Put As Much As You Can Into Your Heads – Nobody Can Take That Away From You

“Every day in life is beautiful. Every day. It’s beautiful.”

Alice Herz-Sommer’s stellar heath at the age of 109 is not the only thing that makes her special. She is the oldest living pianist and Holocaust survivor, and arguably one of the most optimistic people you may ever meet. This touching preview for the upcoming documentary following her life,  “The Lady In Number 6,” shows how music not only saved her life in the camp, but also continues to carry her through each day after the ordeal.

The camp in which she was placed is a terrifying example of the ultimate living-theatre experiment. In 1944, the German leaders created a propaganda film and presented Theresienstadt as a model Jewish settlement to the visiting Red Cross; it was all an elaborate hoax.

Opera

The Germans “beautified” the ghetto, planting gardens and painting houses. Individuals received roles to play and the Nazis staged social and cultural events for the visiting dignitaries. Hints that all was not well included a bruise under the eye of the “mayor” of the “town.”  In the Nazi propaganda film, Theresienstadt was cynically described as a “spa town” where elderly German Jews could “retire” in safety. Once the visit was over, the Germans resumed deportations from Theresienstadt, which did not end until October 1944.

And yet still, shining examples like Alice appear, wielding hope as an impenetrable shield:

“I have lived through many wars and have lost everything many times — including my husband, my mother and my beloved son. Yet, life is beautiful, and I have so much to learn and enjoy. I have no space nor time for pessimism and hate.”

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Artist Check-In: Animator Jessie Greenberg

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We love chatting with artists across the spectrum – writers, visual artists, performers, and more. Everyone has a unique story about why they create and what speaks to them. And we all love a good story.

Welcome this week’s artist, Jessie ‘Velociraptor’ Greenberg, a storyboard artist currently working as a Production Secretary at Disney TV Animation. She lives in Burbank, spends a decent amount of time at Disneyland, and has a roommate who is kind of like a cat.

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When did you realize you had a passion for drawing and illustrating? Were there others in your family that shared a similar interest or was it a skill you mainly fostered independently?

I’ve always been drawing! I think at some point after you’ve been giggling at your doodles on the side of your homework for ages – you finally show your best friends, and it makes them laugh. Suddenly, you’re hooked! That’s how it always seemed to go for me – I wasn’t the best at drawing, but it made me happy, and it made others happy. I have a few family members that are artistic in the fine arts or performing, but no one that specifically worked in animation. We just really loved movies and cartoons, and I basically grabbed onto that idea of bringing laughter and entertainment to people through drawings.

What other animators/illustrators’ work convinced you that this field was one you could definitely see yourself getting into in the future?

My friend Sarah Mensinga was the first person I talked to that had a style I loved and looked up to, but she was also one of the first industry people to tell me I could do it. Later on, storyboard artist & writer Aliki Theofilopoulous Grafft and I sort of adopted each other in a mentor/mentee relationship, and she’s the first person that really gave me a chance. She looks at my work and knows exactly what I need to work on, but she’s also an amazing person to collaborate with, and an amazing person to look up to. She’s the one that proved to me – you can be a woman, be a force of awesome in the animation industry, and still have a family. These ladies, as well as many others, both artistically & personally convinced me this is the field I need to be in.

How do you describe your animation style?

I’d say my biggest animation style influence is from the movie ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’, which derived from a lot of UPA styled cartoons (for example: the 1950 short ‘Gerald McBoing-Boing’). I also picked up style influence from the video game ‘Psychonauts’, as well as various 90s & 00s cartoon shows and plenty of Disney films as well. I try to be as versatile as possible, but I really love expressive stylized characters and playing around with their shapes.

What are your favorite things to draw? Why do they speak to you?

I love drawing people interacting, and I especially love drawing funny story moments! I’m hoping that people will connect to the story moment or the character, whether it be for a funny or emotional connection. Sometimes it’s simply a character struggling to open a jar, sometimes it’s a personal emotional story, and sometimes it’s just my roommate and I watching TV and saying stupid things.

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What can be said through animation that can’t be said through words or text?

In animation and film in general, you can get so much across without a single word, and as a result, every age and culture can understand it. You begin to notice the things that tie humanity together without language barriers, and whether it’s meant to be serious or funny, it’s beautiful to see people connect like that.

How do the people you work with inspire and motivate you?

Every studio I’ve worked for has been full of the nicest and most supportive people! Many of them have been working in animation for decades and on so many projects I have loved over the years. Their stories are inspiring, and watching their work come alive in front of my eyes teaches me so much more than I could ever hope for. They are all wonderfully encouraging, and that really motivates me to keep moving forward with my own personal projects.

What project [personal or otherwise] are you excited to be working on currently?

