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me with big glasses and a pointy hat playing one of the witches in Macbeth

I had two surgeries to correct my crooked right leg when I was 13. The summer I turned 14 in 1998, I had the second surgery. Also that summer, I saw Live at Lincoln Center for the first time. They performed Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.  At that point, I had a lot of time on my hands because I was still recovering from the operation. I remember flipping through the channels, and stopping on PBS because it was a theatrical performance, and I was intrigued. I had never seen Twelfth Night before.

I had been reading Shakespeare since the age of 11. Something about his language, and the way the story unfolded struck a chord with me. I remember it all began with a “No Fear Shakespeare” type edition of Macbeth. I had done a scene from it as one of the witches when I was around 10 years old for an acting class (see above photo.) From that point on, I was hooked not only on acting, but with Shakespeare. I instinctively picked up on the iambic pentameter and the themes in his work.

It really wasn’t until I watched Twelfth Night, that I realized I wanted to do THAT. I wanted to be an actor with every fiber of my being. I wanted to act on that stage, with those people. I wanted to learn from them. I was glued to the television, and soaked up every word and action. To this day, I vividly remember it. I loved every aspect of it–the acting, the costumes, the set, and the music. Fun fact: Jeanine Tesori, the composer of this year’s Tony-winning musical, Fun Home, wrote original music for Lincoln Center’s production of Twelfth Night.

As an actor, it’s a good feeling to be able to pinpoint when I became aware of the fact that acting was a career. I had recognized both Helen Hunt and Paul Rudd from previous projects and realized that they not only did film and television, but theater as well. I realized that they had careers, that acting itself was a career. Now, nearly 18 years later, I have a career too. It’s slowly coming along, but it’s happening sure enough. Lincoln Center remains one of my dream theaters to this day. I hope to be able to get the chance to perform there one day.

More importantly, I hope to one day inspire another young kid watching from their living room or in a theater. Dreams are attainable.

MuchadoLast night, for the first time since I moved to NYC seven years ago, I went to Shakespeare in the Park. Established in 1954 by Public Theatre founder Joseph Papp, Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre draws thousands each season to take part in free outdoor theater. Over the years, award-winning actors have gotten their starts on the famed stage, including (but not limited to) Martin Sheen, James Earl Jones, Meryl Streep, and Morgan Freeman. This year is no exception with regards to famous faces. I saw Much Ado About Nothing last night starring New York theater favorites, Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater as Beatrice and Benedick respectively. Other Broadway vets backing them up included Tony winner Brian Stokes Mitchell (who sings in this production, and took my breath away,) John Glover (pop culture crowds will recognize him from TV’s Smallville) and John Pankow. Game of Thrones fans will also recognize Pedro Pascal as yet another villain, Don John in this production.

First off, this is one of the best productions (as it should be) that I’ve seen of Much Ado About Nothing. From a purely aesthetic perspective, it was gorgeous to look at. From the sets to the costumes, to the lighting, it was a real treat for the eyes. A production like Much Ado probably benefits from being in an outdoor theater. The stage incorporated many aspects of nature including a vegetable garden and an orange tree. I think it increased believably for me as an audience member because we were actually outside. The costumes were the best I’ve seen to fit this production. Again, it made the setting and time period extremely believable and visually pleasing.

Now for the acting. Both Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater come from very well-known theatrical families. Rabe, the daughter of the late actress, Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe. She gained notoriety in the Shakespeare in the Park/Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice opposite Al Pacino.  Hamish Linlater, on the other hand, is the son of theater professor Kristin Linklater, who is renowned for her vocal techniques. In fact, I studied her technique extensively at Circle in the Square Theatre School, and continue to reference her book Freeing the Natural Voice on a regular basis as an actor. It’s no wonder that the two can both handle the difficult text that Shakespeare is famous for, and they do it magnificently. There was a funny moment where Hamish broke the fourth wall, using an audience member’s reaction to a rabbit. It was great. Even to those not familiar with classical and Shakespearean plays will be able to follow the plot and nuances in the hands of the entire cast–but especially Rabe and Linklater. I can’t say enough about them. As for the supporting cast, no one missed a beat. I especially enjoyed seeing Brian Stokes Mitchell and John Glover onstage as I have been a fan of both their work for years.

