Fast Forward Friday with Jason D. Avalos

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-actor-director-producer Jason D. Avalos.  He has been steadily working in independent film for 10 years and has studied in master classes with Quentin Tarantino. His lastest project, which he produced and served as creative consultant, NAMCAR Night Race, has already won 13 awards and was nominated more than 20 times around the world. To learn more, visit his website.

Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.

I’m currently working on ways to afford my kombucha addiction, as all people from LA do, but beyond that, I’m an actor-writer-director so I’m always pushing a few projects forward until one gets made. I just went into casting for Rhythm my feature film directorial debut,  in which I also play the main character.

Rhythm centers on Daniel Largo, a musician who jumps off a cruise ship band gig and battles his way to glory by being an original artist in the heart of the East Los Angeles music scene.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

It comes from growing up in the Long Beach band culture, watching bands like Sublime, No Doubt, Reel Big Fish, etc before they were huge, in backyard house parties and warehouse keggers. I played in a punk band and then later was a DJ so music is a huge inspiration in my life and it made sense to use that as a foundation for the story. The major push was watching some music and micro budget films like Tangerine, Filly Brown, 8 mile, Almost Famous, and Sweet and Lowdown and realizing there are no music films with Latino lead characters that aren’t inherently of Latin culture, for example Selena and La Bamba. It’s important to show what first  generation Latin-Americans look like, talk like and play music like. I grew up Angeleno and I don’t own any mariachis.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Stanley Kubrick, Terrance Malick, Truffaut, David Bowie, The Doors, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Bukowski, Burroughs and Hunter Thompson.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Other artists. Everyday I get inspired by my fellow colleagues and artists:  photographers, architects, animators, comedians.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I have three original cable TV pilots I’ve written that have gotten great feedback from the Jane the Virgin producers and other trusted mentors working in TV. One is an animated adult cartoon about the afterlife of animals that I’m really excited about.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Since I’ve been writing Rhythm, I have worked and met more like-minded creators making LGBTQ, female empowered and Latin first generation projects who I believe are very much my allies, my sisters and brothers. This is the power of proactivity in your vision. You staking your claim and your voice will inherently bring you side by side by other like-minded people. That is proof to me that the universe is chilling on my shoulder like a pet monkey. Damn, I really want a pet monkey.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I would be creating my own TV show, hiring a diverse team not unlike Aziz Ansari or Ava Duvarney.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Money. Yes you can make things cheaper now, which is awesome, but producing is a game played by folks who often come from money. The other one is people aren’t buying Latin movies unless they are about drug lords, cartels, crossing borders, etc. I hope to be a part of that change.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I feed myself with art from every walk of life, a lot of yoga and seeing a therapist. They are just three ways to reflect on what is a constant moving energy of creating and seeing what I’m connected to moment to moment.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Maybe not trying competitions, festivals, workshops enough. I don’t make work to be better than another person so it seems superfluous. I lately am loosening up and seeing it as a way to connect with other cool creators and collaborators.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

That is a cruel question. ahaha. Right now I’m pretty in love with Horn Players by Jean Michel Basquiat. I’m a huge fan of jazz and Basquiat. It demonstrates improvisational painting with underlying structure, which is like jazz and also how I approach filmmaking.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I admire my grandfather Emilio. He worked everyday in a coffee field in El Salvador through crazy civil wars, etc. He had a heart attack in those fields and died peacefully there. There was no hospital close enough to do anything. If he can have that work ethic than I can stick it out in my career.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Dimples, baby. But if I don’t get the dimple award next year than it would be to have hugely helped open doors for other voices not being heard and creating a real place for us.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Tenacious.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I always feel guilty  – it’s in the my Latin Catholic nature, but I will go with cheese. Expensive and stinky.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Buckle up and don’t take a backseat because someone makes you feel less privileged or allowed.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

Paris.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Sharing your work with the world and working with the very best in the industry while helping others along the way.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is a moment that comes and goes constantly. I just want to know that I’m feeding myself the right energies so I can embrace as much of it as I can every day.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Just a shout-out to two films I script supervised this year. I’m super proud of working on Bite Me and Tragedy Girls, which is in theaters now! Shameless plugs!

 

Fast Forward Friday with Sarah Wharton

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning actor-writer-producer Sarah Wharton. Her feature That’s Not Us played at more than 35 festivals around the world and was released as a Netflix exclusive through Strand Releasing. She previously collaborated as an actor and associate producer on Percival’s Big Night  and Jane Wants A Boyfriend, which aired on Showtime. She has produced work in Oslo, London and New Orleans, and served as associate producer for the Harare International Festival of The Arts in Zimbabwe. She is currently in post-production on Bite Me, a subversive romantic comedy about a real life vampire and the IRS agent who audits her. Her feature, The Ring Thing, a documentary-narrative hybrid about same-sex marriage currently on the festival circuit will premiere at Newfest in New York City on October 21st and will be distributed by Gravitas Ventures.  To learn more, visit her website.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I am an actor-writer-producer, so there are always multiple project pots on my creative stove. The one that is currently boiling most urgently however – can you tell I just made dinner? –  is a feature film I am producing called Bite Me. It’s a subversive romantic comedy about a real-life vampire  – yes! There are people in the world who believe they are vampires! –  and the IRS agent who audits her. We wrapped principal photography on September 7 and are now beginning post production.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

The inspiration and impetus for the project is all due to the very wonderful Naomi McDougall Jones who wrote, produced and also starred in Bite Me. She wrote the film with the very specific and honorable mission of making something that would bring joy to an audience. I think comedy is one of the best and hardest things to do well. When I first read the script I felt like I had the experience of falling in love – I laughed, I cried and giddily wished for more. In joining Naomi as a producer, my wish came true and it’s been an honor and privilege to work on it every day. It’s a story that reminds me there is good in the world – the hope it gives me inspires me every day.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Oh! So many!

Currently: Jill Soloway. When I watch their work I can feel my atoms rearranging themselves. I’ve learned so much about myself and the kind of creator and person I want to be through experiencing their art.

Foundationally: Stella Adler. “Growth as an actor is growth as a human being.” If I ever forget why I want to be an artist, I read her book.

Consistently: Shakespeare. The language, the characters, the size of the emotions – Shakespeare always reminds me that anything is possible. Plus, my parents met while working at The Shakespeare Theater in D.C. so technically I owe my whole being to him!

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

My colleagues. They are such brilliant, hopeful, dedicated, interested and interesting people. They keep me honest, inspired and challenged. I work hard in order to keep up with them!

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I produced and starred in a feature film called The Ring Thing that is currently on the festival circuit. I play a character aptly named Sarah who, when she accidentally proposes to her girlfriend, embarks on making a documentary about marriage in an effort to figure out what marriage means to her and how her past might be holding her future hostage. We play at Newfest in NYC on October 21!

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

There’s this quote from Shaw that always kicks me in the guts: “This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

I realized recently that for the last year or so, I arrive at the end of each day thoroughly worn out from having filled my mind and hours with things that I care so very deeply about. There’s a certain kind of exhaustion that comes from boredom and despair – I am incredibly privileged to be in a place now where I am consumed by the pursuit of what I love instead trying to slough through what I do not. I feel constantly occupied by my vision, so I know I must be living in it.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I’d be a showrunner of a show I created.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Figuring out what my vision is! I think it’s really easy, especially as an actor and a woman, to get wrapped up in what other people think your vision should be. It took me a while to understand that what makes me happy is feeling empowered to tell stories that I care about. For me, that means being in control of what those stories are and how they are being told. Becoming a producer in addition to being an actor has made me feel like a more complete, happy artist. It took time to figure out that’s what I needed, though, particularly because it meant stepping off the path that is traditionally recognized as being the way to success for actors.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

My work demands that I show up to it with my creative self intact – sometimes, however, my creative energies can feel depleted or blocked. When that happens, traveling always reignites my creative self. “Traveling” can just be walking down an unfamiliar street or visiting a part of the city I’ve never been to before – anything that gets me out of the pattern of “knowing” and into a more curious mind frame.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Fear of making mistakes. For the love of Goddess – FAIL! Learning hurts so good.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

New York City.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

My parents. And Nelson Mandela.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Connecting people around the world through art.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Online window shopping.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Ok – look. I know you love school. And you are very good at school! Keep being good at school – for now. Soon, you are going to have an opportunity to go to a great school. A great college, to be specific. But here’s the thing. No one is going to care if you are “good” or not. I dare you to ask a lot of questions and make a lot of mistakes. Take risks. Literally no one is going to look at your report card once you graduate so stop. playing. it. safe. Find out what happens when you lose control.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

New York City. With an apartment in Paris and one in Cape Town, please.

