Who doesn’t know about Sally Hemings and Marie Antoinette? At this point, we enjoy the tabloid history of both women because it’s dangerous and sexy at the same time. There’s also a part of me that thinks that the scandals of yestercentury would make a good E! True Hollywood Story or Vh1 Special. When I was approached about doing the PR for Madame Infamy in NYMF, I was intrigued especially when Jp told me why he had to write a musical about these women. And here is why:
Many years ago while I was on tour stage managing a show, I came across a book on Sally Hemings because I had always been fascinated by the myth of her. I wound up reading the book cover to cover in record time because I became enthralled by the possibility that our third president of the United States could have fathered children with his slave. After I finished the book, I thought this would make an incredible play but always felt that she would need a “sister voice” in solidarity.
Many years later while I was in living in LA, I treated myself to the movie Marie Antoinette. The only thing I knew about Marie Antoinette was that she was Queen of France, she was beheaded and she said “Let them eat cake”. Though this movie was beautiful visually, it left me with a lot more questions than it did answers. This led me straight to the biography section of Barnes and Noble, where I picked up the copy of Antonia Fraser’s “The Journey.” Viola! What I found was not only an incredible detail of a fascinating life but I found my sister voice to my first love, Ms. Hemings.
I learned that these two seemingly different women, one a slave and one a queen could have lived parallel lives and quite possibly even have been in the same room and space at one time. Madame Tussaud was the added jewel that cemented the fate of this musical coming to fruition. I had a woman who was present at the time that both these women lived in France. She observed people and could have possibly known both of them as she has access to each. It could not be more perfect… thus Madame Infamy was created.
The title refers to all three women because each of them have become historical legends in their own right. In fact three full musicals could be written about each of them, but I am a visionary and that would be too easy. So one musical that covers the lives of three very different women who are connected through chance was far more my style.
Madame Infamy runs in NYMF (New York Musical Theatre Festival)
Performance Dates: Wednesday, July 23rd at 8:00pm; Thursday, July 24th at 9:00pm; Friday, July 25th at 5:00pm;Saturday, July 26th at 9:00pm; and Sunday, July 27th at 1:00pm
Performance Venue: The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center at 480 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036
Click HERE for more info.
I have emerged from it feeling rather raw and tender and open. And sometimes, perhaps this is a necessary and good place to be.
Life is really, really hard. I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way. It’s just really hard. It never lets up. I don’t think, while on this earthly plane, we are meant to ever really understand why awful things happen to very loving and wonderful people or why we suffer such devastating loss. No one is exempt. But perhaps what we can understand is that the only thing we do have influence over is how we respond to what life hands us. Once again, I see that it is not what happens to us but the story we craft about what happens to us that we should hold as holy, beautiful, and absolutely crucial.
We lost a friend, my beautiful circle of friends and I. He was the brightest light of any of us and I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that he is not physically here anymore. You’ve been there; this has happened to you. When it happens, I experience a moment where I feel my own life is suddenly jammed into perspective. And then there are the odd days that follow, when we are left to collect our own struggles and our own pain that we left momentarily at the threshold of another’s tragedy. But there is a new tenderness that we find in ourselves. There are blessings that we are reminded to count that we, up until that moment, were too caught up in our own muck and mire to give thanks for. There are lessons hidden within the hideous, and gifts within the seemingly senseless, that are waiting to transform us but we either choose to open our eyes to them or we do not. It is a choice.
I’m thankful for the recent days of my own tears and melancholy and heaviness of heart. It has burned its purifying fire in an intense, sharp, and expeditious way and left me exhausted, vulnerable, open, compassionate, and very, very tender. I think this is how love finds its way into us. I think, in this way, love also more easily finds its way back out to the people who have the courage to sit with us in those moments.
We have such hard shells. We are told so often to be strong, to persevere. I don’t think this serves us very well. And I think true strength is being able to go fully into your pain and allow it to soften you, peel back your layers, to transmogrify your callouses, clear your slate, and be a more intimate and loving human being.
If we can understand that, if we understand nothing else, if we can truly grasp that that is our story, then perhaps we can sit with each other more often and offer up the most heart-breaking pieces of ourselves and open up that sacred space for love and joy to enter.
I am healed by your tears and my own. Come sit with me.
