Meet Naomi McDougall Jones

4.21x5.47 laurelsMy last blog post was on gender parity and the panel that I moderated. Naomi McDougall Jones  represented the discipline of film as a filmaker shared these three stats about the role of women in films:

  • Of the top 100 Hollywood films in 2014, only 12% featured a leading female character.
  • Of the top 100 Hollywood films of the last 13 years, only 4% were directed by women.
  • In the 88-year history of the Oscars, only one woman has ever been awarded Best Director.

She is part of the solution and her artist statement is profound.

Get to know Naomi and her upcoming film Imagine I’m Beautiful

Twitter: @NaomiMcDougallJ

Website: www.naomimcdougalljones.com

Film website: www.imagineimbeautiful.com

Naomi’s Artistic Statement:

As a storyteller, I am driven by the belief that more and more audiences are tired of re-makes and prequels and sequels that have been formulaically assembled under the assumption that a great film is a mathematical equation. I believe there are those who crave what I crave as an audience member: to be genuinely surprised; to have my own prejudices exploded; to leave the theater altered from who I was when I went in.

I believe that my generation has not given up on goofy, joyful, freewheeling optimism even in the face of technology, internet self-invention and post-9/11 world terror.  I believe that we are, rather, starving more than ever for stories that will lift our minds to look beyond ourselves; to engage with and improve upon the world around us.

 I believe furthermore that we are on the frontier of an unexplored expanse of the female perspective in filmmaking. I am not satisfied that one or two or four women are being given a seat at the table to tell their stories. That happening is good, but it is not good enough. 

We do not yet even know what it will look like to actually have a substantial choir of female voices, sharing with richness and diversity the multitudinous facets of the female perspective. I believe that as we are able to share our perspective, to have an artistic dialogue with one another, to save ourselves from the dismissiveness of the “chick flick,” that the very fabric of our society will change for the better, as men and women are presented with a broader perspective.

And I am exhilarated, because, as the traditional distribution models break down, we filmmakers are more keenly positioned than ever to get our work directly into audiences’ hungry hands, bypassing the gatekeepers who have, for so long, dictated the “tastes” of the viewer.

As women and as indie filmmakers, I believe we must come together as strong individual voices and as a community to offer audiences a stronger alternative to the monochrome fare of the mainstream. 

 

My Three Hats: Producer, Director, Publicist

CaptureOver the last few weeks, I have had several conversations on my contribution to the world of theatre. My favorite description of my experience is one I use in many a bio:

She’s served the theatre in many aspects of which she’s very proud – actress, director, producer, stage manager, costume designer, prop designer, theatre reviewer, publicist, radio presenter, and writer/monologist.

I remember thinking that it seems very broad. The cliche “a Jill of all trades, a master of none” sometimes crosses my mind but then I think to myself that I have been on an amazing journey. I learned so much about what I love and what I excel in and what I am not comfortable with and not as passionate about anymore.

I love is creating and promoting theatre. I love producing as I get to figure out how I am going to make a show happen. When I direct, I am lost in the words of the playwright and get to collaborate with actors and designers on bringing a show to life. If I am producing and directing, I am innately promoting. That’s my personality and as a result, all three resonate strongly within me.

When I decided to become a director in undergrad, I knew I wanted to go to grad school. I knew it was the only way I would be able to immerse my mind, body, spirit in the craft. My MFA in Directing at the Actors Studio Drama School was the foundation I needed before embarking on the next leg of my journey.

After graduation, my husband, Ian, some friends and I started Black Henna Productions. For 12 years and counting, I learned how to be a producer and a publicist. All of it through trial and error and taking a class here and there. When you are running a company, directing the show, and promoting it, you get really good at a few things:

  1. Creating a schedule;
  2. Building a team; and
  3. Developing a product.

After the death of my best friend and co-collaborator, Cas, I took a step back to see my vision. I thought I had to have one role in this world. However, my one vision for my world of theatre is a to be able to promote and support artists in their truth and craft so that they can pay it forward to the next artist. All too often we forget about why we create by focusing on competition rather than specialization. My mentors, Michael Roderick and Ken Davenport, said that to me years ago and I never forgot it. It’s a personal mantra. And with that, when I am working with any artist as a producer, director, and/or publicist, I ask: Why are you doing this show? The answer then propels me to ask: What sets you apart from the several other shows being produced?