Q: What is your idea of success?

When the wishful purpose behind making a piece of art comes true. For months, sometimes years, you can sit in a room with your collaborators and talk about why what you’re doing is important, the audience you’re making it for, what you hope people will feel and think afterwards … when you finally put it out there in the world and a total stranger takes the time to reflect back to you that you actually achieved the thing you set out to do – that is success to me. Fulfilling a specific purpose.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Doing what I love with people I love.

Q: Final Thoughts?

I feel incredibly privileged to have a choice in how I spend my time and how I make a living. That choice is not something I take for granted. I ask myself on a fairly regular basis, “Is this still what you want to do?” It’s important to me to continue to answer that question honestly. This is not exactly the most stable or financially sound profession I have chosen. I always hate it when people say “if there’s anything else you can do, do it.” There are lots of other things I could do! But I don’t want to. I honor my choice in that, and the privilege that is the pursuit of my own happiness. If being an artist stops making me happy, I’ll choose something else that does. Until then ..

Fast Forward Friday with Delores Edwards

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-producer Delores Edwards. She began her career working in network television news and has spent more than 15 years writing and producing news, magazine, short/long-form format, entertainment, talk, and documentary programming. Some of her credits include ABC News & News Specials, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS, CNN, VH1, BET,  and Good Day New York. She has written and produced stories, features and profiles on people like Patti LaBelle, Bessie Nickens, a 94-year-old painter, Alicia Keys, Sheryl Crow, and upcoming entrepreneurs, as well as produced stories on finance, fashion, and both Gulf Wars. To learn more, visit her website.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Right now, I am a Series Producer on two programs for WGBH: Basic Black and Open Studio.  Basic Black is the longest-running public affairs program in the country produced by and for people of color.  This upcoming season will be its 50th.  Open Studio is an arts magazine program covering everything from major exhibits to in-depth, sit-down profile interviews with artists like, playwright Ayad Akhtar, Longy School of Music’s Sistema Side by Side music program as well as Misty Copeland, Lori McKenna, Leslie Odom Jr, historian Sarah Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla and more.  It is the best of both worlds.  

In addition, I am also working on my documentary idea about women and unemployment, expanding a short and working on getting an Op-Ed piece about plus-size clothing published. I am also passionate about creating my “Voice and Vision” workshops to help women, groups, and companies share their voice, help them think outside of the box and shape and share their stories that will inspire, inform and tell people who they are.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

My interest in producing a public affairs program really came from my time as an undergraduate student at Northeastern University watching Say Brother (now Basic Black).  The program covered what was going on in the city and concerns for people of color, so when the opportunity came up to manage and oversee this show and Open Studio, I pursued it.  Since my time here, both programs were nominated for an Emmy as well as other awards.

The idea to create my workshop stems from wanting to help entrepreneurs, freelancers, women and others who see that in order to get to the next stage or step, they need some help in crafting their story—not in a braggy way, but in a style that brings to light who YOU are–confidently and authentically.  I thought about this after working with young women in a volunteer setting and saw the need to for a workshop like this.  We all have something to say.  We have ideas and things we wish to create–why not get some help with presenting those ideas in the best light?

My doc projects are a result of the issues that came up after the economic downturn.  While the unemployment climate has gotten better, there are still hundreds-of-thousands of people out of work and having trouble finding work.  I saw it first hand with friends and the effects it had on them.  I also know what it felt like because it has happened to me too.

The op-ed is my informed observation and criticism on an issue I deal with every time I shop for clothes. My plan is to tell my story and have it published. (I’ll let you know when it lands!) It’s about stretching myself creatively.  Plus, I have something to say!

There is a film idea too but it’s still percolating.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Tough question. Right now, I am really inspired by people like Ava DuVernay, Courtney Kemp for creating, writing and showrunning Power; Misty Copeland for her perseverance; Oprah and Shonda Rhimes for creating their media companies.  

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

Again, it’s knowing that I have something to say. It’s knowing that there is much more I can give, so I push myself.  Hey, sometimes you just have to do it for yourself if no one is around.  Speaking up and asking for what I want and need is key too, even at times, when it is challenging. 

Also, I watching the recent Emmys and seeing various people of color in attendance– and winning. Look it’s not about the award; it’s about the recognition and the opportunity to create.  To me, it’s also an indication that some doors are opening, slightly.  On the flip side, it’s also realizing that other avenues exist.  If I want to produce something and publish or broadcast it, it is not an issue.  I could post it, sell it on Amazon or start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money.  I guess what I am saying is there are ways to get your work out there so people/audiences can see it.  What gets murky is being able to sustain yourself while doing it.  That is the challenge.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I’m good.  Just the ideas that I have mentioned –writing, doc projects etc.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

Seeing my ideas on the air every week.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Running a studio and greenlighting projects.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Access.  

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

It’s been a little difficult lately given my current responsibilities, however, I try to stay connected by attending events, film festivals and taking at least one weekend away each month to recharge — a sort of staycation. Sometimes having a change of scenery and a chance to sleep gives me a new perspective. 

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Worry.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Work by Leroy Campbell.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I admire a lot of people so it’s hard to pin down, however I do admire Former First Lady Michelle Obama.  She along with her family endured a lot of taunts while inside and outside of the office.  Despite all of the issues, she remained gracious and elegant. Plus, I’m still working on getting my arms to resemble hers!

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Having a voice and helping others find theirs.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Thoughtful.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting.  It’s not fancy, but it does the trick.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

You are doing great.  You’ve accomplished a great deal and are continuing to grow.  Things will come your way – some good, some bad.  When they come remember to stay grounded.  Celebrate whether things happen or not, if you get a compliment or not.  Keep your eyes pointed forward and stay away from naysayers or those who wish to kill your dream–recognize that they are frightened people who are afraid of being left behind as you begin to move forward.  Do not settle and feel like you have to stick around with the people who try to tear down your ideas because if you do, you will not move closer to your own dreams.  Theirs are theirs.  Yours are yours.  Own your dreams.  Guard and protect them until you are ready to share them with the world.  As you give to others, including your friends and family members, remember to give to yourself, always.  You’ve earned it and so much more.  Don’t be so hard on yourself. Have fun and buy yourself some flowers!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

California, Atlanta, Chicago or Toronto.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Peace and ease.  The ability to not worry about outside things. Being comfortable and realizing that I have enough.  A feeling of being able to take care of myself financially, no matter what.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Spending time with friends, family, in good health, having the time to do whatever I want, create projects at my own company from anyplace in the world, being joyful, and discovering new things and places—and being excited about those things and places.

Fast Forward Friday with Robin Rice

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning playwright Robin Rice. She has written 50 one-act plays and 20 full-length plays and they have been produced from Off-Broadway to Mongolia, South Africa to South Korea and London to Seattle.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Margie Ditches the Expandable Pig is a great big armload of a play I am rewriting in preparation for a reading for industry in the fall. A wonderful director Marcus Yi, contacted me recently and asked what I had that he might like to work on. I sent him several plays and this one really grabbed him. He was trained in Hong Kong in physical theater, so this is a perfect fit.

The play is about how being overweight can tear a woman down to the point of giving up entirely. The characters in the play  – the cast size minimum is eight with a lot of double casting, up to 22 – all women –  are mostly pairs of women’s breasts. Did I say I like magical realism? The breasts of women from different places, ages, sizes and backgrounds – these breasts have stories to tell. They try to bolster Margie’s self-confidence so she can face the world.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I don’t remember the initial inspiration – but Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was part of it. I started out writing a lot of essays about breasts, calling it The Breast Monologues. I interviewed many people, like the young actor in a play of mine running in Louisville who had had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Of course I also called on my memories of my own experience breast feeding and my own lousy body image.   