Valerie G. Keane is very honored to be part of the current Queens literary scene. Her work was recently published in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the Newtown Literary Journal and she is the founder of Poetry & Coffee, a very juicy discussion group in Queens for writers and readers, where the only rule is that you cannot read your own work. When asked if she is a poet, Valerie says, “I still don’t know how you qualify as one and no one seems to know where the application form is.”
I meet a lot of interesting people. I meet a lot of interesting people in unique situations. Melissa Robinette is one of my favorite interesting people I have met in a unique situation. Last fall, our mutual friend, Doug Shapiro (Savvy Actor & Fearless Mensch) needed a few people for his class at Pace University. This particular session was on networking by being your own Community Ambassador. The idea is “how to enrich your support system in group situations and facilitate excellent introductions”. What fun! Melissa and I hit it off as we are both very passionate about being artistic entrepreneurs. And she has chickens. Here’s how she balances her life as an artist and business woman.
Being an actor is hard work. Being an actor, small business owner, running a small farm and Vice President of Actors Equity Association is easy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a union meeting, teaching, working on my craft, tending my farm, or attending an audition. Every day is different and full of wonderful opportunities. There is something to be said about having many things in life to focus on. When you are only focused on one thing, that can end up toxic. Many years ago I was “just” an actor. I remember sitting in my living room hitting the refresh button over and over and over waiting for the newest job posting. I was miserable. Recognizing this I signed up for a dance program. Rather than sit around, hitting the refresh button and feeling crappy about my dance skills I chose to DO something about it. From there I got bit by a bug that made me a do-er. I started signing up for a ton of committees at the union, focused on opening a marco business called The Biz of Show with Melissa Robinette, got into physical fitness and immediately my life was more fulfilling and the acting work rolled in more and more. My eyes were opened and I was hungry for anything that kept my brain and body working. With each of these new things in my life I no longer felt blue, desperate or discouraged. I was out of my head and using my energy towards something useful. Currently I don’t have much of a social life, but I am loving every moment of life. I no longer have trouble sleeping because at the end of the day I’m tired from doing things other than hitting the refresh button. Being a do-er and a part of something other than your career is vital. And leads to great success and happiness.
MelRob was born into the circus and spent her early years traveling on the road. Immediately after high school she left her small town in northern San Diego and sailed around the world performing on cruise ships. In 2002 MelRob came to New York City, booked her first audition and never looked back.
Currently Melissa lives on an organic farm in Astoria, Queens, New York with her husband, a rescue pitbull named Ruby and 6 chickens. She started her own macro-business called The Biz of Show with Melissa Robinette.
Melissa is currently the Eastern Regional Vice President of Actors Equity Association.
I was thinking this morning about finding your voice as a writer. I worry about that, from time to time, and then am reminded how unnecessary it is to worry about that. But when you have a very small body of work, as I do, I think that “voice” becomes that much harder to discern. Every piece you write is given much too much importance and, therefore, it feels like some grave mistake or tragic death when it does not “take root and become part of the landscape,” as Stanley Kunitz said. This is all to say I should be writing more.
I should be trying things on for size. But what about trying things on for style? It’s like when you go to the store and only have $50 to spend on clothing that you need desperately because that one, old pair of navy pants you bought in 1994 has worn out at the knees. You try things on for size, for practicality. Writing is sometimes like that when you write sparingly and not that often.
What about writing like you are on a spending spree? Trying things on for style, for whimsy, for sheer impracticality? Does this fit? No? Eh, buy it anyway. Get rid of it at the end of the season if it still doesn’t fit or you look at the style and say, “I’ve decided that’s just not me.”
There are days when I feel so silly to be just now “finding my voice” because of how long I have been on this earth already. But here I am. And what’s the other option? To not find it? That’s infinitely more ridiculous. Sharon Olds stood on the steps of the library of Columbia University after she received her PhD and said, “Now I’m finally going to write the way I want to write. I’m going to be a poet even if my poetry turns out to be bad.” She was 37. (Ok, I have a few years on her as I write this but that just makes it all the more urgent and impactful.)
Today, I renew my vow to write the crappiest poems. To try on everything in the whole store. To have my garden come up as weeds and flowers and mighty oaks. To remind myself that is it none of my business what my voice is as long as it is true. I was reading something I wrote to my 92-year-old grandmother the other week and, in the middle of it, she rolled her eyes and blurted out, “Jesus Christ….” I threw my head back and laughed so hard. She’s often not very lucid these days but it was absolutely the most perfect and well-timed comment. What a superb reminder to not take myself so seriously.