I am working on a short film called ‘Pickles!’, I’m the lead artist for an iPhone game, and I’m regularly working on my storyboard portfolio!

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What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part about working in story is actually the best part of working in story – every project has new challenges, new characters, new worlds, and that can be a lot to balance. It’s exciting though, I love when I get a chance to work with others and discuss potential ways to problem solve. When you have a great team of people together – people that will offer suggestions you may never have thought of previously, and people that will also listen to your ideas and find a way to find some fun compromise – it’s the best feeling in the world!

What advice would you offer someone who wants to pursue a career in animation?

Always carry a sketchbook, remain positive every step of the way (even when things aren’t going the way you planned), always let everyone know what you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid of approaching people you admire, and above all – in everything you do, be genuine and polite.

I would also suggest going to events like the CTN Expo in Burbank, where there’s so much opportunity for making new friends, showing your work, and learning from the pros. There’s also some wonderful and supportive communities online – through twitter or tumblr – where you can chat with all these amazing artistic folks and get some great advice. 🙂

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Thanks Jessie! To check out more of Jessie’s work, pop on over to her site and say hello.

A Year Worth Living

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

– T.S. Eliot

sparkAs we reflect on another trip around the sun, let’s take stock of the all of the surprises and joys 2012 had to offer:

– Felix Baumgartner leaps from the edge of space and lands safely just a few minutes later.

– The Royal Shakespeare Company collaborated with international troupes for the World Shakespeare Festival featuring 37 productions, either of or inspired by the Bard’s plays,  in 37 different languages.

– People show immense compassion and prove the generosity of the human spirit post-Hurricane Sandy.

– Announcement made for a musicalisation of Pan’s Labyrinth coming to Broadway ASAP.

– Films break out into riskier territory and push the envelope with titles such as Cloud Atlas, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Looper, Les Miserables, and more

– The future is now. From DARPA’s cheetah robot which can run faster than any human, to Google View glasses hitting beta testing, to a woman being able to control a robotic arm merely using brain signals, we’re living in some incredibly fascinating times.

– Maryland, Maine, and Washington join the ranks of those states that have made equality a priority.

– No apocalypse! While many clamored on about the end times, my guess was that the Mayans were onto to something…just not what many feared. Sounds like rebirth is a rumblin’. Let’s hope 2013 allows for more awakening and understanding from all of us.

What do you hope to see in the new year? Wishing you all a beautiful new beginning.

He’s Walken Here

There are few actors more iconic than Mr. Walken. His acting chops have definitely earned a place in my favorites list. But did you know the son of a gun can sing and dance too?

This clip from the 1981 musical movie Pennies From Heaven lets you watch him strut his stuff…and all in one continuous take!

Reasons Why Alan Cumming is Winning at Life

And now in a little homage to the winner of “People I’d Most Like to Be Best Friends With,” may I present Mr. Alan Cumming. Endlessly versatile and extremely talented, this man has turned his life into a work of art. Curious as to why he’s won the title? Check out just a few of the reasons below.

He’s not afraid to wear:

This

This

This

 Or this (lil bit NSFW).

This Letter to a younger version of himself.  

He was Loki first (so what if it was in the otherwise terrible Son of the Mask?)

He’s not afraid to laugh at himself. 


Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

World’s A Stage: Spotlight on Japan

Here’s the start of a new series highlighting theatre trends from around the globe. This big old world is a fascinating place – let’s take a look beyond our own country’s border shall we?

First up, Japan:

Nothing better than ladies strutting their stuff on stage right? The gals of Takarazuka, Japan sure think so.

Promo Poster – Casablanca

The Takarazuka Revue (宝塚歌劇団) is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe. Ladies play every role in larger-than-life, Broadway style productions. All of the women in the troupe work for the Hankyu Takarazuka rail line.

5 Reasons why the Troupe is Fascinating:

–       The Revue was founded in 1913 as a way to boost train ticket sales and draw additional business to the town. The company  now performs for 2.5 million people per year.

–       The troupe is highly competitive and only accepts 40 to 50 girls each year from the thousands across Japan that audition. Once accepted into the super strict program, the women are trained in music, dance, and acting, and are given seven-year contracts.

–       Within the first year, teachers decide who will be best suited for the male and female roles. Those playing a man’s role, otokoyaku, cut their hair short, take on a more masculine role in the classroom, and speak in the masculine form.

–       This stuff is popular with the ladies. The otokoyaku represents the woman’s idealized man without the roughness or need to dominate, the “perfect” man who can not be found in the real world. It is these male-roles that offer an escape from the strict, gender-bound real roles lauded in Japanese society.