When the breast monologues were done, I put out an invitation on Facebook: Women actors, would you like to come and read a new monologue for me? Seventeen women responded. Seventeen actors generously gathered one winter evening in my apartment and performed the monologues for each other. It was thrilling! I knew I had something. The most gripping monologue, for me, was the very last one – Margie’s monologue. So I made Margie the protagonist and have worked to break the monologues (not all of them) open and form them into the full-length play.  

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

I didn’t start writing plays until I was 50. Previously I was a newspaper reporter and then a fine-art print maker.  At 50 I got my Master’s Degree in playwriting and haven’t looked back. I have always been inspired by Thornton Wilder’s creative layering; Irene Fornes’ wide-open, magical way with words; and, of course, by Tennessee Williams’ color in characters, situations and place. Specifically, however,  seeing Tony Kushner’s Angels In America had a huge impact. The play shouted: Mix it up! Go where you want to go in time and space!

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?  

It’s certainly not the endless submission-rejection process. When I began writing plays in the early 1990s, theaters would report that they were getting around 300 submissions a year. They now report getting 1,000. And it’s not the discouraging percentage of women playwrights who get produced year after year. And it’s definitely not rampant ageism in the theater world. When I was just starting out I was told by editors and agents that they wanted to sign on young playwrights so they could build a history with them. Sorry, guys, I was never a young playwright.

I’ve always been stubborn. That may be the main thing that keeps me going. I’ve had quite a few productions all over the world, which is a big motivator. It seems like just when nothing is coming up – something always suddenly happens. So far so good. The thrill of working with good collaborators – sitting in the room with a creative director and fine actors working to bring my play to life – that keeps me going maybe most of all. In the past month I have been lucky enough to work with two wonderful groups on my drama Everyday Edna Mae and my black comedy Listen! The River. The plays were in a festival which means short runs and all the lousy things that a festival involves, but the rehearsals were absolutely wonderful. And the performances were so good I already have a rewrite of Everyday Edna Mae ready to send out to other producers.

A final word about inspiration. I never understood people who come up to me and say “I have a great story you can make into a play.” I have an abundance of stories of my own. There is nowhere near time enough to tell my stories. Those stories are the seeds. I could plant a field of flowers without running out of ideas – if I had forever.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I have a drama Lust & Lies that was adapted from a true crime novel (a New York Times bestseller) about a murder that happened in rural Pennsylvania in 1831. This play has two readings with two different groups in NYC in the fall. So I’ll be listening to those and diving into rewrites of that play along with whatever happens with the reading of Margie Ditches the Expandable Pig.

Next week while I’m at Antioch College for a work project fixing up the campus and reunion I’m also going to do research on Susannah Way Dodds, the woman a hall in my freshman dorm was named after. This is for the 365 Project – women playwrights all over the world write plays about real women who have affected our world. I’ve been part of this project since it started four years ago. Watch for a reading of exciting plays next March at Theatre for the New City in NYC as well as 365 readings worldwide.

In the fall I’ll be writing a new short play for Articulate Theatre Company’s Articulating the Arts and hope it’s chosen for production. I’ll also be working as a board member of a new theater company, Rebel Playhouse, as they continue to generate projects aimed at opening young people’s minds through theater.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some projects. Oh – right! In June I went to a performance of an old Commedia dell’Arte play that was directed beautifully. Afterwards I chatted with the director and she invited me to send her a script. I sent a long one-act play that takes place in ancient Greece but has a contemporary feminist spin. She loved it. Yay! She’s out of NYC directing across the country, but when she gets back in the fall she wants to give the play a reading and take it from there. Watch For The Length Of A Dream. This one has been sitting around gathering dust, waiting for the right opportunity.

My goals for the upcoming year are to focus more narrowly on where I send scripts when I’m looking for producers, and to try to avoid using up time writing and sending out 10-minute plays. It feels good when those shorts are produced, but it’s like eating popcorn. It’s not all that nourishing in the long run.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I was a print maker, my vision was realized on paper. When I segued over into theater, I could  lift my vision from three-dimensions into four and bring it alive with movement, sound and lights. When creative, smart directors, actors and tech people are brought into the mix, my vision soars and I can really live it. A good example is Alice In Black And White, which has had productions in Louisville, KY, and 59E59 in New York. The story is about a Victorian photographer, Alice Austen, who became the first woman photojournalist. Projections of her photographs were used as the backdrop in the productions. Having lived in Alice’s shoes during the writing of the play, experiencing the productions by Looking for Lilith Theatre Company was truly living my vision!

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Having a play produced at the Humana Festival in Louisville – and then on to a rolling premiere.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Age. Theater loves youth. One drawback to not being younger is that I can’t stay up to wee hours and network. I have to be in bed by 11 or I’m a zombie the next day and unfortunately networking is huge in the business.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

The question should be what do I do to stay connected to my non-creative self.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Having learned the hard way, I think I’ve finally let go of it. Sometimes I’ve been too trusting. I didn’t always heed the warning of red flags when I saw them. Empathy caused me to not watch my own back. There are directors who want to realize their own vision of the play, not yours. There are producers who talk a big game but don’t follow through. There are people who give you advice who are really looking out for themselves. It’s a learning process. My rule now is: See a red flag, go the other way. A director I know has a rule for himself that I like: “Don’t work with bloodsuckers.”

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

There isn’t one favorite. But two that had an overwhelming effect on me recently were the Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre. I studied so many years ago in Art History, but seeing it in person – oh my! And Monet’s garden and home in Giverny. His painting of water lilies – all his paintings – the light and colors were there in his home and garden and the real pool of real water lilies that he painted.  The real things are themselves a breathtaking work of art.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I can’t name one. I simply can’t. The women who fought and fight for their rights throughout time and all over the world are primary, but no one can be singled out. As soon as I start naming names I’m leaving out someone who qualifies.

American educator Horace Mann said: “Be ashamed to die until you’ve won some victory for humanity.” The people I admire have won these victories.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Creating beauty. That includes more than writing.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Focused.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Reality TV: Project Runway and Face Off in particular. Both involve starting with nothing and creating something awesome.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Choose a graduate school that has status in the theater world.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I moved to New York City when I started writing plays and this is totally the place I would most like to be. I should have moved here years earlier! I wouldn’t mind living in London half of the year too.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Everyone always says “happiness.” Here’s what would make me happy: My goal when I started playwriting was to be published. I’ve had only one full-length play published (Play Nice!) so far. You need to have productions with decent runs and good reviews to be published by a good publishing house. So my idea of ultimate success would be to have those productions of all my full-length plays (all 20 of them) followed by publication. I don’t want to end my playwriting career with a pile of unpublished scripts that nobody will ever see.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

See the answer to the above question. A shelf-full of my published plays is the legacy I’d like to leave for my children and grandchildren. I’d like to think that in a hundred years one of my plays would be performed and bring happiness to everyone in the production as well as to the audience.

Q: Final Thoughts?

This year I felt myself moving increasingly into the role of mentor. I have had one-on-ones to help a number of young playwrights. I was asked to be on the Rebel Playhouse board and to be a panelist for the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. This follows my resolution to never produce my own work in a festival again. It’s like stepping up a step and arriving at a point where I can see the view better and the view includes sharing what I’ve learned.

Fast Forward Friday with Bibi Flores

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed artist-designer-activist Bibi Flores who was born in Austin, Texas, raised in Mexico and who, for the past 12 years, lives and works in New York City. With paint as her main medium, Bibi works in acrylic and occasionally oil. Her most recent series, Goodbye to Assholes, I Deserve Much Better, is a feminist body of work addressing a society in which women are often the target of violence and oppression. For more information, visit www.bibiflores.com.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

My latest body of work is titled, Goodbye to Assholes I Deserve Much Better. It is a project that I started in 2010 connected with my healing story as a survivor from different types of abuse and traumas – a survivor of situations related with rape, emotional and physical abuse, including in some relationships I had in the past, in and between other painful experiences  that happened to me from my childhood and throughout my life. It connects with my earliest collections of works too as the story of my emotions. This last project tells my story in a more specific way, puts it out there, and my message brings my voice as a survivor and everything I went through where pain and emotions were kept in a hidden place, to a place of being heard and acknowledged and to be able to heal.

