Comedy is big. This isn’t a new thing. It always has been, hasn’t it? We have a long history of wanting to laugh, apparently. There are many options open to you as a comedy-seeker when you live in LA. Pretty much any day of the week, you can catch an 8 or 10PM (even on a school night) stand-up show in multiple locations in the city. You have improv shows in abundance, again, every night of the week. And now storytelling shows like The Moth or Mortified have gained in popularity in the City of Angels as well, which more often than not at least lean comedic. How do you weed through them all? You got me. I say hop around town and enjoy yourself while supporting live performance. But if you need a nudge in a certain direction, I’ve got a recommendation for you.
The UnCabaret just happens to be celebrating their 25th (!) anniversary here in Los Angeles. Self described as an alternative comedy night, it’s a mix of big names and relative newcomers that engage in personal storytelling, standup, and music. Beth Lapides is the show’s founder and, as far as I know, opens the show every single Sunday evening. Mitch Kaplan is the musical director and constant partner in crime.
So I decided I’d stop by for a try one Sunday night. It wasn’t a seamless experience, and that may have been part of its charm. I’d never been to the show or Au Lac, the vegan restaurant that hosts the show, before. I walked in and told the host that I was there for the show. She looked at me, might have murmured, “Cool,” and didn’t move a muscle. I asked her if she could point me in the right direction and she gave me the biggest eye-roll I’ve seen in years, before walking me to where I needed to be. Epic eye-roll. So I’ll just tell you, walk in the door and head left and to the back of the restaurant. You’ll see a new set of glass doors that lead you to the UnCabaret stage. Whew! I just spared you the whole put-out hostess situation. You are welcome.
I was seated without being asked for my ticket. That was weird. The attempt was to place me in the front row, which for me could be categorized as torture. So I asked to be moved back a row with no incident. If you are a front row person, get there early-ish (maybe 7:40) to make sure you grab a prime spot. If, like me, that causes a panic attack, get there at 7:55. You might be able to score a back corner spot at that time. I’ll try that next time. There’s a two item minimum; I recommend ordering something before the show begins. The gentleman sitting next to me (a long time regular attendee) had 2 smoothies, 3 glasses of wine, 4 entrees, and a dessert. If you are concerned about the two item minimum, I’d suggest cozying up to him. He might volunteer to cover one of yours.
Beth opened the show with introductions (there’s a house band! how cool!), some laughs, and a song. I’m sure it goes this way every single show. All the guest performers were asked to tell a story (vs. the standard standup routine) and I’d say it was a stumbling block. They were all obviously talented. I believe on my particular evening, standup was their particular area of expertise, and perhaps they should have been allowed to do what they do best. The performers seemed a bit uncomfortable with the given circumstances, but were all entertaining and endearing on various levels. The absolute highlight of the show on my particular night of attendance was Justin Sayre. He shared some sweet and hilarious things, and sang a song. I need more of him in my life. Seriously magical, and he’s there on a semi regular basis. The evening ended with a small handful of young dudes rockin’ out. It was a bit puzzling, hilarious, and perfect.
I wouldn’t call it a polished evening of comedy. I wouldn’t call it alternative comedy nor more than comedy, really. It was just a nice evening with warm and funny people. Some of whom seemed to be regular performers, regular audience members, and some not. It wasn’t a club where you needed to be in the know to have a good time (except, maybe where to go—ahem, unhelpful hostess). Strangers are welcome. It was the first time in a long time I didn’t feel like I was in LA. If you are from a town that leans towards live performance, this may feel like home to you. Pretty unpretentious, light, fun night. Oh, but after the cost of admission AND the two item minimum, when getting your check . . . you’ll be reminded that you are, indeed, in LA. Just keep it in mind.
Au Lac Vegan Restaurant
710 W 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
When: Sunday’s 8PM
Price: $10-$30 + 2 item minimum
Everything you could want to know: http://uncabaret.com
For staying power, play in the moment.
Whether it’s the weather, or the uncertain state of the economy, or the endless grind of politics, things have been a little grim lately, a little serious. And while the tendency during hard times is to bear down and get serious along with them, I am starting to believe that the answer, while wholly counterintuitive, is to ease up—to play.