These are the questions I ask myself and my team when are developing any project. Then without fail, I sit down and draft the schedule. Then I set out to build the team. Then we begin developing the product. What ties us together is the vision and trust. If we don’t have either then we have a rough road ahead of us.

In a conversation with a fellow producer, we touched on some points about why I created Theatre Beyond Broadway, my PR company and community. I created it so there would be a connection and the fostering of relationships. I told her about my 3 hats and she said, ” We have three people doing your job.” I said, “I know. It’s a lot to juggle but I love it”.

Truth: I didn’t have a choice. I jumped in and just did it. As I continue to do this day.

Striving for Perfection is an Unrealistic Expectation

And I should know. I am a perfectionist and thereby I am constantly disappointed. My tendency to plan everything to the minute and to the way I want it to be inevitably falls apart. I am aware of this unrealistic expectation and have been working through it. How? By reminding others that flawlessness doesn’t exist. When I hear it come out of my mouth and see the other person’s reaction, it clicks a little more.

 My show, See How They Run, opened this weekend after a tough tech week. After years of being involved in the theater, I always seem to forget that there will be stress and worry on my part. I am worried about everything. Is the show going to be good? Will there be people in the audience? What will go wrong?  One of my theater professors and mentors, Dr. Eleanor Ferrar, never watched her shows. After I graduated, I finally asked her why she chose not to enjoy all the hard work. She said she couldn’t handle the non-directed incidents which, by the way, happen all the time in theater (and in life).  This came from a director who has directed for over 30 years.

Yet, I completely understand what Eleanor meant by that. Besides not having my full cast until the night before opening (flu season), I also started panicking over the idea of me having to understudy one of my actresses. As a director, I am prepared to take over any task…acting is not usually on the top of the list. That all worked out. She came in ready to rock and her being back raised the morale of the team. Then, at today’s performance, one of my actors got hurt. No one knew since it looked like it was part of the show. I, however, internally freaked out knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. The show had to go on and it did…with a few bruises and swellings.

As the captain of the ship, it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and strength not to crack under the pressure. It also takes acceptance. Accepting that it is not going to happen the way I necessarily envisioned it. And you know what? Thank goodness because this is how I learn to roll with the punches in theater and in life. It also adds a little spice to the mix.

 So does that mean I will stop worrying now that we are up and running? Uh, no. I am sure there is something else for me to set an unrealistic expection upon that will make me crazy. Then we start the cycle all over again!

 Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

 

When You Lose Your Dreams, You Die

 Strong statement.

I read it in an e-mail forward I received this week about living life to the fullest. I have lived by that idea for as long as I can remember. I actually said I would die for theater twice in conversation this week. It sounds so melodramatic but in my heart and soul the meaning and sub-text is clear. I have a strong passion for theater. It keeps me going every day. Even when I have an off day, my dreams and passion bring me back to the present.  

Every so often, or rather, more often than I would like to admit, I have to step out of reality and enliven my imagination.  The situation at hand need not be psychoanalyzed by moi. I need to walk away and think outside of the box. Once I do that,  I am almost always able to move forward with the task at hand. Sometimes we feel that dreams have to be lofty and grandiose but they really don’t. They can be as simple as paying off a credit card, taking a class, or even sitting on a beach writing poetry (that’s one of my dreams).

