Time to Remember
I realized in my teen years that if I wanted to pursue a life in the theatre, I was going to have to do it without any support from my family. In my early teens I had been placed in the advanced art classes- I had some aptitude for drawing- and they encouraged that creative outlet wholeheartedly. Unfortunately it just didn't capture my imagination. I was fairly good at copying pictures, but not good at creating original works. Theatre, it would seem, was the art that caught my muse. But for my parents, this" acting" thing they just didn't understand. Well, mostly my father didn't seem to understand it which in hindsight is kind of funny because I now see that I got a lot of my theatrical verve from him. He has an gift for dialects and is a seasoned joke teller with a gift for gab. His oversize personality and charm have informed my DNA . My Mother, on the other hand, was soft spoken and preferred to remain in the background,avoiding attention at all costs. I found out in her later years that she had a lovely voice and enjoyed a brief tenure in her church choir. It was then I learned of her choral past in her school days. I found it strange that she never mentioned it before, at least when I started singing in shows, but we as a family didn't really talk about the past- even the good parts. I don't think she really understood my desire to be onstage, but she supported me in doing this thing that made me happy with her gentle encouragement.
My junior year of High School I did my first musical and it clicked for me- THIS is what I am supposed to be doing. The singing, the dancing, it all electrified me. The show was Bye Bye Birdie and I played Mr. MacAfee.It was a gem of a supporting role with two great songs- "Ed Sullivan" and "Kids". Because of the size of the role, I didn't have to attend all the rehearsals but I told my folks that I had to be there for all of them. I didn't want to miss a thing. I rented the video of the movie version and became obsessed with the "Gotta Lotta Livin'" dance number and appointed myself as rehearsal dance captain (despite the fact I was not in the number and had no dance training or even an inkling of what a dance captain was!.). I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I would rewind that tape over and over, studying every dance move and mimicking them in my living room until I had it down pat. In my mind I would lead the chorus like a pro, yelling "5, 6, 7, 8," just like they did in Chorus Line. I am sure the reality was a bit more Guffman than Bennet.
Those were the days MTV still played music videos and I would pore over them, taping all the greats, playing them one frame at a time to master the dance moves. My dance teachers were Michael, Janet, Madonna, and Paula. Movies and television were the only training I had as far as acting, and I devoured it all. Kind of sad if you think about it, but it was all I knew. These were the days before internet and smart phones, there was no such thing as E! Television and no shows like Inside The Actors Studio, and no YouTube. Show biz was outside of my families realm of experience and I had no guidance in the matters. So I did whatever I could to absorb everything I watched, in the small hopes that THAT would make me an actor, make me a performer.
I remember the impact of watching "Madonna: Truth or Dare" had on me- I was obsessed with dancing at the time. I saw the movie at lest 10 times in the theatres, and a friend taped the Blonde Ambition Tour special on HBO for me, and I wore out the video tape.Once again I pored over every frame, mimicking the dance moves , bouncing and shaking my hips around my living room. The movie was trancendant to me- a true revelation, but it was the backstage stuff in Truth or Dare that really got to me. I saw people like myself with passion for what they did- perform, and I knew that was where I needed to be. Among other artists, my peers, making something special.Also, it was my first real exposure to a group of gay men (the dancers) unafraid and bold in who they were-they were celebrated and seemed cool. That was an amazing revelation to me. At that age, I was so green and inexperienced, but I was also HUNGRY for it. I knew I would do anything to be part of that world at any cost.
The next year would find me in my first leading man role in a community college production. It was nothing to write home about, but it did give me a bigger taste of what performing in front of an audience was like. Increasingly with each experience I was hooked like a junkie on heroin, the obsession with getting a fix began to control my life. I followed my best friend to an audition at the Birmingham Festival Theatre where he was cast and I was not but once again that did not stop me from forcing myself onto the production crew. I became the propmaster.
And then, I learned what the properties master did.
