An Open Letter to Nicole Payawal of JuicyCeleb.com

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I couldn’t resist the temptation to click…

I was not proud to catch myself reading an article today called “19 Celebs HOTTER Than Their Partner.”  I call this type of writing “Junk Food for the Brain,” and I do try to avoid these pieces.  I think that people are consuming more and more information than ever, but the quality of what we read is lower and lower.  Beyond having little intellectual merit, this piece struck me as cold and mean.  But it is one of many.

I grew curious about the person behind the article.  Surely, she couldn’t be as callous as the article she wrote.  What person would want their name attached to such an article?  I found out that her name is Nicole Payawal and she graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in Media Studies.  I decided to write to her and get her thoughts.  Here is a copy of the message I sent.

I’d love for more people to join me in corresponding with the authors behind Junk Food for the Brain. #whywritethat #junkfoodforthebrain

Good afternoon Nicole,

I started to read your JuicyCeleb.com article “19 Celebs HOTTER Than Their Partner,” and I found it unsettling. I hope to start a conversation with you about your work and larger media trends.

While reading the article, it was hard to accept that a person actually devoted time to creating something that seems solely mean-spirited. Objectifying someone’s appearance–especially one who is not even seeking to be in the public eye–seems just plain wrong. I feel guilty for clicking on the headline in the first place. I don’t want to know how much cumulative time I have spent reading similar articles.

Was this an assignment from an editor or something you came up with on your own? I know that your piece was designed to garner hits and it certainly worked. But what are your thoughts on a writer’s ethical responsibility in choosing topics they cover? Do you think that the strategies you use to draw in readers also work for stories and issues that are closer to the heart? Is this trend worth challenging? Is it unstoppable?

Thanks for your time.

Sincerely,
Brent Lomas

 

 

 

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READ WITH ME: “The Untold Stories of Broadway”

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Read with me!

Read with me!

Wonder of wonders! Miracle of miracles! Today, I was thrilled to receive my copy of The Untold Stories of Broadway by Jennifer Ashley Tepper.  It’s the first book in a multi-volume series that recounts theater/theatre lore from the many faces of the Great White Way.  Tepper has interviewed actors, stagehands, directors, musicians–all of the insiders who have lovingly called Broadway home.  With those interviews and some serious research as a stage historian, she created a 334-page tome that is part-history, part-gossip, and all heart.

I am only 50 pages in, but some highlights include Caissie Levy’s sweet account of stage-dooring Sarah Jessica Parker in How to Succeed, Frank Vlastnik’s confession about lying to the box office about a blind aunt to get better seats for Nine with Anita Morris, and Lynn Ahren’s adorkable memory about mistakenly going backstage at Les Mis when she was trying to get to her show Seussical.

Hats off to Ms. Tepper! The Untold Stories of Broadway joins a great company of other must-read theatre books like Brad Shreiber’s Stop the Show and Seth Rudetsky’s Broadway Nights.  I hope you will join me as I dive in to learn more about the bright lights and white lights of Broadway!  All aboard, come on let’s go!

Highs, Lows, and “High/Low”s of 2013

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Have you met my baby? This is MY BABABABABYYYYY!!!!!!!

Have you met my baby? This is MY BABABABABYYYYY!!!!!!!

How did you ring in 2014?  As the Times Square ball dropped, were you celebrating with loved ones? Drinking in the joy of camaraderie and a nice cocktail?

I was watching the 1998 Science Fiction disaster film “Deep Impact” and compulsively drinking a 2-liter of Coke Zero—from the bottle.

In many ways, this experience typifies my highs, lows, and “high/low”s of 2013.  Sometimes you can get satisfaction out of being embarrassing.

My Greatest 2013 High: Fitness

My proudest moment of 2013 was reaching a fitness goal for myself.  This summer, I was able to run my fastest mile ever: six minutes and eight seconds.  I never thought I would be able to run that fast. It took a lot of conditioning—plenty of sweat, risk of heart attack, and an economy size Lamisil.  Although going back to the classroom and the holidays have taken a toll on my physique, I can still consistently bust out a six and a half minute mile.  I am the new Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

My Greatest 2013 Low: Art-free

2013 also had some disappointments.  This is the first year that I have not had a public performance of my writing or acting. I have been working on a number of novels and musical projects, but haven’t had the time or inspiration to follow through.  I also got to do a few readings of musicals and plays, but nothing for a paying audience.  These are defining parts of my life and they need to be at the forefront. Wah Wah.

