teeming with nightly dangers;  a justice system that doesn’t always work the way it’s supposed to; characters who are hard to forget, and betrayals by those who should be trusted.

FINDING HOPE is a fairy tale–the story of what it’s like to be a teen fugitive alone in an adult world — the story of how the human spirit triumphs over adversity.

Stay tuned for updates on when FINDING HOPE will be coming to you!

And Happy 2012!

 

 

 

The Search for Joy

This year it’s been my pleasure and privilege to write and direct MRS. SCROOGE THE MUSICAL, a show that critics have called “a highly original musical…a 21st century comedic masterpiece.”  The cast (Kelly Derouin, D. Kevin Kelly, Jake Hamilton Lewis, David Burrus, Heather Cadarette, Amber Morse, Frank Weidner, Jesse Turtz, Asher Bank, CJ Thomas, Lee Pitts, Sarah Ann Vail and Katy Tabb) is talented and vibrant.  The producer (Ed Cha), who makes all things happen as if by magic, and stage manager (Ashley Jo Navarro), sound design/operator (Mike Shear) and crew members (Jenafer Grant, Jennifer Trujillo) are tireless and work relentlessly on the technical aspects of the show. The choreography (by Evie Hutton) is fantastic! The lighting design (by Christopher Stokes) is awesome, the costume design (by Rosalie Alvarez) is beautiful, and the music composed by Robert Agis and arranged by Michael “Mac” Crowley is simply wonderful.

In the world of stage, many people find theater a thankless pursuit.  It’s not especially profitable in monetary terms.  And yet, there’s something about live theater that keeps us all coming back — particularly to this show.  I believe the thing that keeps us coming back is the joy we take in creating something that brings so much joy to others.

We recently had a special performance — a show donated by a sponsor –so that a full house of elementary school kids (from grades 1 to 6) from the Inglewood School district could attend. As much as I love the show, I think what I love more is watching its effect on the audience.  Their laughter, their tears, their surprise and their wonder make me…simply…happy.

In a world in which so many forms of passive entertainment place great demands on our attention, and yet provide so few rewards — it’s just nothing short of wonderful to see that theater is alive and well, and that our universal desire for storytelling and our search for joy are happily satisfied by our “little-engine-that-could” production of MRS. SCROOGE THE MUSICAL.

If you’re in Santa Monica over the next two weekends and are in search of some joy, please go to http://www.westofbroadway.org for tickets and information. Reviews below!

www.smmirror.com/single.php?id=33702

http://grigware.blogspot.com/2011/12/review-mrs-scrooge-musical.html

lasplash.com/publish/Los_An…

J’Accuse

I’ve been reading and listening to the plethora of information about Herman Cain and the women who have accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct.  I’ve heard Rush Limbaugh mock Ms. Bialek’s name, (“buy-a-lick”) with corresponding (and repulsively suggestive) sound effects.  I’ve read about attempts to ridicule Ms. Karen Kraushaar, who did not ask to be in the spotlight, but whose name is now being bandied about because Herman Cain settled a harassment claim and bought her silence for $45,000 several years back.

And the question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is, “Why are these allegations coming forth now?”

Really?

The question is specious and the askers are disingenuous.  Herman Cain wants to run for president. Of course, anyone who knows anything about his character, as a man and as a potential world leader, has a responsibility to come forward and tell of their own personal experiences.

I have a question for those who ridicule and scoff at the testimony these women offer. Do you think that it’s easy to come forward and describe one of the most humiliating experiences they’ve ever had, and that, without a doubt, they’ve spent the last few years trying to forget?

Through my research for FINDING HOPE, I came across a rather disturbing statistic.  One out of four women in the US has been sexually assaulted, molested or attacked. That’s 25% of the female population.  And those are only the reported cases.  The real question is — how to make our social environment a SAFER place for women to be able to report misconduct.  And yet, more often than not, a woman who does speak up is treated to a barrage of ridicule and humiliation from people who should know better.

Why would any woman come forward under these circumstances?

Some people believe it’s for monetary gain or 15-minutes of fame.  And, sometimes, there’s an element of that in certain cases.  But let’s not confuse the women in the Cain case with the fortune & fame hunters who seek out celebrities and wealthy men so they can release a “tell-all” article or perhaps swing a book or a movie deal.

Ms. Bialek has a young son.  Whether or not it’s appropriate for her to have told him about Cain’s behavior (and I’m not sure I agree that it was), she did.  Consequently, she’s willing to brave certain national ridicule and scrutiny in order for him to see that his mother is willing to stand up for herself — at great personal cost — because the man who harrassed her is RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!

This raises an interesting question.  Why is consensual sexual activity (albeit outside their marriages) on the part of Democrats (Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, John Edwards) so scandalous as to wreck havoc on their political careers?  The answer is clearly, because they’re not Republicans.

Why do I care about this particular subject?  The Cain accusers are grown women.  They’re not the victimized children and teens I write about in FINDING HOPE.  They’re not casualties of war rapes or domestic violence.  They’re not homeless or alone in the world.

In fact, they’re women who have a lot at stake.  Lives, families, professions — and they came forward at the risk of all that.  And the only reason they would do that, is because they believe something happened…and it was something they can never forget. And it makes no difference how long ago the incident occurred.  Humiliation like that remains fresh and raw in the mind and the psyche.  That’s why it’s such an effective and controlling weapon.

