Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label activism. Show all posts

Monday, October 3, 2011

My humble solution of what to do about San Francisco's overcrowded Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

Some lovely folks I met coming back from the loo

Warren Hellman and the organizers of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival have a chance to make the gathering even more meaningful. At some point safety regulators will notice that the gathering has gotten far too crowded; how will they solve this problem? My humble solution is to require inexpensive tickets for entry, and donate the proceeds to local charities.

Hardly Strictly is one of those many events that makes me so lucky and proud to live in the Bay Area, and be a resident of San Francisco in particular. As a music lover, the idea of seeing (or more like only hearing because you can’t get too close to the stage) Emmylou Harris, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ralph Stanley, Bela Fleck, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard, and Gillian Welch in two days free of charge is absolutely insane. I thank Mr. Hellman for an awesome birthday party every year and applaud his love and passion for good music.

TO READ MORE OF MY ARTICLE CLICK HERE

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A conversation with Wesley Taylor of the American Conservatory Theater’s “Tales of the City: A New Musical" by Armistead Maupin


"Before I was really focused on being an actor on my own terms, I wasn’t really interested in being a role model or helping other people’s lives. I was just interested in doing good art, but the older I get I realize, what’s the point of that?"

I have had the good fortune of having gone to school with some fabulously talented people. Many of these people have fabulously talented friends. And it was with pure glee that I emailed former classmate Lauren Molina whom I have written about here and here when I saw her friend and Rock of Ages co-star Wesley Taylor appear on the stage of A.C.T. a couple weeks ago.

Starring in Armistead Maupin’s staged production of Tales of the City: A New Musical" at the American Conservatory Theater has changed Wesley. He is 24 and has been out of college for three years. During that time he has worked continuously on Broadway, landing central roles in a handful of enormously successful shows including Rock of Ages and The Addams Family alongside Nathan Lane. He has also become known through his satire YouTube series Billy Green.

But it wasn’t until being cast as a Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, a young hopeless romantic gay man in San Francisco during the early 70s, that Wesley really began to feel a greater responsibility than to just the art of theater itself. Not only does he feel a connection to an older generation of men who have come to love and identify with Mouse, but also responsibility to the next generations that continue to struggle for gay rights.

Below is part of an interview I conducted with Wes yesterday about three weeks into the run. We talk about the magic of San Francisco (even today), the responsibility of playing Mouse, where the show might go from here, Armistead Maupin, Jake Shears, the process of being part of a new production, marriage equality, mustaches and on-stage nudity.

To see a shorter version of the interview, click on the examiner.com article here. I am also hoping to eventually post an audio file of the interview, so check back.

Tales of the City is now running through July 24th. Buy tickets here.

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Jamie: First things first, so I see that the ‘stache is real. You could walk down Mission Street and no one would know the difference.

Wes: I went to New York for twenty-four hours last weekend which was crazy, and for the first time I was a little embarrassed about the mustache and was noticing people looking at me funny. It’s interesting because San Francisco is so embracing of every kind of oddball. Like that’s what this city kind of stands for, it doesn’t matter what you look like, it doesn’t matter what you wear. And that’s why there’s so much personality in this city. It’s really a sanctuary of people who are different. Which is really special, it makes this city so magical.

And yeah, my friends at home keep making fun of my mustache in all the pictures. But I love it. For the last three years I’ve been playing eighteen-year-old characters and I’ve been shaving my face every single day and it sort of sucks. So I’m really jazzed about the fact that I can do something different.

Best friends Mona Ramsey (Mary Birdsong) and Michael “Mouse” Tolliver (Wesley Taylor) move back in together at 28 Barbary Lane. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: Yeah, you look normal to me, but I live in the Mission.

WT: Exactly! When we first started the rehearsals, (director) Jason Moore wanted us to grow facial hair. And I didn’t know if Mouse should have a mustache. Marcus D'amico in the miniseries didn’t have one and I wanted him to stay twinkie and innocent. Sometimes when I grow facial hair I have the tendency to look sinister or edgy.

But Armistead said, “Mouse has a mustache. I had a mustache in the 70s, Mouse has a mustache.” And it was at that moment that I realized Mouse was Armistead. And I actually didn’t know that before. I had read the books and watched the miniseries, but it just hadn’t dawned on me that he was telling his story mostly through Michael. It was pretty surreal when I figured that out, and it was very intimidating.