And as Stanley Kunitz, somewhere around age 101, said, “I am not done with my changes.”
Valerie G. Keane is very honored to be part of the current Queens literary scene. Her work will be published in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the Newtown Literary Journal and she is the founder of Poetry & Coffee, a very juicy discussion group in Queens for writers and readers, where the only rule is that you cannot read your own work. When asked if she is a poet, Valerie says, “I still don’t know how you qualify as one and no one seems to know where the application form is.”
Believe it or not, I do actually do activities that are non-theatrical. This past week, I decided to take a night off and hang out with some fellow artists at an open mic for Inspired Word. I read three poems that are in the running for my performance at the Kaufman Studios Block Party. I don’t perform as much as I used to by choice. I really enjoy being behind the scenes producing, directing and promoting. However, it is important for me to feel the butterflies and fear of speaking in front of people, so I can effectively communicate with fellow artists. It is one of the reasons I asked my friends to be my guest bloggers. I like to read and share their experiences with you.
As of this Friday, Valerie G. Keane will by my First Fridays guest blogger. Valerie is a passionate and opinionated artist whose work is published in Newtown Literary Magazine. She is also the curator of Poetry and Coffee, a monthly poetry salon where people discuss great poetry.
I want to thank Josh Rivedal, Nick Radu, Adam Kern, Kate Powers, Dawn Slegona McDonald, Ian McDonald, Isaac Klein, Linda Gnat-Mullins and Cas Marino for being my guest bloggers. I appreciate them taking the time to share about their wonderful work.
And on to June. Keep me posted on your shows as summer has Fringe, Midtown International Festival, NYMF and so much more.
See you at the show!
There are many types of people in my life. Actors, Writers, Musicians, Attorneys, Accountants, Futurists. I met Gray during Michael Roderick’s ConnectorCon. A passionate discourse was had about quantum physics over paninis and salads. Little did we know that Gray was the keynote speaker of the event. A friendship struck up and wonderful conversations continued on our future. So when shared his news about being a co-executive producer for his documentary: The Future of Work and Death, I wanted to learn more so I can share with you. I asked him to tell me more and he did:
What is the meaning of life? Why are we hear? What is the purpose of life? These fundamental questions have yet to be answered. Until now, it seems humanity has been to busy surviving to answer these questions. That is about to change. Advancements in AI and robotics may allow us to automate everything. How will we live in a future without jobs? Can humanity cope with such a massive paradigm shift?
Will near future medical advancements free us from the chains of natural death? Several recent scientific studies have produced startling, some might say, magical results. Scientists have been able to reverse age in mice. Sounds like science fiction but age reversal has arrived. Human trials may start as soon as next year. So what will human life be like in a world free of work and death?
These are the questions that we hope to answer in THE FUTURE OF WORK AND DEATH.
Directed by Sean Blacknell and Wayne Walsh
Co-Executive Producer and futurist advisor – Gray Scott
Gray Scott is a futurist, techno-philosopher, writer and artist. He is the founder and editorial director of SeriousWonder.com, and a professional member of The World Future Society. His work has been featured in and interviewed by the The Futurist Magazine, New York Post, Psychology Today, The Star, FOX5 News NY, San Francisco Magazine, H+ Magazine, IEET, Brighter Brains, Media Disruptus, London Futurists, OracleTalk and The One Way Ticket show. Gray lives in NY and is currently also working as the futurist advisor for EMBERS, a forthcoming sci-fi film.
Be a part of this wonderful project. The perks include producer and IMDB credits. I pledged and so should you.
Isaac and I met during his production of See Jane Give Up Dick at last year’s Fringe Festival. We bonded over our mutual passion for theatre and directing. Plus, he makes me laugh and loves puns. When Isaac told me that he was writing a book on his mentor, the well-respected Broadway director and teacher, Gerald Freedman, I felt very connected to that idea. I identified with his feelings about his mentor and funneling that history into a book. Like Isaac, I am still close to my two theatre mentors from undergrad. I still turn to them when I need guidance. I still use the tools that they gave me almost 20 years ago not only in the theatre but in life.