I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see such a wonderful production. It also reinforced my desire to get back on stage as soon as I can, reminding myself why I came to the city in the first place–to act. It’s weird because I remember seeing a broadcast on PBS in 1998 of Live at Lincoln Center of Twelfth Night. At 13 years old, after acting as a hobby since the age of 7 or 8, I decided at that moment, that I wanted to do that. I wanted to study acting, and I wanted to get better. It also ignited a more profound passion for Shakespeare in me. I had  read  Hamlet and Romeo & Juliet at age 11 without really “getting it.” It wasn’t until Twelfth Night  that I went “Whoa, I get it.” I became an English major in college probably avoiding a traditional theater degree on purpose because, “there has to be a fall back plan.” I’m coming to realize, as I have studied acting more intensely and Shakespeare more intensively as an actor, that I love being an actor. I love it, and I am proud to be one. Last night reminded me that I am, and that I will always be an actor and I’m glad to be part of such rich community of creators and storytellers.  I am so happy I got to see such wonderful and talented performers. I can only hope there was a young kid in the audience who was as inspired by last night’s performance as I was Twelfth Night. Much Ado About Nothing is far from nothing, this production has everything and more. Let’s hope they bring it to Broadway!

 

Helen Hunt and John Hawkes in “The Sessions” (2012)

In the past week alone, Seth MacFarlane’s song, “We Saw Your Boobs” has garnered as much praise as it has criticism. It’s even spawned a parody by comedian/YouTuber Kevin Gisi, who essentially made a parody of a parody, with the male counterpart to the aforementioned song entitled, “We Saw Your Junk.”

All these witty songs about nudity in film brings to light some interesting questions and observations that audiences may not have had before. It might actually bring about a valid discussion about the impact nudity in film has on the viewer. Questions about one’s self-image; Realizations that, for the most part, all of our equipment pretty much looks the same on all of us, and it doesn’t matter if we’re famous or not. It’s all the same.

Why are we so afraid of a little skin? We’re born naked, after all. I think it comes down to societal norms and what’s acceptable within those constructs. It goes back to my post on sex scenes. The difference? One of them is extremely real and one of them is not. To be naked on film (even on stage nowadays) means that you are vulnerable as an actor. You literally put yourself out there for the world to see. It can be frightening. You open yourself up to a whole new set of criticisms that don’t have to do with your work as an actor. The criticism may have to do with YOU and all your “junk.” Ouch. But, for those who take the plunge and bare all on screen, do we really notice?

Apparently, someone does. According to Seth MacFarlane’s song, we saw Kate Winslet’s boobs nearly seven times. And, if you factor in the counter-song, “We Saw Your Junk,” Kevin Gisi told Today.com, “For that particular joke premise, if it didn’t offend, it wouldn’t have gotten laughs in the first place. I abhor the objectification of anyone — but I don’t think Seth actively objectified, rather he identified the objectification in the film industry. But I can certainly understand why being so casual about it would make many people feel uncomfortable. My video was just to point out that whether Seth’s song was taken as crass and immature, or as insightful social commentary — there’s no shortage of men who’ve done the very same thing as the women he mentioned.” Exactly. I think the fact that men weren’t factored into the equation at all ruffled more than a few feathers. MacFarlane’s song only centers on women who’ve been naked on film, and not men. For the most part, we tend to notice (and criticize) an actress who is naked, rather than a man. Maybe it has something do with the fact that they can walk around in public without a shirt on and not get arrested; but men seem to have it a lot easier, especially when it comes to exposing themselves on film.

Nudity is part of the human experience. We see ourselves and each other naked during the most intimate moments of our lives. As audience members, we are privy to the intimate moments of character’s lives. If an actor’s job is to be as truthful as they can, that would include nudity, right? You wouldn’t believe it were truthful  if someone took a shower with their clothes on, (unless it’s blatantly part of the script.)  What is truthful, is seeing someone at the end of a long day taking a shower…naked (and maybe crying for dramatic effect.) What is truthful, however, is not always what’s acceptable. We’d rather skirt around the issue of having nudity and just imply it, than actually see it, because we’d be seeing someone’s private parts. If we all have the same parts, they’re no longer private. We know what male and female body parts look like. We learn it in science or health class when we’re in school. So WHY are we so shocked when we see it on screen? Well, we just saw someone tell the truth. And, to be quite honest, it scares the shit out of us when people tell the truth, because sometimes, we’d rather not hear (or see) it. Nonetheless, it’s still truth. It’s still valid. And if it’s part of the story, it’s needed.

There is something to be said about the vulnerability that goes into being naked onscreen. Audiences may not realize just what goes into doing those nude scenes. Like love scenes, often while being a part of them, nudity on film is being witnessed by countless crew members, fellow cast mates and the audience once filming ends. There is nothing private about it. There is nothing sacred about it. It’s part of the bigger picture.