My work represents my feminist point of view; it’s a body of work that includes –  as in my earlier works – painting pieces, photographs, installations, the last two usually incorporating the element of painting or paintings in them in full or partially. The focus of the project is to empower and celebrate your one unique personality, love yourself and respect yourself. It also critiques a shallow and judgmental society where women still exist in a submissive structure and are the subject of violence, suppressed feeling and oppression, and sometimes they don’t even know it since they grew up accepting those beliefs. This affects all humans, particularly women, on all levels, places, classes and countries. Victims end up feeling guilty, shamed, devalued, alone and in silence, and it creates wounds that need to heal.

Work started with the process of identification of assholes and moving on from ego-centric personalities, and to heal from present and past events. I’ve been gifted as a very empathetic person and that, in so many cases, lead me to see compassion or good in everybody, even attackers. I had to go a long way to see the bad and think about myself, to build healthy boundaries and recognize emotions I had, express them, empower myself, build respect and recognize that I deserve better, I deserve to be respected, to be loved and happy, to heal from past abuse and to be surrounded people that care and love me as I am.

The word asshole, which I never totally liked, was a very powerful word for me, it was stronger than words like jerk or idiot, and it was exactly what I needed to express and recognize there was abuse and move on to better place. The word asshole in my mind gives me a power to be alert, mark, define and create healthy boundaries, bring respect of the self and start to heal the wounds. When you suffer from emotional and physical abuse, you learn to accept some other types of abuse too, since it doesn’t seem as bad as other but it’s not good either, and my wounds kept attracting some people that opened those wounds more. I needed to change this, move on and heal.

Titles in the work connect with pieces within each other and tell the story, all my process and healing. I also believe in the meanings behind certain colors and shapes connected with emotions and energy, and I believe those are tools as other ways to communicate and it was the way to express my healing message too, and put my healing energy into it.  I want to live in a better world where there will be less suffering and more joy, I believe that all humans, especially women, should be feel respected, loved and supported. I deserve much better, all women deserve much better, all women and men, we all deserve better.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

My love for painting as a medium to share my story. I always notice I want to paint my emotions as a form of energy, almost like a portrait of a certain parts of my life, this is since other past work starting mid and late ’90s, and that led me to the depths of my latest project.

My passion is to paint. For me, painting is another type of language that exists and connects to another energetic dimension.  Being able to communicate and explore thoughts through colors and shapes is inspiring to me. It is exciting to have your own personal way to express emotion and to tell the message directly from your soul that bridges with you and the world.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

I don’t think I ever completely liked the word superheroes. I think because in my mind it connects to fictional characters that are portrayed as perfect and powerful, and humans don’t need to be superheroes to be powerful too. I’d rather say they are inspiring humans with flaws – not perfect but beings who are or were their unique selves, express it in special ways and got to the depths of my soul. I enjoy from those humans seeing energy transmuted and putting it in a physical plane in infinite ways, and multiple artists sharing their own stamps in their work.

I will say I get attracted by bold works that feel connected energetically with me or with my way to see the world, my thoughts or my ways of  communicating by shapes, or colors. Some examples I can mention are: Franz West, Mary Heillman, Yayoi Kusama, Barbara Kruger, Sean Scully, James Turrell, Any Goldworthy, Cai Guo Chag, Kara Walker, Christo and Jeanne- Claude, Pipilloti Rist, Dan Flavin, Rothko,  Jackson Pollock, Marina Abramovic and Alexander Calder. It is hard to mention only a few and I’ll add definitely my father Jaime Flores who, with his paintings, introduced me to art. Paint became part of my life, and passion. Since I was young, I loved to play and experiment with it. He also introduced me to energy, metaphysics and other wonders of the world, from enjoying gazing at stars to walking in the park and enjoying those valuable special things in life, those good things about him that I keep close to my heart. 

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Doing what I love to do, being brave, courageous and believing in myself, my message and my passion. Just do what you feel is right and go out of your comfort zone – that is what creates excitement.  

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Right now, I am working on paintings related to my project The Goodbye to Assholes, I Deserve Much Better, and as a part of this I have been working on a mural in three buildings in the same block where I have had my studio almost since I arrived in New York. It’s a mural as a temporal piece, with complicated surfaces almost  feeling like barriers and obstacles, so I choose it to be painted ,to be transformed, and connected with worth, open doors, healing energy, transformation and letting go of the past. For a long time, the three buildings had the feel of being abandoned. I have been looking the same way since I arrived in  New York. In all the years I have been working on my project and during my healing process, they have been like that, so I thought it would be nice to connect it with my project and transform it and paint over it, like putting healing energy into it, as a symbolism of erasing doors, blocks, barriers and moving on to better. I felt in a point of my life like those abandoned buildings. I want to repaint  it in a metaphoric way, giving it life again. It’s also interesting how in this piece, I already brought wounds out, like people feeling entitled to write on the work, or do something to it, and how ethics and respect of a person’s space and healthy boundaries are respected or not. This piece shows where it has been wounded and healed.

As a painter, it’s interesting for me to work outside in these buildings, I had painted artwork in walls before but in private indoor places including galleries and this is the first time outside in buildings in New York.

The building’s owner passed away a few years back. He used to love art we talked about the artist Christo and Jeanne-Claude before so I thought it was going to be special to do something in his building too. My project was accepted and I was able to start to paint in the buildings, so I been working on this as a public painting piece for about two months. Since my latest project has been very personal it hasn’t been easy to put it out, so this piece is like saying I will be brave enough and do it in full now, open that door and put my message out for others to heal too.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

The process of transforming my life and healing wounds, growing and expressing my passion of painting,  speaking up and sharing my story and message, helping others to heal, plant that seed helping to make this world a better world. 

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

I don’t think I would be doing something different, maybe I would be able to do it in a different way or the world in general would be more free, but I believe things happen for a reason.  I believe the world is in the process of change, mentality and spirituality, and maybe some barriers could be a way to learn experiences that will lead you to where you need to be.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

I had to overcome a lot of pain, so much pain that I had to overcome by myself, self-doubt,  fear of  being judged for what happened to me,or being devalued for the same reason. I had to overcome and move away from people who didn’t respect me and didn’t appreciate my worth. It was not easy to share my story and to do it through art in a very personal way. I had to heal and confront it,  put the message out and be brave about it. I had to have some guts. Not as easy as it sounds.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Being myself and connecting to my own creative process, the feeling of joy, joy of what I love to do, and put love into my passion. I also love to connect with nature and have time to myself in calm meditative states. Music is also always good.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I guess fear as a protection, fear sometimes held me back, doubts from past pain, certain beliefs from past experiences that limited me in my past. It was not easy to trust since I was hurt, manipulated and controlled by people. It has been a process of letting go and healing of all those since my project started. It  has been a whole process, step by step. leaving behind the past, all toxic or hurtful for my soul, and moving on to a different loving, respectful, environment slowly but surely.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I have so many different pieces of art that I like, since each one has had a very special importance in my healing process and my story. Each one takes a special moment, like a stamp, and connects with what has been going on in my life.

Some of these works were breakthrough moments in my life when I started to build healthy bounderies and reclaim my own space. I’ll mention the titles of a few: Cabrón Total, 2011; Stop Feeling: NOT Being Enough, 2012;  I Say No, No and No to You, Asshole;  I Walked The Wire For You Asshole… Not Anymore, 2012; La Gota Que Derramo el Vaso, 2011; Limosnero y Con Garrote, 2011; For a Life Full of Yays Instead of Yikes, 2012; Judge by Assholes Not Anymore, This is a Goodbye, v.2 2013.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Well I admire people who are passionate and had something to say or did something great for the world to make it better, those who go beyond limits to show different ways of thinking, breaking from usual thinking or those who also did something special through art, music, poetry, film or any creative tool or form of expression.