I was also really intimidated when I first got the part because I didn’t know what a huge deal थे books were। But when I started telling people that I got it, every middle-aged gay man in New York freaked out. It really scared the hell out of me that so many people identified with this character. But what made me feel really comfortable was that Armistead had the final say on the casting. He gave us his blessing. JF: I love how involved he's been in making this production; I mean how often does that happen? WT: It doesn’t। I mean on the first day of rehearsal, he said that this is one of the happiest days of his life. He was so excited and such a part of it. But, still kept his distance respectfully to the writer Jeff Witty who made Armistead’s books into a musical. He couldn’t have been better to me through this whole process.

JF: Did he offer up any other words of wisdom that you can share?

WT: He told me once that there’s something about Mouse that’s hard for some people to get: which is this quirk that he is both light and dark. He said that I was really embodying that. And because as an actor you can really get neurotic about getting into a character, it was really comforting to hear from its creator that you’re on the right track.

JF: You’ve said before that playing reserved characters, like the one you played in The Addams Family, is more difficult for you than playing really crazy characters, like Franz in Rock of Ages. What was it like to play Mouse then, who is definitely on the more reserved side?

Mouse runs into the handsome Jon Fielding (Josh Breckenridge) at the roller rink. Photo by Kevin Berne.

WT: The thing I love about Michael is that he’s a little of everything. He’s very much like who I am, which can sometimes be the hardest thing to play on stage because it’s the most exposing. You can feel naked and horrified because at the end of the day it’s about telling the truth. And telling the truth can be the hardest thing in the world.

But yeah, Michael is a lot like me: we’re both from Orlando, Florida, we both have conservative parents, I grew up very religious in the Baptist world just like him, it took us both a while to come out to our parents, we’re both hopeless romantics and we both like our vices.

JF: My brother, who’s straight, said he got really emotional during Michael’s coming out scene. It’s a really amazing number.

WT: I like how simple and subtle that scene is. I kept wanting to make it more dramatic, but the director kept telling me to stop and just read the letter. Just love your mother. I was also playing the scene kind of defensive, you know, ACCEPT ME GODDAMIT! And he kept saying, no, you love your mother. You feel for her and you get it. It’s more, Thank you for making me who I am, which is more heartbreaking because it’s killing them with kindness. I feel like that song is a gift and the character has been a gift. I’ve been so lucky to stumble across it.

Mouse is shocked to learn that his parents have joined Anita Bryant’s anti-homosexual Save Our Children campaign. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: And I’d imagine people have been reacting very strongly to your performance?

WT: Yeah, it feels really great. I’ve never been in that position before. I mean Franz was super gay but I’ve never been in the position of having gay men telling me how I’ve helped and affected them. That’s been very special to me and it means a lot. And I didn’t care about that stuff before. I don’t want to say I was selfish, but I was really focused on being an actor on my own terms. I wasn’t really interested in being a role model or helping other people’s lives. I was just interested in doing good art, but the older I get I realize what’s the point of that ?

Like when I first moved to New York my agents told me that it’s probably better off that you don’t come out for television and film. But I think that’s changing dramatically; you know with people like Neil Patrick Harris, I mean things are changing in a great way.

JF: That couldn’t have even been that long ago, what 3, 4 years?

WT: Yeah, I got out of school three years ago. But they did say that they would be completely open to it if I wanted to.

JF: But they were just recommending…

WT: Yeah, and they’re all gay too. It’s just one of those hard decisions to make as an actor, deciding weather or not you want to sacrifice the possibility of putting you into a box as a gay guy. But I think it’s getting easier to be a gay man and being able to do it all. But I started to realize that if I wasn’t going to get cast in something because I’m gay, I don’t want to be part of that project. You start growing up and you start seeing these things. And now I’m trying to be as active as I can in the gay agenda. I mean we are so close in New York to getting marriage equality right now. This is such a big deal! It’s made me really passionate, it has to get done! So yeah, it’s affected me. I love how it’s affected other people. I love that it’s made a difference, I think this piece is really special in that way. Even though it’s dated, it takes place in the 70s, but we’re still dealing with the same issues.

Mary Ann Singleton (Betsy Wolfe) consoles Mouse, who is struggling with coming out to his parents. Photo by Kevin Berne.

JF: It’s from the 70s, but I think the San Francisco in this show is still here. Have you felt that?

WT: Yeah, you can feel it. And everywhere you go in this city is research for the show! All of these locations are all over the books and the lyrics. Even the street names, it’s everywhere. I love working on a show and being in the world of the show while you’re working on it. I’ve never had that experience before.

JF: Everyone is talking about if they’ll be able to take this show out of San Francisco and on the road. What do you think?

