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REVIEW: CHOCOLATE

CHOCOLATE-_STILL_3

Read my latest review of a short film that’s making a difference. It also stars one of my incredibly talented friends, whose work on this has been deeply inspiring to me.

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IT’S A MAN’S WORLD

Man with hat

This post was written back in 2005 on Blogger where I first started MindLib. Given the current climate, I thought it was worth a re-post here.

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September 21, 2005

So I kind of went off on the guys at work. I’m the only woman in the production office and therefore privy to the sort of raunchiness normally reserved for locker rooms. I was naïve enough to believe that since we share an office environment there would be some limits set on sexual innuendo. But the film industry is a notorious boys club and I learn this more each day. At first I tried to ignore it, though I certainly couldn’t laugh at it. A crude joke or two doesn’t get to me but it’s the constant and degrading critique of women’s bodies that pushes me over the edge. Mind you these are men who, appearance-wise, are in no position to judge other people.

None of the remarks were directed towards me and I get along quite well with these men. Most of the time they are smart and funny. I thought that I should set a subtle example with my refusal to participate in the sexual gauntlet or maybe say a few words aimed at balancing the scales. But it’s gotten to the point where even my opinion is shot down as being without merit. I’m still not used to the discrepancy between the environment I create with my own work and the environment I have to deal with in order to make money. I’m used to being the producer/director and to having people treat me with respect. But in my daily routine of earning of living I have to put up with men who condescend to me for no apparent reason other than my sex.

When I first started the job I had a whole debate with the production coordinator about how the female nudity in the film and all dialogue directed towards or about the female characters was degrading. I understood the object of the film was to make money but I felt badly that any actress would subject herself to it simply to get a job. We agreed to disagree and the coordinator tries to keep his mouth shut around me. But then the dailies came in and the men in office watched a barely 18-year-old girl bare her breasts, and another girl shower nude, and then proceeded to evaluate the girls on breast size, butt size, etc. There has been a barrage of remarks about the four women in this cast- all of whom were chosen for their sex appeal.

Today someone made a remark about how Tyra Banks proved on her show that her breasts were real. The producer then commented, “It doesn’t matter because she has cellulite.” I said, “Why do we have to judge a woman on something over which she has no control?” The producer promptly shot me down by saying that any woman could eliminate cellulite by changing her diet and exercising. This is the same producer who likes the skeletal, drug-addicted look on women. While diet and exercise play a part in cellulite, that’s not all there is to it. Sometimes it has nothing to do with that and thin women have cellulite too. He refused to even hear my opinion until I suddenly crumpled a piece of paper in frustration and snapped, “Forget it.” Then they were all ears and I couldn’t help venting over the completely inappropriate conversation I had been subjected to for the last two months. The producer said that he didn’t condone it but that it happened because “they were human.” I said, “Well, I’m human too, but I don’t come in here and talk about the size of your c— because that would be disrespectful to you.” That shut him up. Now the men are gently tiptoeing around with golf jokes and it’s the first relaxed afternoon I’ve had in a while.

After I vented I wondered if it would cost me future work. Maybe guys don’t want to restrain themselves and having a woman around is cramping their style. Maybe they won’t call me for the next gig because I’m too sensitive or emotional. But hang it, I’m much older and wiser now. We women have an uphill battle in this industry and why is it ever okay to listen to and accept the way men speak about us? How will it change if we don’t raise our voices? It’s interesting though…the producer treated me better today than he has all month. Yes, I do have a brain and breasts all at the same time. Astounding, isn’t it?

HIT BY AN ‘A’ TRAIN

A Train

I don’t think I realized how much the play I’m working on would get under my skin. All of them do–even the scenes I explored in acting classes–but there have only been a few roles that yank me so far in that it’s hard to find my way out. Saint Joan was the big one. She followed me around everywhere, wouldn’t leave me alone. She was the most demanding of anyone I’d ever played–both emotionally and physically–and I was stick-a-fork-in-me done by the end of that run. She still crosses my path here and there. This time, it’s more the subject matter that’s getting to me…or maybe the head-space of a character who feels so guilty and responsible for a tragic outcome that she can barely live with herself.

I’d read Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train a couple of times over the years and always wanted to work on one of the scenes in class. I never found a partner to do it with and my understanding of the play was superficial at best, kind of like–I want to play a good lawyer scene. And then I actually got cast as Mary Jane and was excited but for a good stretch of my rehearsal process it all felt really distant from me, as if this was the first character I’d ever tackled who had nothing to do with me or my real life. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that every character who enters my sphere has something to do with what I’m currently and personally grappling with, so I couldn’t understand why Mary Jane didn’t. Until she did.

Digging into the text with my directors, we uncovered MJ’s history with an alcoholic father, her efforts at recovery through therapy and Adult Children of Alcoholics meetings, the inexplicable loyalty she still feels towards her father and his rogue sense of justice, the ego she’s developed over her plea-bargaining and trial skills, the poverty she lives in as an underpaid Public Defender and her working-class background that helps her identify even more closely with the clients she defends.

As I started to build from those facts, I realized how much I actually did identify with Mary Jane, even though the circumstances of our lives were different. I, too, come from a childhood that contained deep trauma, that was difficult to make sense of and that has had repercussions throughout my adulthood. I, too, have found myself believing that I could somehow reverse those experiences by falling in with people who reflected my upbringing in mysterious ways. And I, too, have felt that encouraging a person’s (many different persons) potential strongly enough would be sufficient to change a life.

Then, add to that mix, the research I did into the criminal justice system; combined with the on-going despair I’ve felt about our country’s vicious track record when it comes to prison time, racism and police brutality; combined with the stories a former corrections officer brought into one of our rehearsals; combined with the experience of living in Boston again after 11 years away; combined with an incredible scene partner in the role of Angel who brings beautifully complex work to the table and…it’s a lot.

Since our last couple of weeks of rehearsal and into our run, I’ve had a very hard time shaking this play when I leave the theater. I can’t find a way to decompress after shows and I drive the long way home to calm down. It’s to the point where I can only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, my dreams are entirely from Mary Jane’s world, and I wake myself up crying, thinking that I’ve fucked it all up for good and destroyed a man’s life. And, at the same time, I’m so sad that our run is nearly over and I won’t get to continue on with Mary Jane indefinitely. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment. But it’s such a rare and wonderful gift when this happens…for a character to blaze into my life with such intensity that I have to make room for her and learn what she has to teach me.

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