 This week I was given the challenge to choose a goal and then use all five senses to envision it. Visualization, simply defined, is positive thinking. However, if you go deeper, it’s having the desire for something and then visualizing it over and over again using all of our senses. A good example of this technique is Jim Carrey’s story. He wrote a check to himself for $10,000,000.00 for acting services rendered, gave himself a 5 year deadline and then kept it in his wallet.  He would park on Mulholland Drive, look over Hollywood and visualize his passion to be a movie star. All the while hustling and working toward his dream. Five years later, his dream became a reality and received he received $10, 000, 000.00 for his work on Dumber and Dumber.

 We often hear of these stories and they seem so far-fetched but I have actually used this technique. About a year ago, I was going through a rough time. I knew that I had to make a job change in order to further my dream of doing theater as my career.  I gave myself one year to find this mystery job. I knew I wanted to change my work environment, make more money and satisfy a personal desire. I started to visualize and believe that the next phase of my life would begin soon. I was also extremely grateful. Within four months my current job presented itself. Sometimes it’s not that fast. My life-long dream of being on Broadway takes time. That’s a bigger nut to crack.

Everyone should dream. Life is an expression of what you believe. I truly believe that it’s never too late to do what you want to do.  And it is always good to have something that burns inside you that keeps you alive.

 

 

The Attraction of Promotion or The Promotion of Attraction: Fraternal Twins They Be

This week I did some promoting of my upcoming show, See How They Run. Even though I am solely directing, I can’t help but think like a producer. The timer goes off and I know that I have to send an email to my supporters, send information about the show to my press contacts, as well as post on my websites.

As I was updating my list of websites (and surfing the web), I came across the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Oh my goodness, the memories flooded my head.  It never failed. A group of us always ended up there as we walked the boardwalk trying to stay out of trouble. We would spend the day on the beach, then we’d hit the Sideshow, and then…ride the Cyclone. Good times.  The Sideshow was an  attraction to the nth degree. Man eating fire? Yes, please. Man swallowing sword? I won’t watch but will watch. Tattooed all over? Woooow. (Folks, this was the ’80s).

So of course the bells go off in my head about the relationship between attraction and promotion. Attraction is the action or power of drawing forth a response. Promotion is the act of furthering the growth or development of something. Drawing a response vs. furthering the growth. And really, the two should be used together when marketing a show (or anything for that matter).

I use the word promote all the time as a producer and director. I can promote anything I want but what I have to ask myself is how do I make it attractive?

I learned about promotion a few years ago. In 2008, I assistant directed Moose Murders for a local theater in Queens. I have no idea what made me volunteer to do the publicity for the show. Actually, I do. I wanted to see if I could be a publicist and what would that entail. Since I didn’t have a foundation in this area, I didn’t have any limits or expectations. So I just did it and learned a lot along the way. I ended up teaching myself the ins and outs of publicity – how to write a press release, finding media contacts, creating a flyer that was attractive. The idea of promoting Moose Murders as a Broadway’s favorite flop and a must see, made the show an attraction. There was intrigue by many. They wanted to know why we would want to produce a show that was a colossal failure. Now that we had this type of interest, we targeted the audience members who saw the original production as well as Frank Rich who wrote the scathing review. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend. It just so happened that a local actor friend was Arthur Bicknell’s college roommate. We used all of this to create buzz.  Moose Murders remains one of my favorite productions.

The same thing can be said for Torch Song Trilogy. As far as we knew, the show hadn’t had a revival in New York City since Harvey Fierstein did it on Broadway in 1983. What did we have to lose? Nothing. We decided to reach out to Mr. Fierstein since we knew he was in town. He reprised Edna for the final performances of Hairspray. He gave us his blessing so we used that as part of our promotion.  We made the show attractive by presenting the three acts, separately, in their own time slots. This allowed the ticket buyer to either by one ticket per show or the trilogy package. Either way, they were able to mix and match the three pieces giving them a chance to see all three acts over two weeks. Torch Song Trilogy was a success for Black Henna and  personal success for me. I hold that production very close to my heart.

I continue to learn everyday. As we are living in a world where technology is continuously evolving, it is so important to be on top of it. For example, if one social media is waning, another is exponentially growing. Remember Friendster?