WT: Because of all the inside jokes? I think that the show has the heart and I think it’s good enough to be able to transfer anywhere and work. Sure, you might have to tweak some of the lines and jokes. I actually think it would go over really well in London it would be super successful. The books are huge; Armistead is very popular over there. And the Scissor Sisters are everything in the UK! They’re way more known there than they are here. The demographic in London is right up our alley. But we won’t know what’s going to happen for a while. I mean, we got extended here until July, and it might even get extended until August. We just don’t know and as an actor is a little scary. Do you look for more work? Can you rely on the show?

JF: It’s like dating two people at once, and geez! Everyone should have these problems!

WT: It’s exactly like that! It’s awful! And yet exhilarating and great.

JF: What was it like working with Jake Shears (Jason Sellards)?

WT: He sort of became my big brother while he was here. We got along really well. We partied like rockstars, The Scissor Sisters don’t fuck around! They had a concert here and the whole cast went, it was really fun. He’s never written a musical before, but he’s such a natural at it. And he was so not precious about anything. He was cutting songs left and right. He probably wrote over fifty songs for the show and there are only nineteen or twenty in it. There are so many great songs that got the chopping blog. There was a song that Mona and I sing together called “Who’s your Mama?”, and after one week of previews, it wasn’t working for them, so he wrote another one called “Everything Gets Better” in twenty-four hours and put it in. I mean, that’s previews. It’s pretty stressful.

JF: They should make a B-sides album.

WT: Yeah, like bonus tracks. There was another song called “Show Me How to Love You” and it was so gorgeous. My verse was my favorite thing that I got to sing in the show, and they cut it! People need to hear this stuff!

JF: So this was all in two months? You guys learned double the amount of material?

WT: When we started previews, the show was something like four hours long. I mean it’s three hours right now, which is also too long for a musical comedy. But they’ve taken a lot out and changed even more.

I remember the first time Mary and I sang our new song for an audience, we were shaking because there were people sitting there hearing a song you had only sung three times. It’s terrifying. I think putting up a new musical is one of the most terrifying things you could ever do.

JF: Earlier you mentioned that playing the role of Mouse is “revealing” makes you feel “naked”. You like getting naked don’t you?

WT: As soon as they made us sign that nudity clause…

JF: There was a nudity clause?

WT: There was a nudity clause that all of the men signed. There was supposed to be a lot more nudity in the show. But, I mean, obviously you have to show flesh in the show, it’s Tales of the City, it’s a big component of the show. But Jason didn’t want it to look like an excuse to please to the gay community.

JF: So all we get it is your butt.

WT: Yup, that’s it. I’ve never gotten to even take off my shirt in a show, I love it. As soon as I signed that clause I stopped eating fried food and starting hitting the gym every day and doing five hundred sit-ups. It’s a fun challenge to be working on something outside of the show, whether it is growing out a mustache or going to the gym more! It’s a cool experience to have to change something about your appearance for a show, it really makes you feel like you’re earning your paycheck.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Salif Keita to appear with SFJAZZ promoting the cause of the African Albino

African musician Salif Keita is an albino: a term used for those individuals with albinism. Albinism, as you probably know, is a congenital disorder characterized by the absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes. What you might not know is that in some countries on the African continent, these individuals are often killed because of the superstitious beliefs associated with albinism.

Keita’s new album La Difference is a dedication to these people and a statement bringing attention to the cause. While Keita has always been a speaker for those with albinism, this album is the first time he sings about the deeply personal and painful subject. In two performances (8PM and 10:30PM) this Friday, Keita will appear at Bimbo’s 365 with SFJAZZ.

The story of the 61-year-old’s life is the ultimate “rising above all obstacles to achieve greatness” tale. Keita is of royal heritage, which because of Mali’s strict caste system, is supposed to have kept him from being a musician. Being a musician and a storyteller in Malian tradition is the job of a griot. So Keita was outcast from his family and community on two accounts, that of his chosen profession and his condition.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Asking for help in saving a friend's life: be the stem cell match for Elissa Froman!

"He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how" - Friedrich Nietzsche

If one of your best friend's little sisters had beaten cancer twice and it had come back for the third time you would be posting your first ever non-musical entry on a music blog too.

And hey, I met Becky at music camp, so this is musical. She was my roommate in college and majored in oboe performance and psychology. She's now a Music Therapist at a home for the elderly in Skokie, IL. I've been there and watched what joy she brings to many people that can't remember their own names. I couldn't do it, I'm glad she does.