My Greatest 2013 “High/Low”: Werk-in-Progress

In case you don’t know, a “high/low” is a moment that many would see as disastrous, but you see it as an example of the perfection in imperfection.  2013’s high/low has to do with a relationship or almost-relationship.  Have you ever spotted someone you thought was cute, got them to agree to go out with you, and kept them for about a month while being mostly amusing, attractive, and not-too-weird?  Then they suddenly completely stop contacting you?  Here’s the twist: you’re fine with it?  That happened to me.  The low is the embarrassment of implied rejection, but the high is that I didn’t feel sorry for myself.  If anything, I felt mad!  “What a fool!” I thought. “I’m the prize, here!”   “Who do you think you are?!”

How about you, dear readers? What was your greatest high, low, and “high/low” of 2013?  How did you ring in the new year?

3 Under-Appreciated Albums from the Olden Days (AKA the early 2000’s)

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Does this look familiar?

Does this look familiar?

If you are in your twenties or thirties, you probably have a monstrous pile of CDs in your childhood closet that your mother has been begging you to get rid of.  Astoundingly, she thinks that having extra space for her blouses is more important than those free Britney Spears/*N sync albums you used to get from McDonald’s.

But hidden among the junk music were some albums that were pretty awesome– Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill, No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom, Lisa Loeb’s Tails, the list goes on.  I used to charge my little brother admission to attend dance parties in my bedroom while I blasted these babies on my Boom Box.

A few days ago, Beyoncé proved that an album is not an antiquated thing.  It’s not all about singles and hits–there is a true artistry to a set.  That made me think about my favorite albums from days gone by.  Some of these I came to because I liked the lead single and some I just purchased because of the dreamy singer on the cover.  Check them out!

Lamya's 2002 album "Learning from Falling"

Lamya’s 2002 album “Learning from Falling”

1. Lamya’s Learning from Falling, 2002.  Lamya was a spellbinding singer and songwriter, originally from Kenya of Omanese descent.  She mostly lived and worked in the UK, backing up for Duran Duran and even Michael Jackson.  You might recall her lead single “Empires” which featured Lamya seductively banging two electronic kettle drums to a groovy dance beat.  The song was set to a poem by Samuel Walter Foss: “Bring me men to match my mountains” was not just a cheeky double entendre.  It was a love letter to the idealistic notion of a city on the hill.

The rest of the album is just as layered.  “Black Mona Lisa” is poetic perfection: “I am not afraid to be a lone bohemian/ I can paint a portrait of myself/ I will call me a black Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa/ Come to discover I am your daughter.”  Right???

Another favorite track is “The Woman Who” where Lamya gives thanks for transcending prescriptions of who she is supposed to be: “Ooh, I’m the woman whose three wishes came true/ Fell in two, found the one/ Now I come and go as I choose / Wearing my red magic shoes.”  From the heart-pounding “I Get Cravings” to her beautiful cover of “Pink Moon,” Learning from Falling delivers as a full-album–a nonlinear narrative of a woman who is not so young to be naive but willing to look at the world with fresh eyes.

Unfortunately Lamya passed away in 2008 at only 35 years old, of an unexpected heart attack. We are so lucky to have this album to remember her by.

Ben Jelen's "Give it All Away"

Ben Jelen’s “Give it All Away”

2. Ben Jelen’s Give it All Way, 2002. My dear friend, Whitney, and I both purchased these albums in high school for the same reason.  Though we did not know each other and were in completely different states, we both agreed:  Ben Jelen’s bangs on the cover are amazing and irresistible.

Surprisingly, song after song on the album is just as well-crafted and unconsciously beautiful as Ben Jelen’s hair.  The lead single “Come On” peaked at only #58 on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart, but it’s rank is not indicative of the quality of the rest of the album.  Preview “Rocks,” “She’ll Hear You,” and Jelen’s cover of “Wicked Little Town” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. After that, you’ll want to stream the whole thing though, while lost in thought in a candlelit bubble bath for one.

Jewel's "0304"

Jewel’s “0304”

3. Jewel’s 0304, 2003. Though 0304 had a mostly warm reception, I know that Jewel got a fair amount of criticism for this “dance album.” But the songwriting craft and storytelling is all there.  Most people remember the song “Intuition” and the outcry that Jewel was selling out to fit in with Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Mandy.  The trick was that “Intuition” was produced in a way that was supposed to mock those over-processed celebrity images.

The album is a study in the contrast of young love and disenchantment.  Tracks like “2 Find U” affirm the importance of lasting (if innocent) love: “Hey, U/ Do not walk away/ Let’s choose love, come on / What do u say? / Hey, U/ Know that I would spend/ My whole life all over again/ 2 find U.”

Other tracks speak to the ennui of a generation of young Americans.  Jewel lambasts the terror of war and violence, as well as a new theatre of the absurd through reality television.  The song “America” muses: “Everywhere I go, seems like Bush is on TV/ We shed blood in the name of liberty-uh-huh / All right /  The circus tents are dead, but the sideshow is doing well / The Osbournes and Anna Nicole are too freaky 2 tell-uh-huh All right.”