The greatest teacher I’ve ever had is Gerald Freedman. He revealed to me my true calling, then provided me with the tools I needed to pursue it. There are thousands of others who share this sentiment, in schools, theaters, and communities around the world. Gerald’s singular teachings resound in so many hearts and minds, but they’ve never been written down in full. It is my mission to do so.
Gerald Freedman was instrumental in some of the most important theater in the last century. As a young man, he went back and forth between directing for the screen in Hollywood, and working in New York with Jerome Robbins, for whom he assistant-directed the original West Side Story. He banded together with Joe Papp, and directed numerous star-studded productions to critical acclaim in the early days of the New York Shakespeare Festival, commonly known as Shakespeare in the Park. Gerald directed the world premiere of the now-legendary musical, Hair, which was also the inaugural production at the newly founded Public Theater. He served as Artistic Director at Stratford’s American Shakespeare Theater and the Great Lakes Theater. He directed celebrated productions on and off-Broadway, won an Obie Award, and was the first American to direct at Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London.
Despite these extraordinary achievements, Gerald’s most meaningful work happened in the classroom. He has taught acting and directing at Northwestern, Yale, Juilliard, and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he became Dean of the School of Drama in 1991, and proceeded to turn the program into one of the most highly ranked and well-respected drama conservatories in the United States.
In February 2011, at the age of 84, Gerald suffered a series of strokes. His life has changed drastically since then. Gerald remains in good health and high spirits, but his strokes have left him hindered by aphasia.
Gerald and I had often discussed the prospect of writing a book together, but soon after his strokes, we agreed it was time to begin the work. We were reminded of life’s fleeting preciousness, and, now that Gerald was retired, he needed a new project to focus on and keep him busy.
Thus far, I have conducted in-depth interviews with over 90 of Gerald’s colleagues. This list includes Christine Baranski, Olympia Dukakis, Sheldon Harnick, Rosemary Harris, Hal Holbrook, Stacey Keach, Kevin Kline, Shirley Knight, Carol Lawrence, Ming Cho Lee, Patti LuPone, Larry Moss, Jack O’Brien, Hal Prince, Mandy Patinkin, Austin Pendleton, Missi Pyle, Chita Rivera, Alfred Uhry, Robert Waldman, and Sam Waterston.
I have spent weeks interviewing Gerald in his North Carolina home, and months poring through old notebooks, articles, speeches, videos, and audio recordings of Gerald in action in the classroom.
Gerald’s philosophy goes far beyond the technical application of craft; it provides fundamental tools for life. “How do I really listen?” “How do I communicate truthfully?” “How do I stay in the moment?” “How do I solve interpersonal problems?” “How do I teach and learn effectively?” “Why do actions speak so much louder than words?” “How do I discover what’s really happening between people?” “Who am I?” The journey to profound personal discovery begins with the key questions of Gerald Freedman’s curriculum.
I began my work on this book with the earnest intention of creating a record of Gerald’s teaching, of giving back in some small way to the man who gave me my life. I have gained traction and momentum via the profound enthusiasm of everyone I talk to about the book. Over and over I hear: “I am so glad you are doing this.” Gerald has championed so many of us. The time has come for us to turn and champion him, and share his great wisdom with the world.
About a month ago, I met and interviewed Linda for International Women Artist’s Salon Radio. She was our guest solo artist there to discuss her book Kisses Out of the Blue. We bonded right away because I am a hugger. Those who know me know that I say hi by hugging. It does throw people off but that’s who I am. I asked Linda what was the impetus to transition to the area of wellness. Then she told me the following:
Plastic bags. The F-22. Cigarettes. Nuclear energy. Porcelain collectibles. For nearly thirty years as an advertising copywriter, I wrote glorious junk about serious junk.
In 1999, after a day of meeting with a big banking client, my brain departed for thirty-six hours. Transient Global Amnesia. When consciousness returned, the message was clear: we all come here with a mission and I was screwing mine up.
There were earlier, gentler communications I had ignored. You see, I had always loved intuition and powers of mind. Even as a kid, I was fascinated by hypnotists on television. Starting in the 1970’s, I had learned several systems of healing, including Reiki. But I didn’t see a real place in this world for a healer/helper me. The amnesia finally taught me that it was time to get going.
I opened my Reiki practice in 2001. At the start, some clients had a conventional response to a session: receive energy, bliss out, float home. Neat and simple.