But this is about her sister Elissa! Lissy, as she is called, is an amazing person. She's been working on Capitol Hill since she started college and has worked for various Civil Rights Lobbyist including the National Council of Jewish Women and Reform Judaism. She's smart, strong, funny and a very loving person. She might also be a woman you wouldn't want to mess with, but you didn't hear that from me :)

Read her blog She Who Has a Why here.

A couple months ago, Lissy's cancer came back for the third time, she has Hodgkin's lymphoma. As most of you know, this is serious folks. Beating cancer once and then twice is an amazing thing to do before you're 27. But a third time? We are really scared now.

Lissy and her family are looking for a match for her platelets, not her bone marrow if you were wondering, the registry is just called that. If you are inspired to help, or at least see if you can help, please go to Be the Match and register. It takes about 15 minutes and they will send you a free kit to see if you are indeed a match for someone in need of bone marrow (just a simple cheek swab!). Maybe you will be Lissy's match and help save her life! Tell your friends! Repost on your blogs! As Becky has told me, a good match can mean the best and worst for Lissy's future.

I've signed up, I'm waiting for my kit to come in the mail.

Lissy was recently admitted to Rabbinical School. We want her to go. This woman will make an amazing Rabbi.

Read more about Lissy here



Monday, January 12, 2009

Secretary for the Arts: Sign the petition!

If you read this blog, I would assume that you value the arts.  

If you haven't signed Quincy Jones' endorsed petition demanding the creation of an Arts Secretary, please sign it now.

Watch Quincy talk about Obama and their plans to expand the arts and education.

Very exciting!



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Palestine and Israel - Hevenu Shalom Alechem/ Ma Ana Ajmal Min Salam

Who's in the mood to hear about some Jewish/Muslim collaboration for a change?  I sure am.

Since going to Israel two years ago (I can't believe it's been that long) I am even more thoroughly convinced that there is no right and wrong when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian situation. At this point it's more like mafia warfare that anything else. The resentment and fear runs so deep that there seems to be no hope in sight.

As I Jew I cannot help but to feel sympathy and cultural understanding for Israel. I have family there that I love very much, and I know how they have grown up in a world where you might lose your life walking across the street. And as a human being and as part of a people who was once victim to genocide, I feel the Palestinian struggle as well.

One thing that most people can agree upon is that the leaders of these two peoples cannot seem to make it work. There have been so many misteps along the way (that I will not get into here) that you can't help but wonder who on earth these people are and how they can sleep at night.

Most Israelis and Palestinians just want to live their lives in peace and most of them do, together, side by side.

I wanted to post this song as tribute to the power of two warring peoples coming together to make art and music. It's sung in both Hebrew and Arabic called Hevenu Shalom Alechem ("We brought Peace among us" in Hebrew) & Ma Ana Ajmal Min Salam ("There is Nothing more Beautiful than Peace" in Arabic).  And I have to say, Other than Souad Massi, I'm new to listening to Arabic being sung, I think it's gorgeous!



If you want to help, my advice to you is go to Israel and the West Bank if you can (especially the West Bank, so many people go to Israel and don't make it to the West Bank, there are organizations that will take you for free), talk to as many people as you can including Jews and Muslims. 

But if that's not possible, talk to people at home. If you hear someone taking sides, talk to them about it. The only thing that will save this situation is communication, whether it be artistic or simple conversation.

Monday, December 15, 2008

NPR: Ozomatli and listener favorites of 2008


Ya Se Fue! Ya Se Fue!

I love NPR.  It's really the only radio station I listen to on a regular basis.  I used to listen to the radio a lot in high school, but now I usually just like to listen to my own music. But sometimes I really do find really terrific community radio that I like, but I have to actively go out and find it.  

NPR and it's regional affiliates, are the only stations I can stomach. It makes me feel smarter. Anyone else feel that way?  I know you do.

I also tend to think I have much in common with other folks that support National Public Radio. After working for KUT in Austin I have great respect for the folks that are in charge of the music programming.  I also know that their music tastes tend to be more under the radar than, say, oh, Top 40 radio.  But that's no surprise.

SO, first and foremost, I want to direct you to a KQED's (NPR Bay Area affiliate) interview with Ozomatli.  In the interview the men of Ozomatli share many of their political and social views, poke fun at each other and play some tunes live.  

Last Thursday I saw Ozo play a reunion show with rapper Chali 2na (also of Jurassic 5) at the Fillmore in San Francisco. They put on an absolutely awesome show. I've seen them now probably 5 times in the last 10 years all over the country and have enjoyed them every time. Los Angelian based Ozomatli plays music that is somewhere between hip-hop, Mexican dance music and funk.  All I know, is that it's a massive dance party every time they play.