Mahatma Gandhi, as an activist of peace, civil rights and freedom. The Dalai Lama, Amma, Sadhguru.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, with her poetry as a feminist, Hombres necios que acusáis a la mujer sin razón, sin ver que sois la occasion, de lo mismo que culpáis …

Coco Chanel and her very individual way to break the rules of how clothing was supposed to be and to be herself.

Mother Theresa, for her love for humanity,

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Just for being me, for my message and doing my passion.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

BEing (Bibi)

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I really enjoy to paint in big sizes, like murals, not everybody understands why, a lot of people had to ask me, but I just love it. I also really enjoy in those cases to get paint all over while working. It is like magic dust in the painting version and I guess it reminds me of how I use to play with it when I was a child.  It could be in a deep part of my soul – it takes me there and connects with my inner child somehow. I will add to that all kinds of chocolate, water as an element  and travel, all without the guilty part and the joy of it.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Don’t worry how you are feeling right now: never heard, abandoned, being strong by yourself and for others, even when you were going through a lot. At one point, you may try to talk with someone about what happened, they will not understand and they will make you feel bad, judge you – don’t listen to them. You are worthy, you have a voice, a message to share, and you were meant to be your own awesomely weird person. The experiences you went through didn’t lower your worth, don’t let anybody tell you differently. Its ok if you feel you don’t think the same as others. All those many who pushed you down and made you feel bad, hurt you emotionally and physically, take advantage of you, and made you feel like you had to fight to be enough. Forget about them!  Your were always enough, your gut feeling was right, and you will have time to heal all those wounds, express, love and say what you always want it to say, tell your story, your message, be free, and be just who you are. Never give up, you’re getting to the place, your place where you supposed to be. Just being. Be Bibi.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

There is a reason that I came to New York, I think is the city of the world, were creative minds join, the city for art, it’s the city where you can meet and connect with people from everywhere any place on the planet.  Be friends with them, be part of their lives too, get to know different flavors, ways of thinking, different ways of doing things, languages, color meanings, that coexist all together in New York. I am really loving the experience for about 12 year now. Who knows ,maybe later if I will explore other places.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Being able to live from doing my passion, and enjoy every part of it.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Enjoy the moment as it is, enjoy every emotion that it brings. Being in the present and smile, enjoy being you, enjoy your own process, learning, your own time. Life is magic … it is so precious, gorgeous and unique, this life where  you and I just happened to coincide and be living at the same time and moment on this beautiful planet. Enjoying each part of your journey, enjoying each moment as a great gift, as different and unrepeatable as it is, that is my idea of happiness.

Q: Final Thoughts?

I’ll end with my MANIFESTO:

Past is ….

                        Just past

   Focus on today

   Respect yourself

 

Anyone and Anything that

   Drains you ….                   Just…

                                                           Let it go…

 

                       Be aware of your fears and…

     Beat them

   Unveil yourself

Be with the right good people

     And with friends that care

I Say Goodbye to Assholes

   Goodbye to Assholes

   Goodbye to Assholes

       I deserve Much Better

Became and Celebrate Yourself

   BE Distinctive

  BE Exceptional

     BI Dazzling

          BI Worthy

               BE Brave

Bi…

                  BI      BE JUST       BI

                             For the Right to Be

                        For the Right to Bi

                                                             Just Be…. BIBI

                                                                       AND Fuck YEAH

                                                                            BE HAPPY!!!!!!

 

Fast Forward Friday with Perri Yaniv

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed actor Perri Yaniv. He is a native New Yorker who has performed in more than 30 theater productions locally, regionally and internationally. He has originated roles in new works by John Patrick Shanley, Erik Ehn, Candido Tirado, Jack Agueros, Maurice Decaul and Owen Panettieri, and has played title roles in revivals of George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk. He has also worked repeatedly with Obie-winning companies like Metropolitan Playhouse, Medicine Show Theatre Ensemble and Nicu’s Spoon. Film work includes Winter Has No Sun (Gradient Films), Al Qarem, The Wolf of Wall Street, The O.C. Club, Delivery Hour and the forthcoming feature ​The Restaurant. For more information, visit http://www.perribazyaniv.com/

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

Right now I have a few projects in the mix: one is a short film titled Purity by Avichai Assouline; there’s a new play by sci-fi author Ryan Sprague called East in Red, which will be inaugurating Dark House Theater, a company that specializes in horror theatre in October; and I’ve just been cast in Claire Beckman’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard (entitled The Plantation), that her company Brave New World will be performing on Governor’s Island in September.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

I’m a very sociological actor. I’m obsessed with behavior and community, and I often choose projects that either involve psychological or social issues. Purity deals with the shame of sex addiction in a Hasidic community, East in Red examines the perceptions of prostitution and The Plantation sets Chekhov’s classic on a Virginian slave plantation shortly after the Civil War.

For every character I work on, a huge inspiration for me is childhood; there’s a heightened feeling that activates my imagination.  The characters in East in Red and Purity are very self-suppressed, so the echoes of events in their childhood feel like they’re right underneath the surface for me. The process then becomes about finding all the intricacies of how the suppression finds its way into behavior; what remains unseen versus what sneaks up to the surface.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who had an impact on you and your work?

First and foremost, I see art as work. A ton of time and sacrifice goes into earning the title of being an artist or being artistic, so I always consider artists workers, like servicemen and servicewomen. As for the workers I’ve found most intriguing, I’d have to say one of my biggest heroes is Anna Deavere Smith. She’s pioneered an entire genre and changed the landscape of documentary theatre in a way that’s connected to a specific process, and through that has presented an incredibly profound outlet that bridges artistic expression and tactile reality in a way that is undeniably brilliant and painful.

I consider myself lucky because art has had a huge impact on my life since I was a child; my father is a composer and a musician, my mother a trained as a dancer, so art itself is a hero to me. I advocate for experiencing the arts as prime education in DISCOVERING YOURSELF AS A PERSON.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Since acting is a bit of an elusive art form; we are our instrument and our canvas and our paints, I’m grateful for my accountability partner and dear friend Jessica Levesque. We meet weekly and address the work for the upcoming week: anything that needs to be rehearsed, memorized or read gets done during our time together. If there aren’t any projects or auditions, we read a play. It gives me a much-needed structure and it creates consistency. I can’t over-stress the importance of consistency. Tennessee Williams wrote for 5-7 hours a day because that’s what it took for him to consider himself a writer.

I think it’s too easy to call yourself an actor and not be in constant practice, so that’s my battle: what is the work I have for today? Even if it’s reading a scene or running a monologue, something will always come out of it that I can appreciate.

The other way I stay motivated is that I approach my acting work with a wide net.  I hold a day job in a hospital doing asthma research in addition to my acting career.  I’m rooted in the belief that empathy is incredibly powerful, and within each of us is all of us.  I like to think that’s the New Yorker in me. Every person I meet or interact with is a gift; that’s my inspiration. Experiencing other art forms, seeing the work of colleagues and peers is always enticing, and learning from the living masters always leads to inspiration that then gets expressed as a poem or a moment on stage or in a film … it’s all cyclical.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I recently got to do a reading of a new piece by Erik Ehn for a downtown theater festival called Planet Connections Theatre Festivity  and that was a lot of fun. I find his work fascinating.  It’s a cross between poetry, chaos theory, song and simultaneity at the level of special relativity. I played Jesus in his most recent world premiere at LaMaMa, and there’s a sensibility to his work that is unlike anything I can even describe, and that’s part of the fun. Audiences usually have a variety of experiences when they encounter his work, and because it’s not a neat narrative, they often have to surrender the subconscious need to control their experience of what they think watching a play is supposed to be, and then they can feel the power of his work.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

This has got to be the best question for an artist ever, since there is a part of us (probably from childhood) that seeks validation for choosing this path in life, even if we’re convinced it chose us. For me, it’s collaboration. No matter how challenging and difficult or friendly and serene a process might be, the fact that I have been offered an opportunity to work, to express myself within this little gypsy family we call an ensemble, for a day or a week or a month or a year is always a huge reminder that this is the life I want to live. The “level” of that exercise is secondary to me. I’m happy performing on just about any scale.