I had a tendency to put carts before horses.
That was my first experience of what a professional theatre could be like. Yes, the Festival was a community theatre, but the director and actors talent level far exceeded anything I had done up to that point. Once again, I became the ardent observer, studying everything I could, hanging on every direction , drinking it all in. The show was a bawdy comedy and I remember the director trying to explain "funny" to us one night. "If you see a lady in a wheelchair at the top of a hill and suddenly she loses control and starts rolling down it, that's not funny. But if the lady has a pee bag hanging from the wheelchair and it's flapping in the breeze- THAT"S comedy!"
Opening night I was as nervous and excited s the actors. I bought a special outfit and everything- a white shirt with white pants and a fancy Panama hat- also white. Not the most optimal choice of wardrobe for the propmaster who is supposed to be changing things onstage during the blackout, but the director never pointed it out or made me feel bad about my poor choice in wardrobe. I will forever be grateful for that kindness.
I learned a great deal from that experience- about putting a show together, about myself, about life in general. I was not happy at home- my family was going through a rough patch- and the theatre seemed a wondrous magical place where I could re-invent myself. Be anybody. Do anything.
I'd found a new home.
Stephen LaDow is a local actor, blogger,singer, barista , and supporter of the arts. He lives on the West End of Panama City. Follow his blog at Unfiltered-ness.com.
The first show I ever saw was a bus and truck tour of A Chorus Line in Birmingham Alabama. I was a thirteen year old transplanted "Yankee", a doughy sissy boy with no friends to speak of except the class nerd who inevitably just put up with me but held me with the same disdain as my other classmates. My parents had bought season tickets to the Birmingham Civic Centers Broadway Series and I was fortunate enough to see two of the three offerings which also included Annie and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.(Funnily enough, it was the latter which I missed probably because of its' salacious title, when Chorus Line was indeed the more adult of the offerings in its frank conversations of sexuality. I learned a lot about sexual identity from that show.)I can't think of a better show that translates what it is to be a performer than A Chorus Line. It is about an audition, and shows the (often) painful and heartbreaking process with pinpoint clarity and of course culminates in the brilliant show stopping finale "One". It was like a crash course in the business of theatre, and the lengths performers go through be part of the show. Part madness, part love, all show business. And somehow, it all made sense to me. When the curtain came down, there was no turning back. I was smitten.
I had always enjoyed singing , masking the sounds of my voice by cranking the stereo so no one could hear me (at a younger age, my dad told me no one wanted to hear my voice- that he preferred the actual singer) . That year I bought the cast albums for Chorus Line and Annie (yet another transcendent show in my theatre obsession- polar opposite from Chorus Line but full out spectacle, a great illustration of what the show would become after the audition.) and memorized every song from both, singing them at the top of my lungs in my bedroom when no one was around. I sang every role, changing my voice to match the actors, copying every inflection.
My Junior High offered a theatre class, but it had limited openings and I never got in. I waited patiently until High School gave me the opportunity to be in drama class. This was finally my shot at inclusion, to finally be part of like minded individuals. I had no such opportunities before- everyone I went to school with had known each other since kindergarten, I was not athletic, cared nothing for sports ( which I gathered was blasphemous in the eyes of Alabamians),I was not Southern Baptist (which actually WAS blasphemous to southern Alabamians) and I sounded funny with my northern dialect. Basically, I was a pariah.
There was a small group of students that seemed to have the same hunger as I and I forced myself upon the group, shoehorning myself into the first production- a two person one act that I didn't get cast in . I would crash their rehearsals, obsessed with just being there, drinking it all in. My desire to be part of the production led to the teacher to create the position of cue-prompter - basically the one to follow along in the script and give the actors the correct lines. The show was called "Where have all the Lightning Bugs Gone?" and we took it to the regional High School acting competition. I happily tagged along (I also competed in the duo acting competition where I received a certificate of "Good" performing a scene from Barefoot in the Park.), in awe of the other plays from the competing schools. Our group won and we went on to State where we ended up placing third.) That initial win solidified us a close knit group of friends. We were like a drama class version of The Breakfast Club or a precursor to Glee- The charismatic band guy, the just-blossomed-over-the-summer princess, the good ole boy who had technical know how, the no-nonsense country girl, the loudmouthed and abrasive "experienced" thespian, and the doughy hanger-on .And we were the stars of the class, in our own minds at least.