So the real question is, is this the kind of weapon we want a prospective presidential candidate to have in his daily arsenal?  I think the only answer has to be a resounding and united, “No!”

Cranky Letter 1

Dear Hotel Manager,

I’m a writer, director and occasional blogger — and I work pretty much nonstop.

I made the unfortunate mistake of choosing your hotel to spend the one night and morning I’ve had in six months to sleep in.

But I get ahead of myself.

Let me take you through my last 24 hours, so you’ll understand my experience…

My husband and I arrived last night, and we were given keys to a room that was, as it turns out, already occupied.  I’m quite sure that the couple we walked in on was as unhappy as we were about the situation.

We were then taken to a ‘cottage’ room in the remote regions of the hotel.  Down several staircases and through a hidden corridor (reminiscent of the film Being John Malkovich) until we, at long last, reached the end of our sojourn and arrived at a large, seemingly lovely room.  We inhaled deeply, preparing to relax for the first time in months, and nearly choked on the stifling mildew-scented air, evidence that the carpet had been marinated in sewage and water for many months prior to our arrival.

So, we were then brought to Room 5-7.  Ah.  Room 5-7!  It has a lovely ring to it doesn’t it?  LOUD and ear-damaging ring is really more the case.  At 7:50am this morning (which you’ll remember, from the first paragraph, is my only morning to sleep in in six months, and the only morning that I’m likely to have to sleep in for the next 2 months) an EAR-SPLITTING smoke alarm went off in our room, bringing my one night of rest to an abrupt and crashing halt.

We immediately called to have someone come up to address it.  TWENTY ear-ringing MINUTES later….we were still waiting.  It’s now one hour later…we’re sitting in the lobby of the hotel — with no word on whether or not the alarm has been addressed — (We did return to the room on the word of your staff that it was fixed, only to discover that, no — it wasn’t.).

Oh, wait — have an update for you.  We’ve just been told that the alarm has finally been turned off.

Now, we can return to the room which has just been trampled by the engineers, and do our best to get back to sleep before we attend the wedding for which we came to town– which should have been a happy occasion for us, but instead has turned into a never-ending marathon of discomfort.

Just thought you’d want to know!

Sleepily,

Now Is the Time for All Good Women To Come to the Aid of Our… Television

According to one recent survey, television shows are run and written by an under-represented percentage of women compared to men. Well, that just makes television show-running on par with almost every other profession except, perhaps, the obvious age-old profession of … teaching :)

But I have faith that this is all about to change!  The 2011 fall and mid-season television lineups provide a glimmer of hope. Following in the bold footsteps of Sex and the City, where no female-driven show had gone before, we can expect comedies with a “raw and intimate,” down-and-dirty, take-the-mystery-out-of-being-female POV, in search of the television equivalent of the holy grail– eyeballs!– which translates into high ratings, higher advertising dollars and more outlets for female-driven stories than Lifetime, WE and Oxygen.

I hope that the eyeball-gods are good to these upcoming shows (2 Broke Girls, Zooey Deschanel’s New Girl, Whitney, Lena Dunham and Judd Apatow’s Girls, Sarah Silverman’s Show and more) because the world can use more women in charge–(Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann exempted).

So…stay tuned!

 

WE SERVE WHITE’S ONLY NO SPANISH OR MEXICANS — REVISED BLOG

This is a sign once displayed in a local Southwestern restaurant. It was part of an article discussing the currently proposed anti-immigration statute in Alabama, otherwise called 1070SB with an Alabama twist.

Do we really have to wage this civil rights battle again?

The newly proposed anti-immigration statue in Alabama is even more offensive than the 1070 Arizona statue.  Something I didn’t think was possible. And the wave of anti-immigration statutes sweeping the country should sound an alarm for everyone — because, if history has taught us anything, it’s that there’s never just one scapegoat.  Continue reading

Deifying the Weather

So, if I understand Michelle Bachmann correctly, she believes that the weather is a form of God’s vengeance.  Interesting concept.  Not new, however.  The Greeks, Romans and other pagan societies thought so too.  It was the only way they could make sense of the capriciousness of the weather — before science stepped in and weather patterns became a matter of calibrations and predictions.

Of course, God could also have created science to warn us of the coming weather, so we’d be prepared.  And one would think, that if Michelle is so in touch with God, she might have warned us about the weather–much like Noah did before the floods. (BTW, Does anyone else think it’s somewhat funny that the National Oceanic Association of America’s acronym is NOAA — pronounced, Noah? So perhaps God does talk to the weather association!!)  But I digress… Continue reading

The Making of Finding Hope: An Interview with Diane

  • Question: Were there any specific scenes that were particularly hard to shoot? 

Diane’s Answer:  There were three scenes that were especially difficult:

1. The cellar scene in which Tyler, Esmee’s best friend, was held captive. It was very difficult to emulate the real-world abuse without imposing physical hardship on the actor, even though he was an incredibly good sport about it;

2. The violin-breaking moment in the office scene between Rev and Esmee.  We could only afford two ‘breakable’ violins, so we had to make sure we got the smashing shots in just two takes.  Thankfully, we did!

3. The train station – making a Long Beach Port terminal look like a Grand Central train platform with a limited budget was a feat and a half.  Luckily, my production team was amazing and worked their magic to make it happen.

  • Question: Were there any unforeseen circumstances that you had to deal with and how did you work around them/change your plans?  Continue reading
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