I choose my projects based on the impact of the story. If the work is important to me it’s because I think it will be important to you.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Within the field of acting it would have to be working on major motion pictures, expanding and cultivating what I do on a larger commercial scale: A-list talent, intense and creative energies on set, polished and profound material. I got to spend some time on the set of Wizard of Lies and watching Barry Levinson work was like a master class in running a set. That was very educational for me.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

I would like to say that my biggest obstacle has been navigating this field without an MFA or some business connection to get me to the next level, but in all honesty I think my obstacle is a deep insecurity of what my true worth as an artist and a person is, and that creates situations where I end up stopping myself from achieving my full potential. I’m slowly getting through it and I have faith that I’ll come out on the other side of that, but it is definitely a process.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I found the easiest way to stay connected to my creative impulse is to always be in the midst of working on something. If I don’t have a project lined up, I’m in an acting class or I’m seeing friends’ shows or catching up on film and TV or networking. I don’t just watch TV or film for the sake of it, I’m learning. It’s actually why I chose acting over pursuing dance or music or writing; I discovered that my happiness came from the stimulation of absorbing new information; like a child’s. The experiences I had when I was acting educated me in a way I knew I wanted to pursue, so the trick for me is to always stay connected in some way, shape or form to that process.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

The poison of procrastination.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

Painting: Aivazovsky’s The American Shipping off the Rock of Gibraltar
Poem:  Rilke’s Go to the Limits of your Longing
Song: Tracy Chapman’s If Not Now
Choreography: Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room
Film: The Russian Arc
Play: Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children
Quote: “Blessed Unrest” by Martha Graham

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

My mother and Viola Davis.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

If I have a legacy I would like it to be for helping children find the way into their personalities and interests, whatever leads them to embrace, cultivate and celebrate their true selves.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Enigmatic.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Ice cream and peanut butter straight from their containers with the same spoon.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Embrace the doubts.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

By the water.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Embodying joy, appreciating fulfillment, facing challenges, helping others.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Waking up with something to look forward to.

Q: Final Thoughts?

These days, in a world run by social media profiles and corporate outlets, it has become too easy to pretend you are engaging engaging socially by engaging anonymously. The pressure of accountability should be contended with, because without it, the truth becomes unclear and it becomes too easy to speak without knowing; too easy to identify oneself without personalized context, and that creates a false sense of connection and community. In this age of convenience, I hope the arts can remind us of the importance of personal identity, even if it’s the actor’s expressing themselves in the guise of an “other.” It is in this public engagement that we are reminded of what humanity really looks and sounds like, and more importantly, what it feels like, and what it is capable of in a collective environment.

Fast Forward Friday with Bronwyn Berry

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed award-winning producer Bronwyn Berry who relocated to New York from Johannesburg three years ago. She is currently working on the docu-reality series Durban Beach Rescue for the Travel Channel and the kids’ show Wonderama for national syndication. To learn more about Bronwyn go to http://rubyrocket.tv/

Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.

I’m in the final days of post production on season two of the docu-reality show Durban Beach Rescue for the Travel Channel International. This show is the real life Baywatch! It was shot in Durban, South Africa in December 2016 —  the show is located 100% on a beach — which means I get to spend five weeks in the African sunshine while NYC freezes over. But there’s a catch — we work 12 hour days, seven days a week over Christmas and New Year’s so there’s little time for family festivities and New Year’s celebrations. Season one just won the Simon Sabela Award for Best Documentary series — so grateful to the team who made this show as good as it is.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

Firstly, an emotional connection — My family is from Durban and I was born there.  And then, the story world, the phenomenon that
is Durban during the holiday season is what appealed to me. It’s a 
character-driven show following a team of elite lifeguards who deal with massive crowds, dramatic sea rescues, shark attacks, strange ocean rituals, missing people, lost children … Special mention in season two goes to lifeguards Sue and Tammy who had the challenging task of working in a “male-only” profession, going up against notions of what a female lifeguard should be and came out shining and smiling.
  

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Showrunners inspire me — Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black) created a self-generating story world that remains fresh every season. Hope there’s a big pay-off for the sacrifice of beloved Poussey in S4. Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner (Girls). Ann Biderman (Ray Donovan) and Damon Lindelof (The Leftovers).

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

Knowing people are watching my work — the main reason for going into television. I produced long running soaps in South Africa and was obsessed with daily audience ratings, tracking responses to storylines and characters. The quarterly audience focus groups were thrilling — I would avidly watch the audience through one-way glass as they passionately discussed the characters and storylines. These findings were analyzed in the writers room, and we generated storylines and character arcs from there. It made me realize the impact TV has on an audience, how it shapes people’s opinions and how they view their world. It’s a powerful medium, to be used responsibility.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I’m working with Lisa D’Apolito on the Gilda Radner documentary LOVE Gilda, a partnership which came about as a result of Joanne’s
career development workshop. Thanks, Joanne, for being instrumental in 
forging new and flourishing working relationships. I’m in production on the next season of
Wonderama, a reboot of the kids’ shows that many New Yorkers watched in​ the 1960’s & ’70s. I have several projects in development, difficult to talk about until green light, but hopefully will be working on a beach again soon.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

When I know people are watching my shows and discussing them on social media. 

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Producing my next drama series — there’s one in development, watch this space.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Though I have had 15 years in South Africa as a producer then executive producer-showrunner on scripted and unscripted shows, relocating to the U.S. was in some ways like starting over in terms of making contacts and building a new network. After three years I am now at a point where I’m making inroads into the industry, thanks in part to the support of the PGA (Producers Guild) and NYWIFT.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

Running. Long distance walking. Being in nature.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

My high heels!

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

The mesmerizing architecture of NYC.  Follow me on Instagram at rubyrocket100!

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Nelson Mandela. Leaders of today could learn a lot from him.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

Making shows that inspire and entertain.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Sunny.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Trawling consignment stores.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Go live in New York today!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

I love living in Brooklyn, even walking to the subway in the morning fills me with joy. However, I would like to live near the ocean someday.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Identifying and then accomplishing your dreams.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being with the people I love.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Thank you to all the people I have met over the last three years who have supported and encouraged me on this journey in a new land. You are greatly valued and appreciated!
 

Fast Forward Friday with Jaclyn Bethany

Photo by lauren Maccabee

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer-director-producer-actor Jaclyn Bethany. She has 19 film credits to her name, and with her company BKE has produced nine short films, including Olivia Martha Ilse starring James Frain and Emmy Award winner Tammy Blanchard; the award-winning Between Departures and its follow up In:Transit; Sunday Tide; and Schoolgirls, to name a few. Her work has screened at festivals and venues worldwide. As an actor she has appeared in the films Trumbo, I Saw The Light, Miles and several festival favorite short films.

Q: What are you currently working on? Tell us about it.

As a filmmaker, I am working on my first feature Indigo Valley. I am currently fundraising for it and I am shooting a short promo version of it in July. It’s an amazing team made up of really amazing women in the principal roles. It is a psychological relationship drama following Isabella, a washed up actress and what happens when she unexpectedly joins her uptight sister Louise and her new husband John on their honeymoon in Iceland. That may sound comical, but it’s actually very dark.

Acting wise, I am in a film Miles, which was recently released in the States. I just wrapped a run of a play, A Bright Room Called Day written by Tony Kushner and directed by my friend, the talented C.C.Kellogg with American company Invulnerable Nothings.

As a writer/director, I’m working on two additional projects: my American Film Institute Thesis Film entitled The Delta Girl which is set in 1960s Mississippi and an experimental short called The Last Birthday inspired by the last day of the Romanov sisters.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

For Indigo Valley, I think it combines much of who I am and my trajectory as a filmmaker and storyteller. Which is interesting because I am not really anything like the protagonist, but I am drawn to complex characters and dark material, I suppose it let’s me explore a different side of things. The cast is small; there are three characters and with the two women, I really wanted to write two complicated women.