People—and I include among “people” everyone from audiences to casting directors to colleagues to fans (present and future)—are starved for levity and passion. Those can be hard to muster in the face of grim times and prospects, but as artists, it’s our job to lead the way. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, to get all Gandhi-fuzzy on you; we have to put aside that life is hard and times are tough, and get back to the spirit that brought us here: play. But how do we, the artists, get ourselves there when the getting is hard? How do we keep ourselves fresh and alive, and, if you want to get down to it, marketable?
Casting director Lisa Pantone joined us for our March 2017 seminar, where she shared a lot of great information with us. Let’s review some of the things she had to say.
1. Be Present During Auditions
One of the biggest mistakes actors make is rushing through an audition. They fly through the copy, just trying to get through it and get out of the room. You were called in for a reason. Be present. Be connected to the material. Experience the reality of the scene and allow yourself to be in the moment.
You’ve heard it, likely felt it, and probably had some panic about it: commercial budgets are shrinking, in general, and that can feel like very bad news. And honestly, on plenty of counts it is, or can be. But knowing more regarding lower budgets can benefit you. There is a silver lining and you should know how to find it.
Commercial actors should never be ill-informed regarding the rise of the lower budget commercial.
Let it first be said that lower budget commercials can definitely be SAG. Non-union does not necessarily equal low budget and union does not always equal big bucks. And when I mention the budget, I mean the budget of the entire commercial, not actor pay exclusively. The production of lower budget commercials, in general, are gaining in popularity. So when do I start spreading the good news? Let’s get to it now.
One arrow is enough!
No one is immune to the unpredictability of life. One week you’re riding high from a lucky break, and the following week you can’t seem to do anything right. Stop beating yourself up; not everything is under your control. Don’t get caught in the overthinking trap, trying to make sense out of the senseless—instead, use your energy to move through the pitfalls faster and wiser. Here are a few tips to shift out of a powerless, negative mode and into a positive, productive one.
Become an expert at supporting yourself on the inside.
Don’t wait for others to come to your rescue. Yes, it’s important and necessary to have supportive family and friends during tough times, but you’ve also got to develop the skills to rescue yourself. That means disarming your biggest critic: YOU! The first arrow going in is the undesirable thing that happened to you, such as not booking that job you were counting on in order to pay the rent, or being turned down by an agent or manager.
What do Hamilton and commercials have in common?
“The Room Where It Happens.” Everyone wants to be in the room where it happens, and in the acting world, it’s the call back room—the room with the producers.
[BURR AND COMPANY]
The room where it happened
The room where it happened
The room where it happened
No one really knows how the
Parties get to yesssss
The pieces that are sacrificed in
Ev’ry game of chesssss
Ghost in the Shell
Despite being caught up in another Hollywood whitewashing controversy, Ghost in the Shell—which is based on the comic by Shirow Masamune—is actually a pretty entertaining action film. Scarlett Johansson—the source of the controversy, as the character she plays was originally Japanese—does an excellent job as Major, the world’s first 100% cyber soldier. The film drags at times, but the futuristic production design is excellent, and there are some genuine twists throughout. You might be better off waiting for video, but Ghost in the Shell is worth checking out eventually.
The movie begins with Major (Scarlett Johansson) lying on a surgery table. She can barely move. It turns out, or so she’s told, that she was in a terrible accident and that while her mind survived, her body did not. In this futuristic world, cyber enhancement is a general way of life, as body parts are routinely replaced with technology. Major (formerly a young woman named Mira Killian), however, is the first person who is entirely made up of cyber-enhanced technology. We cut to a year later, and Major is now a super-soldier working for the Hanka Robotics to help rid the world of criminals.
Working closely with her partner Batou (Pilou Asbæk), Major thrives in her new role, but she cannot shake the feeling that all is not what it seems. She hallucinates memories that occurred before her accident, and she eventually comes to find out from her once-trusted doctor Ouelet (played by Juliette Binoche) that although Major is the first successful attempt at fully connecting a human mind to a completely robotic body, she is not the first. In fact, there have been many before her. With Dr. Ouelet’s help, Major escapes and discovers even more secrets about her former identity. With Hanka Robotics on her tail, she must learn the whole truth in order to save herself and find out how Mira Killian ended up a test subject of the powerful organization.