The final track “Becoming” lyrically rejects conventions and sends a hopeful message: “Listen, heart/ Listen close-listen/
2 the melancholy melody of your own voice/ I am weary of my own dreaming/ I am tired of waiting/ So this time, I’m leaping.”

All of this from what Rolling Stone called “a wanna-be version of Madonna’s American Life.”  I support a lot of what Madonna does, but Jewel’s 0304 has the joy factor.  Check it out!

So, next time you are at your parent’s house, look through that towering stack of CDs stashed away in the closet.  Which could you listen to all the way through again and again?  Which deserves to make this list? Comment below!

Holiday Gift Guide for the NYC Teacher in Your Life

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For reals, though, teachers will be happy with anything.

For reals, though, teachers will be happy with anything.

It’s holiday time and there’s someone you can’t forget: your favorite wacky, sleep-deprived, and (likely) alcoholic young teacher.  Whether this educator/soldier of fortune is your friend, child, sibling, actual teacher, or neighborhood loon, know that your gift will be appreciated.   In fact, teachers expect to receive mountains of gifts.  It’s like disaster pay.

Now that you’re sold on the idea, here are some things that I want:

 

I use these when kids are reluctant to write.  "Do you want to borrow my special pen?"  They always do.

I use these when kids are reluctant to write. “Do you want to borrow my special pen?” They always do.

1. Markers and Stationery.  I love Papermate Flair Felt-Tip Pens.  They glide along the page in dazzling colors.  Even when the ink gets all over my hands, I just feel more accomplished.

I also love blank greeting cards–the kind with some sort of image on the front and no writing inside. I like the type that most men would never buy, because they are too adorned–but I also don’t really like flowers, animals, or French landmarks.  So, this wish could be a tall order.

2. Grocery Store Gift Cards…the Fancy Kind.  My grocery spending is getting out of hand.  I think this is because I need to be pried off the couch on the weekends, so I never really shop then.  I have to grocery shop after work during the week.  By then, I feel like I am starving.  This causes me to look like I am shopping for a family of five, when I am actually a family of 1.5–me and Netflix.

Even committing to buy mostly store-brand stuff from Whole Foods is still a big expense.  This is because each shopping day you are still buying an enormous variety of food–of which you proceed to stress-eat 80% before it even makes it to your fridge.  So, I am stuck getting most of my groceries from Associated, Deal$, and CVS. I would be so happy if I could get a gift card to Whole Foods or Zabar’s and really go hog wild without worrying too much about budget.

bird lady.

bird lady

3. Someone to Come Home to.  Currently, the only living beings that I consistently find in my apartment are dirty grey mice and my 40-something spinster neighbor who comes by to “listen to me play the piano.”  That’s a euphemism for “drink merlot and breathe heavily.”

This Christmas, I would like a human being or domesticated animal to greet me, excitedly.  I am willing to alternate being the big/little spoon.  I am also willing to repay this person with witty complaints about my weight and skin.

Here’s what not to buy:

1. Candy.  I have officially gained ten pounds since school started. This is mostly due to my grocery habits, but also due to the fact that I only go to the gym once a week now.  Please do not buy me candy unless it is diet candy.  I don’t think that has been invented, yet.  I will consult google and get back to you.

Also, you should be aware that as I write this I am actually eating candy.  I’m demolishing Hershey Kisses I found in a bowl at school.  I don’t know how long they have been here, but they taste sort of spicy. Developing…

2. Clothes. Chances are that they won’t fit me–at least around holiday time.  If they are too tight, I will be depressed. If they are too big, I will be insulted.  If you must buy apparel for me, I could probably use some decent shapewear.

bulldog watching tv

There aren’t any photos of me like this, because no one is there to take my photo.

3. Books. Would you believe that a lot of teachers don’t actually do a lot of pleasure reading?  Maybe it’s because we read professional development books and young adult fiction all day. We are exhausted. Anyway, we probably already have the book you are going to get for us, and books don’t really fit with our on-the-go lifestyles. I mean, it’s hard to read and drink wine at the same time.  TV takes less hand-eye coordination.

Civilians, let me know how the teacher in your life reacts to your gifts this year!  Teachers, you can thank me later.

If I were a Disney Princess, I would be Princess Stitch.

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me... if I could afford a crown.

me… if I could afford a crown

Good news! Your best friend is a combination of 65% Jasmine and 35% Belle. Your coworker is 100% Ariel, and your mail lady is 75% Rapunzel and 25% Aurora.

Drum roll please….Congratulations, you are 100% Stitch.