In an act of social defiance, we called ourselves "the clique" as none of us actually belonged to any of the established social strata's of high school hierarchy. And despite the lack any other actual performances that year, we defined ourselves as actors. We found the place were we belonged. An unlikely assemblage of disparate views linked through the commonality of theatre.
I thought that was pretty fantastic.
I actually felt like I belonged.
End part One
It has been many years since the first Jurassic Park wowed the cinematic universe with the realistic mixture of CGI and practical effects that brought dinosaurs to life, forever changing the way movies are made. Computer animation is the standard now for better or for worse, and seemingly the only way Hollywood can conceive of toping previous efforts is by pummeling you with MORE. While the visual feast is resplendent, I think the bigger achievement (or at least , surprising thing) would be to do something subtle. This, I know for certain, will never happen as the big business Hollywood Execs minimize artistic content for bottom dollar spectacle. (I for one was a fan of the character development and slower scenes in Avengers:Age of Ultron. Yes, I know, I am in the minority.)
I was quite excited to see that the director of the quirky Indy time travel comedy "Safety not Guaranteed" Colin Trevorrow was taking the reins of the franchises' fourth entry. Unfortunately, the reality of H'wood big business tent pole flicks absolutely would not allow his unique storytelling to shine through. Jurassic World is a pre-packaged product that excels in serving up predictable sameness (from the the kids in peril plot device to the supposed iconic shot at the films end that was to harken back to the original) that even with the "twists" (New big bad Dinosaur, communing and bonding with 'Raptors, etc.) nothing truly feels surprising. Somehow I knew not one of our main characters were in any kind of real peril, but there were plenty of "red shirts" that would be part of the dino buffet.
The plot in a nutshell- two young boys visit their Aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is a bigwig exec at the Jurassic World zoo-island-park. She is not a good host, as she has her assistant ferry them around the attractions while she attends to investors trying to underwrite her new Indominus Rex - a mad scientist creation that is the biggest baddest monster ever created.Howard portrays her characters serious business acumen through her severe bob hair-do and her wildly inappropriate all white attire. Meanwhile, the game warden Owen (a scowly mucho macho Chris Pratt) who is a Velociraptor Whisperer, warns of the dangers of this mystery amalgamation of deadly predators . Of course, he is unaware of the creature until it is a) fully grown, b) an incredible threat to everyone on the island including the young visiting nephews who have ditched the assistant and gone offroad in a gyrosphere (???!!!???). Mayhem ensues. (I want to sidebar for a moment bout Chris Pratt. I have been a fan of his since Parks and Recreation and thought he was wonderful in Guardians of the Galaxy. I really miss the soft doughy Chris from Parks, though. One of the great things about him was that he had this glorious go for broke gonzo goofiness that was pure and fearless. Guardians captured that goofiness while molding a rakish Han Solo kind of leading man who doesn't give a shit what other people think. In JW, all the life seems to be sucked out of him. Lots of camera shots lovingly focus in on his bursting at the seems sleeves because his biceps are so big and his massive muscly perfect Vshaped torso. But besides getting all Doolittle with the V-Raptors and scowling a lot, he really doesn't have much of a character. More heroic archetype than human being. Bring me back my Andy Dwyer, PLEASE!)
As for the rest of the movies' plot, all you need to know is that there will be death, their will be destruction, and there will be blood. Lots 'o dinos, not so much on interesting plot.
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