So promotion works if it is attractive. And if it’s attractive, it’s definitely promotable.

 

Don’t Despair! All the World’s a Stage.

 

Early this month, I had the wonderful experience of directing two original pieces with the Estrogenius Festival at Manhattan Theater Source.

This weekend, The Source sent an email to the participants letting us know that at the end of 2011, after 12 years, they will no longer have a home at 177 MacDougal. Another theater company has lost their home.

I felt an immediate sadness then anger. The sadness stemmed from knowing that I won’t be able to visit and work in the theater space. I cut my teeth in spaces in the Village. I spent a big part of my life there. As a teenager, I hung out there even though I was forbidden to do so. I went to college and got my first real job right on Broadway and Waverly. So I have a true kinship with the area. When I was asked to be a part of the Estrogenius Festival next year, I thought to myself, I am back home.

The anger came from an immediate flashback of the spaces that I have worked in that are no longer in existence. For example, the other area of the city in which I did many a show was at a building on 46th and 8th Avenue, where McHale’s Pub once resided. In that building were four theater spaces that were really cool and off the beaten path. That building was torn down and an expensive high rise built in its place. Ugh. Another favorite spot of mine was the home of the 29th Street Repetory Company. The space is gone. I don’t even know or care to know at the moment what is there. As a producer, location is a huge part of selecting a space. The 29th Street Repertory Company was in a great location near all public transportation. (Thankfully, David Mogentale continues to rent his other loft spaces as Altered Stages I and II).

After ten minutes of living in Crazytown, the noise in my head got quiet. I realized that it is the people that make the experience not the actual space. The space enhances our experience. And that’s when I realized that I have to accept that time is changing and it’s really expensive to rent in NYC. My hometown is expensive and areas of the city that were artist enclaves are slowly disappearing. As a result, we as artists have two choices. Stop creating and become a cog OR continue to express our art but do it in a possibly unconventional space or manner. It’s officially time to think outside the box.

My company, Black Henna, and many other theater troupes perform in many types of places such as lofts, black boxes, cafes, bars and parks. We choose the spots in which to produce as it fits the piece. I remember thinking early in my career that all shows have to be in a space with a two week run. Don’t ask where that arbitrary number came from but it’s possible it had to do with budget. Then we did Much Ado About Nothing in the parks and it was the most freeing theater.  And so began my thinking about how I was going to produce my three pieces next year (MTS is no longer an option).

For sure, we will be doing Twelfth Night in the parks. As for the other two, the answer will present itself. The limitations are endless and the ideas boundless.

And that’s how we continue to perform on the ever evolving stage.

**************************************************************************************

Save the Date for my Round Robin: Saturday, January 14th, 2012. If you haven’t taken the survey yet, click here.

Love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment below.

NYC Theatre (or Theater)

Living in NYC offers many opportunities for the theater artist (i.e., actor, director, playwright, producer, etc.) . And it’s all at your reach. You don’t even need to focus on one area…of the art or the city. This year was a special theater year for me. Not only did I beat my own record for seeing shows in one year but I also managed to see a variety of work. Seeing a show on Broadway and seeing a local show may seem like worlds apart.  Though they may be, at the heart of those productions is a passion to tell a story to an audience. Recently, I saw Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with Will Swenson and my friend, Jocelyn Bioh in Radha Blank’s Seed at the National Black Theater in Harlem.  Both shows are amazing. Of course there are differences: stage size,  budget, story lines. At the heart were actors performing and enjoying themselves. They believed in their work.
That’s what I love about doing theatre in this city. In one month, I had a show going up at the Estrogenius Festival at Manhattan Theater Source in the Village, was in (and still am) in rehearsals for my upcoming production of See How They Run with the Parkside Players in Forest Hills, and am one of the investors in Godspell on Broadway. I don’t feel limited to one type of theatre. I have passion for all of it.

I  have learned so much along the way and I will share the experiences with you.