Is anyone else mystified by the plethora of quizzes and subsequent facebook posts that encourage you to validate your existence simply because you share so-called traits of a fictional character, celebrity, or breed of dog? These quizzes are momentarily exciting as you feel a sense of unique exceptional-ism, but really they’re depressing.

  • If I were in “Sex in the City,” I would be the blurry waiter in the background who doesn’t actually serve the main characters.
  • If I were on “Friends,” I would be the student who tried to register for Ross’ class, but it was full, so he had to take Oceanography instead.
  • If I were in the Harry Potter series, I would be the guy at the zoo who tries to use his college ID to get a reduced ticket price, and the ticket-person gives him shade about it, but lets him in anyway.

Which Disney Princess would you really be?

“Fun Home” at the Public Will Leave You Breathless

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Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas,  and Michael Cerveris in "Fun Home"

Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, and Michael Cerveris in “Fun Home,” Public Theater, through January 14th

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of seeing “Fun Home,” the new musical from composer/lyricist Jeanine Tesori, bookwriter Lisa Kron, and director Sam Gold, at the Public Theater. Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, “Fun Home” tells the story of a graphic novelist’s coming of age—discovering her sexuality and coming to terms with her father’s dark past.

“Fun Home” is easily in my top 10 favorite New York City theatre experiences of the past five years.  The piece is executed so gracefully, with crisp, yet heartfelt direction, performances, music, scenes, orchestrations, lighting, sound design—everything was lovely.

Without giving away too much of the plot, here are some of my impressions:

1. Jeanine Tesori is a national treasure.  I put Jeanine Tesori on the same pedestal as Michael John LaChiusa.  Their work never ceases to surprise me, yet I always feel at home in their music.  Like with Tesori’s “Caroline or Change,” or LaChiusa’s “Queen of the Mist,” I felt so ready to live in the music of this show, to just let it transport me.  You could listen to the score of “Fun Home” without lyrics or even staging and you’d still feel the entire emotional journey of the characters. Brava!

Judy Kuhn and Sydney Lucas in "Fun Home"

Judy Kuhn and Sydney Lucas in “Fun Home”

2. The entire cast was perfect. Judy Kuhn (dazzling, nuanced, should play everything), Michael Cerveris (the theatre’s Johnny Depp), Beth Malone (wonderful and completely transformed from when I last saw her in “Sister Act” in Pasadena–yes, she was also wonderful there), Griffin Birney (precious), Noah Hinsdale (joyous), Roberta Colindrez (powerful and layered), Joel Perez (completely present), and  Emily Skeggs (honest and courageous), and Sydney Lucas (see below) are everything they need to be and more.

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in "Fun Home"

Sydney Lucas and Michael Cerveris in “Fun Home”

3. Sydney Lucas (“Small Alison”) is everything.  She was absolutely captivating with a clarion voice and honesty you rarely see in child actors.  If she wants to continue to act as she gets older, she will be a star. I hope she stays in the theatre.

4. Masterful direction. Special kudos to Sam Gold, because I didn’t notice the “direction” during the entire show.  I was simply transported.  Only afterward was I able to pinpoint some of his genius decisions.  He has a special talent for knowing when to let scenes breathe.  One of his best moves was having phone calls take place simply as characters facing forward–no clunky phone props or pantomiming.  He uses the same technique with driving in the car–no fake steering here.  In some ways, it felt like a cinematic zoom at times.  He also knew how to wring out the dark comedy of children putting together a song and dance commercial for their family funeral parlor. Just the right amount of camp.

5. Chris Fenwick music directs everything and he is awesome.  Seriously, I see this guy everywhere and he never fails to dominate every theatre score he works on.  He is a boss pianist with impeccable rhythm and expression and he is so elegant to watch conduct.  I think I need to invent some sort of award that I can just give to him, so he knows how wonderful he is.  Here, let me make it official: Chris Fenwick is the recipient of the 2013 “Werk-in-Progress” Prize for Excellence in Music Direction and Special Contributions to the New York City Theatre Community. Also, do you think he would be friends with me?

6. Why can’t more theatre like this be produced? I think that if broadway audiences saw this work, they might shy away from the bubble gum theatre that clogs the Great White Way.  I think that musical theatre is humanity’s most complete art form. When it is executed at this level, there is nothing better.

7. Be prepared to ugly-cry.  From the opening notes of the piece, I knew I was sold.  I forgot that I am a big baby when art moves me.  I should have immediately gotten my tissues from my back pocket, but I thought I would know when the crying was coming.  Wrong. My first tears came so suddenly I had no time to dab my eyes with even my sleeve.  My neck and collar were more than a little damp.

8. Look forward to meeting a ton of fabulous NYC lesbians in the lobby.  I made new besties with the cutest couple ever, and you can, too.

Please see “Fun Home.” It runs through January 12th, 2014.   http://www.publictheater.org