I was a little concerned about the show since I haven't been too excited about some of their newer tracks ("Don't Mess with the Dragon" and "Saturday Night"), but they whipped out the old tunes with great energy and passion ("Cumbia de los Muertos,"  and "Super Bowl Sundae").  They ended the show, as they do every show, coming into the audience, playing in a drum circle, and leading folks out into the lobby as the show ends.  This last show was complete with breakdancing chickens and giant Ozomatli balloons.

Anyway, if you like Ozo, or are interesting in getting to know one of the best under-appreciated bands of the last 15 years, check out this hysterical interview.  These guys love what they do, and they love each other, which always adds to the enjoyment and chemistry of a live show.

Also, today NPR released a list of NPR listener picked best music of 2008.  NPR's website has clips from each of these tracks, so if you are interested in what you may or may not have missed this year, check out this list. I believe there is a podcast to download as well. I haven't heard all of these bands, but most of them are pretty darn good.  I've hilighted some of my personal favorites.

I will also add some tracks onto the playlist. If you feel like it, leave your favorite album of the year in the comments, either on this list or not.  I'd love to know what you've loved this year.

I would add Gnarls Barkley's The Odd Couple.


1. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes "White Winter Hymnal"

2. Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend "A-Punk"

3. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago "Skinny Love"

4. TV on the Radio - Dear Science "Halfway Home"

5. Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs "Cath..."

6. MGMT - Oracular Spectacular "Time to Pretend"

7. She & Him - Volume One "Change is Hard" 

8. Coldplay - Viva la Vida "Lover's in Japan/Reign of Love"

9. My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges "Evil Urges"

10. Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords "Business Time"

11. Sigur Rós - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust "Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur"

12. Okkervil River - The Stand Ins "Pop Lie"

13. Beck - Modern Guilt "Chemtrails"

14. Kimya Dawson and Antsy Pants -  Juno (the soundtrack) "Tree Hugger"

15. The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely "Many Shades of Black"

16. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals "In Step"

17. The Black Keys - Attack & Release "Psychotic Girl"

18. Conor Oberst - Conor Oberst "Lenders in the Temple"

19. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue "Acid Tongue"

20. Kings of Leon - Only by Night "Manhattan" 

21. Bob Dylan - Bootleg Series "Dreamin' of You"

22. Punch Brothers - Punch "Blind Leaving the Blind: 1st Movement"

23. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive "Constructive Summer"

24. Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping "Id Engager"

Again, please leave your favorite music of the year as a comment.  I'd love to hear it whether it's Britney's new album (you know who I'm talking to) or Poison Apple Pie.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Stop Shopping Gospel Choir: What will YOU give?


This is awesome.  Time to get on my soapbox.

Among the billions of political email lists that I'm on is Brave New Films: the folks who brought us John McCain's Youtube just became a Nightmare and more. I saw this today: Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping and the soon to be released documentary "What would Jesus Buy".

It's pretty obvious were I'm going to go with this.

Mindless gift giving has always baffled me.  Other than trying to be loving and thankful for wonderful people in my life every day of the year, I often show my love by giving gifts at random times of the year because I find something that I think that person would really like.  Sometimes I can wait long enough and keep it for a birthday or the holidays.  I really don't understand giving things to people just to give them.  Especially if they're going to sit in the closet unused.  How wasteful.

How do we save ourselves from what Reverend Billy calls the "Shopocalypse"?

Black Friday and Holiday shopping seems to have reached a new peak of horridness when three people lost their lives this year.  And with the economy taking a turn for the worst, it seems like the perfect time to re-evaltuate how Americans show love and thanks for our friends and family. 

The Church of Stop Shopping.  The mission is pretty obvious.  Consumerism is running our lives and ruining our happiness. Put the heart and local soul back into our communities.  Have you seen the Story of Stuff? (It's great!) Our lives are driven by the stuff we own, and it's killing us, it's killing the planet and we're now savagely also killing each other.

Here's what Reverend Billy has to say:



This is what the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir had to say about holiday gift giving this year:


What will you give your friends and family this year? Please leave a comment and share with alwaysmoretohear what you will do.

I will, surprisingly (!) be giving the gift of music. And dear readers of alwaysmoretohear, I will make you a CD mix, if you want one. Give any special requests if you have them.  Just let me know.

I will also be giving out a bunch of hugs.