If anything, it’s inspired by classic theatre, actually: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and Miss Julie by August Strindberg. It also touches on an illness I had a few years ago that one of the characters experiences and I wanted to explore that in film. The stakes are very high, and these three people have to deal with their problems head on, which in turn questions their own lives in the middle of the Icelandic wilderness. It’s an edgy, sexy psychological thriller, set in a beautiful landscape.

It is a modern story but it’s a bit of a timeless story as shown by the previous mentioned text. It also encompasses the work of a team of people I have admired and worked with over the past two years, and those collaborations mainly came out of my year at the London Film School. This is my first feature and it is the script that many of the people I trust have responded most enthusiastically to.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

Cate Blanchett, Sofia Coppola and Jane Campion.

Cate Blanchett because she’s fearless and ran a theatre company. She is able to switch between Academy Award winning performances, experimental artistic roles and theatre seamlessly.

Sofia Coppola because I love her aesthetic. She pretty much does what she wants and has found a great group of collaborators who support that vision. It was so cool that she won Cannes this year! I can’t wait to see The Beguiled.

Jane Campion because a lot of people mentioned her work to me for a long time but I wasn’t as familiar with her. Then I watched Top of the Lake and The Piano and became obsessed. Top of The Lake is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. So unexpectedly dark, such a brilliant female protagonist, and Elisabeth Moss and Holly Hunter’s performances – wow! I can’t wait to see season two.

Three other actresses/artists:: Nicole Kidman because she is having a glorious comeback at 49 and vowed to work with female directors; Keira Knightley because I think she has a beautiful elegance and will see her in anything; and Kirsten Dunst because she has been able to sustain her career from childhood and takes interesting roles. I can’t wait to see her adaptation of  The Bell Jar.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

My friends. I am lucky to have found not just some amazing girl – and guy friends! – but a wonderful group of collaborators. My friends are writers, theatremakers, filmmakers who I think challenge the world we are in at the moment.

I also feel right now that I am working on projects that I want to be working on, I am creatively fulfilled and challenged by each one of them.

I love traveling, reading, seeing films and theatre.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

I always have so many ideas that are in different stages of development at one time and some are just sitting in my head right now. Haha!

I have avoided making films set in the South ever since my first film, so for my AFI thesis I am excited to return to my roots.

I am planning to do more theatre, I’m directing a play reading of Anna Karenina by Helen Edmundson later this month.

I’d eventually like to turn my short film Sunday Tide into a feature and shoot it very low budget in Florida. It’s so bizarre and magical. I also want to write something more suspenseful – something set in Ivy League New England/the South of France, inspired by Talented Mr. Ripley and The Secret History. I also have an idea surrounding a female detective and the story of a missing girl in 1979 after the great flood in Jackson, Mississippi. That was such an interesting time politically as well. I think that could make a cool series.

I am currently pursuing the rights of a novel that I think would be my second feature, but don’t want to spill the beans on that one yet!

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I think being surrounded by people that believe in me and help create work. You don’t always start out working with those people immediately. It takes some time to figure out. But I’m lucky to be finding and collaborating with those people. I’ve been told all my work has a certain look to it – I’ve been told you can tell I directed it. I’m not sure of words I would use to describe my work but I think it’s kind of vintage and nostalgic. I hope it makes people feel something.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Working with directors I admire – whether acting in their projects or assisting them. It would be a dream to work with Sofia Coppola or Jane Campion! And there are so many more! Or act alongside some amazing ladies in different, diverse projects. I hope my first three big projects would get funded! Haha! I also want to be on Broadway. In anything. I’d happily just walk across the stage or be a tree.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

I often feel frustrated because professionally I sometimes feel I am not where I want to be. That may sound crazy because obviously I am very lucky. I originally just wanted to be an actor. I started exploring different areas of the industry because I wasn’t booking the acting jobs I wanted and didn’t want to go to cattle calls. I don’t know if that’s necessarily the ultimate obstacle to my vision but it would be great to be able to continue to act and lift my career in that direction through filmmaking and working with various likeminded collaborators. You can’t do this alone, and I have great support and I hope that network will grow. Being just an actor is hard. I admire those who stick with just acting, and don’t try to be crazy multi-hyphenates like me (haha!) Now, I refuse to give up acting to solely direct. So much of what I do comes from a performance background. People always ask me which aspect I prefer, I don’t know why I necessarily have to prefer on thing; if you can do both and trust yourself, acting and directing for film really go together. You learn so much behind or in front of the camera in various circumstances.

I think I was met with a lot of judgement when I started directing. That I was too shy or just an actress and why did I think I could direct? Or people assume I am selfish or narcissistic because I sometimes act in my own films. When I acted in my first short film Between Departures it was pretty much on a whim, I understood the character because I guess she’s based on me and I was like hey, I am acting and directing! Fun! I didn’t even know what a shot list was but I somehow managed the people I was working with to trust me and that film is still playing festivals and got me into AFI so I figured I must be doing something right.

Of course, I am drawn to the characters I write. I am not turned off by people who criticize or dislike my work because hey, that’s great and their opinion. As an artist you want people to have reactions and there is obviously enough people responding and connecting with my films to keep making them.

I think another challenge we face today is sort of the perception of women in film. I am not really interested in labelling myself in terms of feminism or female sexuality and it seems like in this day and age especially with art there is a pressure to do so. That it will somehow help your work. Maybe it does. It’s true that women are minority filmmakers. I found it interesting coming across this topic when I was working on the debut issue of Constellation Magazine. Many women were really sick of talking about it. People sometimes mention that my films seem feminine or point out that I worked with an all female team or cast and this somehow seems really significant, that it make sense for me. But I’m not sure what that means, and really find that kind of collaboration between women (and men) happens organically. I don’t prefer working with one gender or another.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I like to spend time alone and reflect. I am an only child and I often go places by myself – I love to eat and go to the cinema alone. I guess this may seem weird to people but I grew up playing alone with my dolls and imaginary friend. So I’m used to it and in this industry you are constantly surrounded by people.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I’m pretty resilient. Not a lot of things hold me back. I think when I graduated college I was young and confused so for about 2-3 years I didn’t really pursue much when I graduated. I wish I didn’t have fear then. But that changed pretty quickly.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

That’s a hard one. Nothing specific comes to mind but my favorite play
of all time is A Streetcar Named Desire.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Elizabeth I. She led a country and shaped a nation in her vision when basically everyone told her she couldn’t. She broke all barriers and is now remembered as one of the most important women in history.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

That’s hard! Acting, I think. But I hope to create a film with Indigo Valley that presents a new voice in filmmaking. I’m still going on that journey.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Determined. But can I have two? Kind. I really hope I am kind.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I read tons of magazines! From high end fashion magazines to trashy weekly ones. It annoys my friends and family because I collect them wherever I go.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

It will all be okay. Fifteen years ago, I was 13 – what a terrible age!

Q: Where would you most like to live?

London! I love the European approach to life and filmmaking. I love the culture and theatre in London. It’s amazing that Europe is right on your doorstop. Being an artist and making a living is still hard, but I find it’s just much more feasible and acceptable in the U.K.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Feeling happy. Being surrounded by friends and family. Performing consistently and inspiring myself and others.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Sitting at home in Mississippi with my dogs and doing nothing. This rarely happens but I like to think I carry that happiness on!

Q: Final Thoughts?

Do what you love! Life is too short.

 

Fast Forward Friday with Claire R. McDougall

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed writer Claire R. McDougall. She is a native of Scotland, graduated from Oxford University and lives now in Aspen, Colorado where she raised her family. After an early start as a newspaper columnist, her career in creative writing moved through the genres of poetry and short stories to settle on Scottish novels with an historical bent.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

I have just finished book three in a trilogy, the first of which, Veil Of Time, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2014.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

When I wrote the first in this series, I had no idea I would take the story any further.  My impetus for that book was just to set a story in this magical place in Scotland where I grew up and where the kings of Scotland were once crowned in the very early Middle Ages. I didn’t want to write strict historical fiction, so I decided to write a time travel story.  In the first book, without really planning it, I was already beginning to raise a question about what the pagan world lost when Christianity took over.  But I hadn’t said enough: in the second and third books, I go deep into the question, and, in fact, imagine an alternate present with no Christian history.