–       They often adapt classic Western novels, films, and musicals. Just a few of their past productions include Tale of Two Cities, Wuthering Heights, Guys and Dolls, Kiss Me Kate, Phantom, Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Ernest in Love (an adaptation of The Importance of Being Ernest).

Clip of “The Muffin Song” from the aforementioned Ernest in Love.
At the end of this clip, you can catch a glimpse of the actors nearly breaking on stage.

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Some of the Best Reveal How They Find Creative Inspiration

On Creativity and Finding Inspiration:

(The following excerpts come from this article from The Guardian. I’ve chosen a few of my favorites below.)

Guy Garvey, musician

• Spending time in your own head is important. When I was a boy, I had to go to church every Sunday; the priest had an incomprehensible Irish accent, so I’d tune out for the whole hour, just spending time in my own thoughts. I still do that now; I’m often scribbling down fragments that later act like trigger-points for lyrics.

• Just start scribbling. The first draft is never your last draft. Nothing you write is by accident.

Polly Stenham, playwright

• Doodle. I’m very fidgety, and I seem to work best when my hands are occupied with something other than what I’m thinking about. During rehearsals, I find myself drawing little pictures or symbols that are somehow connected to the play. With Tusk Tusk, it was elephants, clowns and dresses on hangers. I’ll look back at my doodles later, and random snatches of dialogue will occur to me.

• Go for a walk. Every morning I go to Hampstead Heath, and I often also go for a wander in the middle of the day to think through a character or situation. I listen to music as I go. Again, it’s about occupying one part of your brain, so that the other part is clear to be creative.

Tamara Rojo, ballet dancer

An idea never comes to me suddenly; it sits inside me for a while, and then emerges. When I’m preparing for a particular character, I look for ideas about her wherever I can. When I first danced Giselle, I found Lars von Trier’s film Dancer in the Dark incredibly inspiring. It was so dark, and it felt just like a modern-day version of Giselle – the story of a young woman taken advantage of by others. It brought the part alive for me. Now when I talk to others who are playing Giselle, they sometimes say they’re worried that it feels like a parody, and not relevant to today. I tell them to watch that film and see how modern it can be.

To be truly inspired, you must learn to trust your instinct, and your creative empathy. Don’t over-rehearse a part, or you’ll find you get bored with it. Hard work is important, but that comes before inspiration: in your years of training, in your ballet class, in the Pilates classes. That work is there just to support your instinct and your ability to empathise. Without those, you can still give a good, technically correct performance – but it will never be magical.

Mark-Anthony Turnage, composer

• If you write something in the evening or at night, look back over it the next morning. I tend to be less self-critical at night; sometimes, I’ve looked back at things I wrote the night before, and realised they were no good at all.

• If you get overexcited by an idea, take a break and come back to it later. It is all about developing a cold eye with which to look over your own work.

Fyfe Dangerfield, musician

I used to think that being inspired was about sitting around waiting for ideas to come to you. That can happen occasionally: sometimes, I’m walking down the street and suddenly hear a fragment of music that I can later work into a song. But generally, it’s not like that at all. I liken the process to seeing ghosts: the ideas are always there, half-formed. It’s about being in the right state of mind to take them and turn them into something that works.

Anthony Neilson, playwright and director

• Don’t forget to have a life. It’s important to look outside the business. There are so many great stories out there that have nothing to do with the theatre, or with other writers.

•Be as collaborative as possible. I do a lot of my thinking once I’m in the rehearsal room – I’m inspired by the actors or designers I’m working with. Other creative people are a resource that needs to be exploited.

• Try to ignore the noise around you: the chatter, the parties, the reviews, the envy, the shame.

Rupert Goold, director

• Once you have an idea, scrutinise the precedent. If no one has explored it before in any form then you’re 99% likely to be making a mistake. But that 1% risk is why we do it.

• Make sure you are asking a question that is addressed both to the world around you and the world within you. It’s the only way to keep going when the doubt sets in.

• Love the effect over its cause.

Lucy Prebble, playwright

• If ever a character asks another character, “What do you mean?”, the scene needs a rewrite.

• Feeling intimidated is a good sign. Writing from a place of safety produces stuff that is at best dull and at worst dishonest.

• Write backwards. Start from the feeling you want the audience to have at the end and then ask “How might that happen?” continually, until you have a beginning.

Ian Rickson, director

• Trust the ingenuity and instinctiveness of actors. Surround them with the right conditions and they’ll teach you so much.

• Embrace new challenges. When we’re reaching for things, we tend to be more creative.

• Try to remove your own ego from the equation. It can get in the way.

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Old-timey Movie Projector

“Life’s like a movie, write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.”

– Jim Henson

A cinemagraph from Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg (top) and a still from The Artist (below).

Image Sources: 1, 2