Scarlett Johansson does a fine job as Major, aside from the controversy surrounding her casting. Critics say that Johansson’s portrayal of an originally Asian character furthers entrenches Hollywood in the whitewashing of characters of color. Others might say that a big-budget movie like Ghost in the Shell needs an A-lister like Johansson in order for the film to have enough of an audience to make its money back. While whitewashing is certainly an issue in the entertainment industry—and thankfully one that has been garnering a lot of attention in the recent years—one could also make the argument that the mere fact that this movie now exists will encourage fans to go back and read the original comic book and see the animated film from 1995. Either way, Johansson is terrific in the role, in both the emotional moments as well as the action-packed scenes that fill most of the film’s 107-minute runtime.
The production design, done by veteran Production Designer Jan Roelfs, and the beautifully futuristic landscape shots of Japan make the film visually stunning. There is certainly some digital enhancement throughout, as the buildings in the background look like something out of The Jetsons or The Fifth Element, but the end result is really something to behold. This, along with Johansson’s performance, almost make up for the fact that the story is fairly convoluted and the secondary characters are extremely one-dimensional. Are the visuals and leading performance enough to make this movie a top-notch action film? No, but they do make it mostly entertaining.
Ghost in the Shell is an engaging, albeit somewhat cliché and shallow, attempt to cash in on a successful comic franchise. Scarlett Johansson does action better than just about anybody, and despite the legitimate concern of Hollywood whitewashing, it is hard to imagine this role being played by anybody else. The production design is great, the story is acceptable, and the pace is fast enough to keep your attention. See this one when it comes out on video, and in the meantime, check out the original comic, as well as the 1995 animated film of the same name.
QUESTION: My son wants to be a fireman, but also tells me he wants to be rich and famous, so now he wants to act. Shouldn’t I encourage him to be a fireman, not an actor?
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of, so they can see that it’s not the answer. – Jim Carrey
ACTORS: I love Jim Carrey—not only is he an amazing actor, but he’s one of my secret actor crushes, along with Dick Van Dyke! I guess I love funny. Though his quote has humor in it, much truth lies underneath his words.
When I taught on-camera commercial TV workshops, I would ask the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up and I heard fireman, doctor, lawyer, marine biologist, president, etc., but interestingly enough I very seldom heard actor. So when I asked why were they taking this class, the common answer was I want to be rich and famous, as if rich and famous was an occupation.
Ah, Mr. Eugene O’Neill. How is it even possible that you, Mr. Doom & Gloom, wrote Ah, Wilderness!? I’d love the opportunity to sit down and have a drink with Eugene O’Neill and discuss that, amongst many, many other things. If you follow these reviews monthly, you know both my admiration for EO, one of the “best” American playwrights, and that I sat fairly enthusiastically through 3+ hours of Long Day’s Journey Into Night last month at the Geffen. I couldn’t resist the thought of seeing another O’Neill piece the following month at A Noise Within. A completely different kind of piece, which most call a straight-up comedy (though more in the warm/feel good realm vs. the laugh out loud type), in which the main character gets his happy ending. It’s presumed to take place in the same small town as in LDJIN on July 4, 1906. And . . . that’s where most of the similarities end.
Ah, Wilderness! centers around the delightful middle-class Miller family. Nat Miller (Nicholas Hormann) is a newspaper publisher who, along with his doting wife, Essie (Deborah Strang), has been raising their four fine children, as well as providing a home for Essie’s never-been-married sister, Lily (Kitty Swink), and jovial/alcoholic uncle, Sid (Alan Blumenfeld). Wait, alcoholic Uncle Sid? Mr. O’Neill, maybe you DID write this play. Seventeen-year-old Richard (Matt Gall) is the second child and the central character who, gently mind you, rebels and pushes the boundaries by reading “daring” books, spouting socialist ideas, and quoting risque-ish poetry. As you might have guessed, he’s endearingly naive and harmless. It’s also not a stretch to predict that he happens to have fallen in love with Muriel (Emily Goss), but her grumpy and disapproving father has gotten squarely in the way by restricting his daughter to the house, and forcing her to write a letter to end their relationship. Heartbroken, Richard becomes a little unhinged, getting tangled up one crazy night with booze and fast women, before finding his way again, and returning back to her.
Casting Networks is heading to the 4th annual Actors Pro Expo event in NYC! A day for professional actors to come along and network with the industry. There will be Seminars, Workshops, 1-on-1 careers advice consultations, an open casting call for feature film ‘Fiver’ and generals with casting director Michael Cassara.
General admission, Seminars and 1-on-1 advice is all FREE! Industry-led workshops will cost $30 each and are available for advance booking online.