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

On the wall of my office hang three portraits: Emily Bronte, DH Lawrence and Friedrich Nietzsche. All of them have had a profound effect on me.  I am also an ardent fan of John Steinbeck.  The Scottish author Lewis Grassic Gibbon sowed the seed in me that it was possible to present the real lives of Scotland’s people to the world in a literary way.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

I have been writing stories for eons now and only in the last decade have I had a literary agent to my name. Writing, as all the arts, is a tough business with mazes and gatekeepers along the way. Progress often happens at a snail’s pace. So, no clever lines or dreams of fame and fortune will really sustain you through the long haul. I suppose I have had since childhood a sense that I would make it in the end. That’s not something I wake up in the morning and tell myself, but it probably explains why I have kept on going despite the odds. And then, of course, too, like Martin Luther, the bottom line is: Here I stand. I can do no other.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

Since I have been writing for so long, I have a big backlog of books that haven’t seen the light of day yet. My agent wasn’t able to sell my first novel,  the one he picked me up for.  It’s the dearest one to my heart and tracks a young girl’s journey from her rural Scottish home to Oxford University, so a bit more biographical than most of my books. Among others, I have a “family” novel about a wild mustang. So, the stories are all over the map theme-wise, but most are centered in Scotland. Trying to get a foot up on the entertainment industry, I have also written all the screenplays for the stories.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I suppose I feel like I’m on the right track when I  see all around me support for the idea that we need to take a serious look at where we came from. Even my biographical novel is questioning societal norms, the veneration of the life of the head over the heart, in that case.  And then as I witness the decline of  Christianity even in my lifetime, I feel people are looking for something to fulfill their spiritual yearnings. It was always in my nature to poke sticks into things and see if they could withstand the probe.

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

All my books would be on book shop shelves. All the movies of my stories would have been made.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

With my background in academia, it took years to find my literary voice and time, too, to understand what makes for readable prose.  The industry is geared to fashionable trends and edgy writers, who often don’t have a lasting voice or anything real to say.  I had to try for years to get an agent, so the whole process has been an exercise in patience, not a quality that I have in huge amounts.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I keep a quote by DH Lawrence in my office that says: In the end, the soul is alone, brooding on the face of the uncreated flux, as a bird on a dark sea.  It’s a rather grandiose thought, but the truth is that as creative people, in the end we are alone with ourselves You can go to as many writers’ conferences and writers’ groups as you can fit in, and you can bask for a while in the celebrity of having a book published, but the reality for any creative person is the creative moment, which is a solitary place.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

I think it would be the tendency to think that everything is going to be solved once all my books are out there and all my films have been made. It would certainly solve some financial problems but not any issues I have with myself.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?

I have two watercolours by Jennifer MacLean on my living room wall.  They are of crofts and tumble-down walls within a Scottish landscape, and they make me whistful and full of longing for Scotland.  So, they’re doing their job as art.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

I’m not sure “admire” is the word, but there are definitely people, dead people as it turns out, that I have pulled in alongside.  I suppose they are people like Nietzsche and Lawrence who had something important to say about our lives but had to overcome huge resistance to get that vision out.  In the end they were true to their sense of things and that was their strength.

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

I would like to be known as a good writer who had something important to say about western civilisation.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Passionate. (I’m a Scorpio – it’s kind of written in!)

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

I would say chocolate, but it’s not that guilty. I have given myself permission to read silly glossy magazines when I go to the hairdresser.  I feel guilty, but every few weeks, it’s okay to do it.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

Be patient! This is going to take a while.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

In a house by the sea in Argyll, Scotland.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Well, I am enough of a child of my age to think that having sufficient financial resources would count. But the real measure, I think, would be that I have said what I have to say and started up some kind of  cultural discourse that leads to real change.  

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Happiness is fleeting, of course, but I’ll tell  you one fantasy of happiness I entertain, which is to have enough money to pay for my children and significant others to come and spend a week or so in a house right on the ocean. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Q: Final Thoughts?

The creative life is tough because you are in this constant tug-of-war between your creative vision and the needs of the market. It’s not for the faint of heart and not to be undertaken lightly. But then the creative life is truly not one you choose, but something that is born out of who you are.  

 

Fast Forward Friday with Lisa D’Apolito

For this week’s Fast Forward Friday, we interviewed director-producer and documentarian Lisa D’Apolito. She started her career as an actor with parts in films including Goodfellas. When she started working at an ad agency as a producer she realized she loved being behind the camera instead of being in front of it. As producer-director of  3Faces Films, in addition to her passion projects, Lisa works with corporate clients but also believes in giving back to non-profits. She continues to direct and produce for Gilda’s Club, Planned Parenthood, GVYC and Surfer Environmental Alliance. Her current passion project is LOVE Gilda a new documentary about comedienne Gilda Radner.

Q: What are you currently working on?  Tell us about it.

My documentary film LOVE Gilda – The Eternal Spirit of Gilda Radner. In her own words, comedienne Gilda Radner looks back and reflects on her life and career. It weaves together recently discovered audiotapes; interviews with her friends – Lorne Michaels, Martin Short, Laraine Newman; rare home movies shot by Gene Wilder and friends; and diaries read by modern day comediennes inspired by Gilda – Bill Hader, Melissa McCarthy, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph and Cecily Strong. LOVE Gilda offers a unique window into the honest and whimsical world of a beloved performer whose greatest role was sharing her story.

Q: What was the inspiration and impetus for doing this project?

The idea for LOVE Gilda came out of Joanne’s creative group.  I had been doing pro bono videos for Gilda’s Club, a support place for people and their families living with cancer, and realized the deep connection people had with Gilda Radner.  She has a very unique legacy as she lives on in the world of comedy but also in the world of cancer.  

Q: Who are your artistic heroes – who have had an impact on you and your work?

When I was an actress, I was lucky to have the opportunity to be directed by Martin Scorsese.  He was so nice, so calm, funny and yet really knew what he wanted from a scene.  He made it seem so easy and comfortable. I have seen so many people stress over production but being on the set is really the best part of a film for me.

Q: What keeps you motivated and inspired as an artist?

I grew up in Greenwich Village in very creative times. As I kid I was always around creative people.

Q: What other projects would you like to tell us about?

 I also have a funny screenplay that Gilda Radner wrote.  I hope to start working on producing it next.

Q: What is one instance of knowing you are living in your vision?

I think when I was interviewing Amy Poehler.  We were having a conversation about Gilda and her writings.  I had so much fun with her and Maya, Bill, Cecily and Melissa.  And it is all on film!

Q: If there were no barriers to entry, what is one thing you would be doing?

Living in a beautiful space overlooking the ocean.

Q: What has been big your biggest obstacle in achieving your vision?

Though I have 20 years in directing and production, this is my first feature documentary.  I have come across many people who say, “you are a first time  filmmaker and no, this is how it is done.”   I was listening but now I realize that there is no “this is how it is done.”   A creative process and choices are unique, and do not always fit into someone else’s box.

Q: What do you do to stay connected to your creative self?

I have great creative friends to talk with, I go a lot of museums and I walk in the park.

Q: If you could let go of something that has held you back, what would it be?

Listening to others who may have their own interests.

Q: What is your favorite piece of art?  

There are so many.  I love Joan of Arc by Jules Bastien-Lepage at the Met.

Q: What person do you most admire, living or dead?

Gilda Radner!

Q: If you could be known and celebrated for one thing, what would it be?

 I followed my dreams.

Q: If you could describe yourself in one word what would it be?

Sensitive.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

Wanting it to rain on days I have nowhere to go.

Q: If you could sit down with yourself 15 years ago, what would you say?

You did it! You achieved your dreams.

Q: Where would you most like to live?

By the ocean.

Q: What is your idea of success?

Not worrying about finances and having security to do some fun things.

Q: What is your idea of happiness?

Being by or in the ocean.

Q: Final Thoughts?

Thanks Joanne for your great sessions and advice as I start making some major decisions about my final partners in completing LOVE Gilda.