Monday, October 24, 2016

In the Room with Taraji and Luvvie

In one of those weirdly synchronous moments I had just caught up to the episode of "Another Round with Heben and Tracy" where Luvvie Ajayi was interviewed and had picked up her book when I saw that the DC library was going to release a batch of free tickets to her chat with Taraji P. Henson about Henson's new memoir.  Well, I clicked, I succeeded and suddenly had another entry on my Saturday calendar. 
The event ended up moving locations, literally on the day of, so that goodness for event apps that update automatically.  It also started, ahem, quite a bit later than planned which was certainly not the worst thing, but Saturday was windy and a bit chilly, and while I had dressed for the weather, I had dressed for a short wait outside, and well, they didn't even let the people who had ponied up for VIP tickets in until 45 minutes after the official start time.  (It was harder to complain when one had free tickets, but I am not at my best when cold and hungry.  As it turned out I would have had plenty of time to get food before they let us in, I just didn't have any way to know that.) 
But they did let us in, and I managed to grab a seat.  The DJ was playing good music, and Henson and Ajayi came out to cheers.  Ajayi asked Henson about her career, and her decision to write a book about it.  Henson said she had started writing a memoir before "Empire" and had to reflect once "Empire" and Cookie became a thing, because she understood the spotlight would be bigger and said her makeup artist told her people needed her story.  And that surrounding herself with folks who wouldn't let her forget who she really was had helped.  She also said in the early days, while they were still filming "Empire" but before it had aired that Jussie Smollet and Bryshere Y. Gray would go with her to Target and pretend they were her security team, and she would ask them who would be their security once people saw the show.  
There was a moment where Henson suddenly looked out at the audience and said, "Is that Miss Debbie Allen trying to sneak in there?"  Apparently it was.  (I was pretty close to the front, but on the other side, thank goodness for people with better angles and social media, so now I know for sure I was also in the same room, breathing the same air as Debbie Allen.  It's cool.) Henson said Allen had been an inspiration to her, and she had gone to Howard, figuring if that's where Allen went, that's where she would go. Ajayi took a moment before continuing on with questions.
Henson said that she had found people assumed if she was a certain way in chats with creative teams, that they got stuck in their head and couldn't imagine her as something else, even though she's been studying acting for a while, had done Shakespeare in the Park and such.  And now with "Empire" and Cookie, she's worked to be very strategic to take hiatus projects that are different to keep reminding people of her range.  
Henson also said that being young, and in your twenties, was about trying and failing sometimes. Ajayi asked her what she thought her biggest mistake was. Henson said really, she tried not to focus or believe in mistakes, since that meant trying to attain perfection, instead of letting yourself be flawed. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Project Runway: Dear Heidi

Oh, Heidi, don't fall for the designer drama. None of these designers are old enough to have invented applique.  And the whole point of an anonymous runway is in fact for you to discover or be surprised by things you thought you knew who had made them.  Yes, Erin has been making a lot of shapeless things with applique.  She tried to do what you always say, which is demonstrate that she has other things inside of her, and, well, instead you assumed the shapeless appliqued dress was hers. So, again, that's fine.  That's why the anonymous runway has been such an improvement, because sure, you know by the time you send designers home (or don't).  But the scores are made blind. 
And I appreciate that in the stress of the workroom, Erin noticed that Jenni had done and then been praised for something that looked like what Erin had been doing.  And it's a little funny that they used the talking head segment where Jenni said Erin's stuff is not her style but the judges seem to like it, and then said that this dress was the most her thing she had made.  She also said that about her athleisure outfit, so, okay. I'm sure they are all multifaceted designers when they aren't making everything under extreme stress and time constraints.
And oh, you designers.  Hi, cocktail is just not even remotely unexpected. You can say that's not your girl.  But I think you should look at Rik who made something very specific, very him, and not traditionally cocktail, and yet, no one would scoff and kick that person out of their party.  (Disclaimer: You should never scoff and kick someone out of your party for their clothes. Don't be that person.) And look, could you be a successful designer who never made cocktail wear?  Probably.  But it was easy to know going in this was going to be a thing.  For you to be unable to roll with that isn't a sign you are a bad designer, but it is a sign you are a bad Project Runway contestant.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Three Interesting Things

1. Justina Ireland talked about how finding a book character that seems like you, can feel like coming home. 
2. It turns out that the new polymer notes from the Bank of England, can be used to play a record
3. A family of bears climbed a tree together to snack on crabapples