What makes us so susceptible to angry blog posts, or protests on the evening news? It’s because we’re naked. We’re naked. There’s no barrier between the actor and the viewer. They are as honest as they can be.  Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, appeared onstage in Equus on Broadway–buck naked. Radcliffe, as a person and an actor, was threatened by young fans trying to raid the stage, so a physical barrier was created:

The Broadway theatre hosting Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe’s play Equus has been revamped to stop female fans of the young Brit from mobbing him onstage.

Radcliffe strips completely nude in Equus, and theatre bosses feared he would be distracted by, and at risk from, fans in stage-level seats.

So Broadhurst Theater designer John Napier has raised those seats by more than two metres, creating a barrier between the audience and Radcliffe.

Napier explains, “If you put Harry Potter on the stage with people directly in front of him, you’re likely to get a lot of screaming young girls, particularly when he takes his kit off. It was a very sensible decision for us to raise the audience up. There’s more of a barrier.”  (Sept. 6, 2008, WENN News)

The last thing people want is for someone’s safety to be in jeopardy because of a thing like nudity, yet it happened. When will we learn to accept it as a part of life and not mob stages because of it? When will we stop making songs chronicling the times an actor/actress was or wasn’t naked in their work? When will it be okay to just be in your birthday suit? Maybe we’ll have to move to a nudist colony to find out that answer. Or we could just see it for what it is: Truth.

I’m starting a new new section, especially due to Oscar weekend. It’s something fun called Two By Two. Essentially, it’s comparing performances of actors and actresses and (if it’s awards season) their chances to take home accolades. Welcome to the Oscar edition. According to various other predictions, it’s down to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook and Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty. I’m not discounting the other three: Emmanuelle Riva, Quvenzhané Wallis, or Naomi Watts. They all give fantastic  performances. In fact, Emmanuelle Riva could surprise us all and so could the 9 year old dynamo of talent that is Quvenzhané Wallis. Or, the Academy could just give it to Naomi Watts and really shock us. For the sake of comparison however, I am only focusing on Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

First up, Jennifer Lawrence. When the Screen Actor’s Guild nominated both Jennifer and Jessica, I’ll admit, it was a difficult decision. With the exception of Naomi Watts also in the category for Best Actress, the list included two other completely different nominees. Helen Mirren was nominated for Hitchcock and Marion Cotillard for Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os.) Several of my colleagues voted for Marion Cotillard and to be quite honest, voting in the SAG awards, especially in the Best Actress category, was a difficult decision because of the pure strength of performances. What’s even more surprising is the fact that Marion Cotillard didn’t get an Oscar nod.

I voted for Jennifer Lawrence in the SAG awards which was surprising to a few people. Let me explain my reasoning. I thought it was more of a stretch (other than Marion Cotillard) for her to portray her specific character. As an actor, I think it’s more difficult to play older than it is to play younger simply because you can remember what it was like to be younger. However, it takes talent to play older, even if you just have exude “older.” An actor’s power for people watching and research come into play. I thought she had emotional depth that was beyond her years (she’s only 22) and she prevailed. She plays a woman just as broken and fragile as Bradley Cooper’s character Pat (who suffers from bipolar disorder.) Jennifer does it with such poise and maturity it’s easy to forget she’s younger than her character. As of this posting, she has won The Golden Globe (in the Comedy or Musical category),  SAG Award and the Independent Spirit Award for her performance and is on her second Oscar nomination (her first was Winter’s Bone.)

In fact, both Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence won the Golden Globes for their performances which is why this race is so tough.

Jessica Chastain won the Golden Globe and the Critics’s Choice for her portrayal of Maya in Zero Dark Thirty. The film itself has been the target of extreme controversy ever since it went into production simply due to its subject matter. It chronicles the decade long man-hunt to capture and kill Osama bin Laden and the woman who was in charge. Members of the Screen Actor’s Guild and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences have been protesting it from the beginning and especially now that it has actually been receiving praise as some view it as being too violent. Controversy aside, there is no denying that Jessica’s performance is virtually flawless. The Julliard grad, whom I met at an industry event, is a truly talented actor. She may not have had the fancy Southern accent she touted in The Help, but her performance is so understated that it’s hard to tell when she’s acting. As much as Academy voters love physical and vocal transformations, they also love the understated ones as well. There is evidence of Maya simmering with anger and emotion under the surface as well as lack of emotion (which was a clear character choice on her part.) Jessica might take home the Oscar for knowing how to work an understated, subtle performance. And with her second nomination as well, her training has certainly paid off.

I would love both of them to win because both performances were so vastly different. Then again, there are five nominees, so we’ll just have to wait and see.