But life isn’t simple, life is messy, life throws you curves. Other clients came to me with strange constellations of symptoms. Clearly, I had to see the body as considerably more than a briefcase for brains. I had to learn its wisdom. I studied several shamanistic traditions and energy systems, Jungian archetypal work, soul retrieval, past life regression, mediumship, parts therapy, and spirit healing. Over twelve years, I learned to assist people in releasing deeply held effects of the past without re- traumatizing, so they could live their truth.
Ultimately, I believe that earth is the planet of distraction. We come here to clean up serious karma and do soul-stuff, but we can get off-course from all that earth demands. So we can also create lots of new karma in quick order. It’s like being at the high-stakes table.
I wanted to offer a gentle reminder, a little perspective, some help in the form of a book. It took me seven years to understand how to write my book. Piles of scribbled, chai-stained pages attest to it. Finally, it came to me: write the book I would like to read. Kisses Out of the Blue offers twenty-two strange and true stories, with lots of room for you as the reader to decide what to take away. At the end, some questions. In this book, I am telling you true and sometimes funny stories about life, work, healing. Showing you what lies beyond the obvious.
Giving you an opportunity to see your own life in a new and different way.
People have told me that these stories move their energy. They love that I don’t tell them what to do. They like how the book widens their perspective. They read it more than once. Readers keep it near their beds, even under their pillows. This is good. Perhaps with Kisses Out of the Blue, any wake-up call you may require will be as gentle and inviting as…well, you know!
NOTE: Kisses is available on Amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.
Reading and Book SigningSunday, June 1The 440 Gallery440 6th Avenue (Bet. 9th and 10th) in Park Slope.
Valerie and I spend lots of time, creating art, supporting art, talking about art. We are both in agreement that the best part of being in this community is just being present. I tweet/update statuses about going to an event and feeling inspired and moved. It feels like fireworks. About a month ago, Valerie and I attended an event. We were invited by our friend, Audrey Dimola. Truth be told, we actually had no idea what the event was about and what it was for – we just knew Audrey’s in it and we never been to the Latimer House in Flushing. We got there and experienced the spoken word, poetry, food, company in awe and appreciation. Then I wrote a poem about it the next day. So when Valerie posted a status update about showing up, I told her to elaborate:
I’m being reminded a lot lately of the importance of showing up and listening to and/or seeing others’ art. And not the “showing up as an obligation to a friend” kind of showing up. But showing up and being fully present and grateful to be part of the community. When you show up like that, you ARE a part of the art community. Instantly. You don’t need to be the one up there reading or performing your work or the one whose painting is on the wall in order to be *part of it all*. As a matter of fact, if your prime objective is to put yourself on display, you’re really missing out on the juicy stuff that will make you a better artist. It will be evident in your work that you have not, from time to time, just gone to an event to LISTEN and to SEE and to EXPERIENCE. Not to mention, the subtle and insidious isolation that ensues when you only chose to show up when it can be about *you*. Take that suggestion from one who knows that all too well. If your work is meant to be out there, believe me, people will ask you to put it out there if you show up without expectation, without attachment, and without a furious insistence to be heard in an effort to validate yourself. The Universe has already validated your parking voucher, kids. If you have something to say, by all means say it. But remember that that is only HALF of your art. Don’t miss out on the other absolutely glorious 50%. Don’t half-ass your gift by letting your life choices be led by the siren’s call of the spotlight. Yin/Yang, yes? Action/Receptivity, yes? Show up just to listen sometimes. Have the courage to be an absolute nobody. You are already SOMEbody. And so, my dear, is everyone else. Go. Listen to them. They want to love you for just being you. Imagine that.
Valerie G. Keane is very honored to be part of the current Queens literary scene, regardless of how late to the party she actually was. She owes her love and understanding of poetry completely to Dick Allen, Connecticut Poet Laureate. Two of her poems will appear in the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of the Newtown Literary Journal. She curates a Poetry & Coffee discussion group for writers and readers that meets in Queens to read great poems and speak wildly and passionately about why they contain all the secrets to life. Valerie is very excited that it is the only literary group in Queens where you cannot read your own work. When asked if she is a poet, Valerie says, “I still don’t know how you qualify as one.” She is, however, currently unemployed – which probably means she is on her way to legitimacy. You may reach her at valeriegkeane at gmail dot com. Twitter: @valeriegkeane