Monday, October 17, 2016

Eight Days, Three Plays

So, I didn't quite intend to cram three plays into eight days (and yes, technically one is a musical) but I with attempts to keep November a bit open due to impending NaNo things, I had tickets to two plays two consecutive Fridays, and then a discounted deal landed in my email and suddenly there we were.  
Arena Stage's "The Year of Magical Thinking" is based on Joan Didion's book of the same name, which I confess I have owned but not read for some time.  It was in Arena's Kogod Cradle, which suited the more intimate one woman show nature of it.  Kathleen Turner is, as you might expect amazing.  Her Joan speaks to the audience as she describes the events of the year of loss that Joan experiences.  The setting was a small apartment, and there was subtle staging done to indicate the passage of time.  It's a tough discussion, as you hear Joan discuss the use of plans and lists and hopes to ward off the grief.  
Also based on a book (that I have not read), that has been turned into quite a few movies is "Freaky Friday" premiering at Signature Theater. This version seemed to me to draw more from the movie versions, with Annabel and Ellie both trying to navigate each other's lives, and there are songs.  I loved the songs.  "Oh Biology" sung as Annabel (now with Ellie inside) realizes that it's super hard to sound competent while in a body that is raging with hormones and standing next to the cutest guy.  The actresses both did a great job as their original selves and being their swapped selves.  There were moments where the staging or the sound seemed a little rough - the program indicated the song list was subject to change.  None of it seemed unprofessional, just parts that were not quite there.  I was delighted to realize Adam (aforementioned cute boy) was from the original cast of "Bring it On" and I also recognized the actor playing the younger brother the night I saw it from another local production.  I enjoyed it a lot and hope that there's a cast album in the works. 
And back to Arena for "Little Foxes" which is an original play, albeit from the 1930's.  The short version is that it is a play about terrible siblings trying to both best each other and make use of post-Reconstruction conditions to set up a factory in their town with cheap labor.  (I saw "Sweat" earlier this year at Arena, also about factory labor, and also featuring actor Jack Willis, so it's almost a theme).  The couple next to me took advantage of the act breaks to discuss whether Regina (played with casual manipulation that grew creepier by Marg Helgenberger) was an anti-heroine or a villainness.  Most everyone in the play is terrible, ranging in degree from lazy to outright manipulative, so the audience is less rooting for a victor, and more hoping that the daughter who is one of the few non-terrible folks, can escape.  Isabel Keating played Birdie (wife to one of the siblings) - with an amazing blend of nostalgia, sadness, and mania that made me sad she was probably going to be increasingly harmed by the tug-of-war between the siblings. 
Ultimately, all three were enjoyable.  "Freaky Friday" is the one I am likely to wish to see again. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Let's Talk "Project Runway" Teams

Oh, you know I love a team challenge. So, what did we learn?  Well, a couple of things.  First, it's likely that the contestants had no way of knowing that Lifetime was going to be pushing a show that was a cross between "Shark Tank" and "Project Runway" during every commercial break, in fact I feel somewhat certain of that since for once they just did this thing without any product placement.  
But nonetheless, pitching is a thing that happens most years, as are team or partnered challenges.  Each team picked someone to be the front person for their team challenge, and while, from what we saw, the workroom work was pretty equitable (well, except Team Bouton having to people who worked on one dull dress but apparently helped a lot with other things) in the end this excess of equability meant the person who talked the most in the pitch got the credit and the blame.  This is pretty good life experience really.  
Both teams worked together pretty well, and you know what, it was still an interesting show!  
So, to go back to the pitches, one team had a very polished pitch about who and where their market was, but classic yet uninteresting sketches.  And one team had a less polished pitch, were a little less sure of their target price point, but better sketches.  
In writing the comparison might be better query, less interesting sample pages, versus the reverse.  And it turned out, better sketches had all three judges committing more money to Team Bouton.  Team Bouton correctly seemed to recognize that having gotten more money they really needed to live up to the promise.  
And Team Unity realized they had targeted a saturated area of the market and tried to fix that with fabrics, which wasn't the worst idea, except they chose kind of a weird mix of fabrics.  
I think one of the crucial things that people don't realize about the Tim critiques is that he is focused on the things you can still change.  So, if he says, this dress doesn't match the rest of your collection to one team, and you will need to own your somber color palette to the other, it doesn't mean he thinks team granny dress is in more trouble, it means he thinks team granny dress can fix their dress, and team somber colors can maybe jazz it up with accessories.  
I will say, in contrast to some other team challenges, things weren't either crazy lopsided team to team, or such a mish mash that there was no clear winner.  But I think Brik and Jenny were very lucky that the overall strength of their team kept them from too much scrutiny.  It also said something that their collection (in the end) looked cohesive while still having two pieces that the judges could immediately identify the designer. 
For Team Unity, the judges went back to the pitch.  This is another thing that I think is important less for what they said, that for what it means.  The judges overall didn't like the collection.  So they went back to the pitch and compared.  If they had loved the collection, they certainly would have mentioned that it didn't match the pitch, and if you were actually pitching Large Department Store, you probably want to adhere closer to the pitch, but in the end, they talked about the pitch because they didn't like it. 
As for the trick questions of who should win and who should go, look, in the real world, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your team is really useful.  One the runway, first of all, it's a trick question.  They have awarded wins to people who no one suggested, and sent home people no one suggested.  So, while yes, your team loyalty is at an end here, and you should say what you think, there's also no value to saying something you can't live with, since it won't save you.  And no, they have never let anyone get away with no saying anyone, and also, if at this point you can't identify a team weakness of some sort, you have problems.  
And well, Tim, I have to disagree with you a smidge.  It is not unprecedented for someone to say, if this is what you didn't like, you should send me home.  In fact it happened in the very first season.  It has also happened since, usually with folks saying, well, if dress A is your least favorite, you should probably send me home.  Sure, it has often been uttered with less reluctance than Alex.  But I think Alex realized that he had loved his dress, and been a part of both the pitch and the fabric selection, so he was just as much at fault as any of the others if that turned out to be what they disliked most.  
Here's hoping the harmoniousness of the contestants continues on.