Old Year

Before we get too far into 2017, I wanted to take a moment to appreciate what a great year 2016 was artistically for me (however problematic and sad it was in other regards).  Here are the highlights:

  • My creative partner, Kevin R. Free and I made our ongoing collaboration "official" forming MyCarl Productions.  We made a website AND a video so you KNOW we're serious now. ;)
  • My comedy webseries, Gemma & The Bear!  continued to receive accolades.  Most exciting, we were programmed into the New York Television Festival (NYTVF) which gave us access to so many amazing panels plus the opportunity to pitch to and otherwise meet with TV executives.  To get ready, I wrote six original TV pitches and the beginning of a pilot.  Along the way, I discovered how much I LOVE writing for TV.
  • I was in an amazing play called NIGHT OF THE LIVING N-WORD!!  It was produced as part of the 20th anniversary NYC Fringe festival.  We received a lot of critical acclaim and folks wrote some nice words about my performance as well.  I'm proud of my work and proud to have been part of bringing an innovative and important play to life.
  • I wrote my first TV pilot! All the way through!! It's an hour-long teen sci-fi drama (dramedy?) and I'm revising it now but . . . that was fun!

Here's hoping 2017 can be as artistically rich as 2016 if not more so! xo

Artsy! My/Your/Our new favorite time-suck!

A couple weeks ago I got a really nice e-mail in regard to a blog post I wrote last year about some public art I'd gone to see (and really enjoyed) including work by one of my favorite artists, Spencer Finch

The e-mail came from a guy who works for a thing called Artsy which, it turns out, is an amazingly cool and really powerful website!  As the e-mail explained:

We strive to make all of the world’s art accessible to anyone online. Our Spencer Finch page, for example, provides visitors with Finch's bio, over 60 of his works, exclusive articles, and up-to-date Finch exhibition listings. The page even includes related artist & category tags, plus suggested contemporary artists, allowing viewers to continue exploring art beyond our Finch page.

And it's true! E-mail guy wasn't lying!

I immediately looked up some other top-of-mind favorites: Sol Lewitt, Mark Rothko, Helen FrankenthalerYves Klein, Alexander Calder, Lucian Freud, Ernesto Neto . . . it's like getting to Skype with faraway friends you wish you got to visit more.  And then, in looking up a favorite Grant Wood painting, I found Don Coen who's making work I kinda like and who I'd never heard of before.  Then Joseph Cornell gave me Adam Nisenson!  Cool, right?! And am I embarrassed that my list only contains ONE woman? I am! So I'm going to keep poking around Artsy with an eye to remedying that deficit. BAM!

And that's not even all you can do on Artsy, it's just all I've done so far.

Scrolling artists is a MUCH more gratifying way to loose half an hour (or more - oops!) than scrolling Facebook.  Check it out. And leave me a comment about YOUR favorite artist(s) - especially if you've got a lady for me! xo

My First Film Festival!

Over the past several days, I've been attending the Winter Film Awards here in NYC.  Gemma & The Bear! is an official selection - one of only five selections that fall under the "web content" or "internet programming" category.  And we're really proud!  We're also really impressed with the other content we've seen in the screenings as well as with the amazing organization of the festival itself. 

Before this, I never would have considered going to a random film festival screening as something to do in my leisure time, but now I totally would.  Moreover, there are film festivals happening all over the country (I know because I've done a bunch of research submitting Gemma & The Bear to many of them) which means that everyone has access to this high-quality yet non-mainstream content.  It's exciting and inspiring! 

Anyway, here are some photos of our festival adventures if you'd like to see:

Kevin heading in to the opening reception party!

Kevin heading in to the opening reception party!

Inside the party. 

Inside the party. 

Before the screening. We were excited to find our logo on the festival poster!

Before the screening. We were excited to find our logo on the festival poster!

Here we are pretending to watch the screening before the lights go out. :)

Here we are pretending to watch the screening before the lights go out. :)

Kevin on the big screen! (see the floor lights and exit sign? we're LEGIT in a theater!)

Kevin on the big screen! (see the floor lights and exit sign? we're LEGIT in a theater!)

Stacee Mandeville (AD), Matt Scott (Director), Kevin & Me outside the theater after the screening.

Stacee Mandeville (AD), Matt Scott (Director), Kevin & Me outside the theater after the screening.

As part of the festival, I also had the opportunity to attend a presentation by the New York State Governor's Office about how NY supports/encourages film production.  They said things like "If your budget is under fifteen million . . ." but even though we're not anywhere near that level (YET) they were so positive and helpful, it was really inspiring. 

Do you attend film festivals?  What are your pro tips? 

Two great tastes . . .

Sometimes, you've got some chocolate and some peanut butter and something happens and suddenly they have combined to create a new, wonderful thing.  I read these two essays within a day or two of one another.  I liked and appreciated each of them, but I really like them next to one another.  Here they are with my favorite part of each excerpted.


Letter of Recommendation: Sick Days by Sheila Heti

Sick in bed is a bit like Halloween: a day on which you wear a costume to express the parts of yourself that can’t normally be expressed. In this case, what can’t be expressed on other days is that all of our activity is ultimately worthless, that we are going to the grave, that being busy is largely about keeping up the appearance that our lives mean something, our relationships mean something, our work means something and crossing things off a list means something. It’s true. These things do mean something. But they also don’t. Sick days are like Halloween; days on which you can live and dress up wholly in life’s bleakness. The costume is simple: It’s bed.

How To Keep Writing When No One Gives A Shit by Jennifer Garam

(I say: just replace "writing" with whatever you care about most.)

But as bad as the rejection and all the non-caring feels, not writing feels worse. I have to tell my stories and share my experiences, or I get angry and lethargic and depressed. Without writing, I feel powerless and like I don’t have a voice, like my thoughts and feelings and experiences don’t matter. I get frustrated when I’m sending out a piece that I love and it isn’t getting accepted anywhere and I’m yearning for it to be published so others can read it. I’d prefer if everything I wrote got accepted. But regardless, the actual process of writing is soothing, healing, and necessary for me to feel OK in the world. So I have to keep doing it.

What do you think?  Do these articles resonate for you as a pair?  I'd like to give Jennifer Garam a sick day like the one Heti describes, and then watch them have lunch together. 

What did you like best about either or both essay?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


We had a party!  For Gemma & The Bear!  And It was GREAT!

A whole bunch of wonderful people showed up.  We watched the whole first season all together on a big screen.  We played a fun drinking game.  There were Goodie Bags.  And everyone seemed to have a great time!  

Here are some photos.  (Scroll down past the photos to learn how to re-live our fun party in the comfort of your own home!)  

Me and Marley who plays Gemma, age 9.

Me and Marley who plays Gemma, age 9.

Goodie Bags for the Party!

Goodie Bags for the Party!

Sexy people at the party enjoying the show.

Sexy people at the party enjoying the show.

Me and Kevin aka Gemma & The Bear

Me and Kevin aka Gemma & The Bear

Attractive and delighted crowd

Attractive and delighted crowd

Me, Marc Sinoway who plays Adrian

Me, Marc Sinoway who plays Adrian

Kevin, Debargo (who plays Tom), and Me

Kevin, Debargo (who plays Tom), and Me

Want to catch up on the fun?  Just CLICK HERE to watch Season One and then follow the rules of our very own #GATBLive drinking game below.  

Feel free to take photos of YOUR event - we'd love to see!

Finish Line

The sixth episode of Gemma & The Bear - the Season Finale - was released this past Monday, and I've been crabby all week.   

Tuesday night found me sitting on the kitchen floor, reading Facebook on my phone, eating old pistachio gelatto out of the container and blowing off the gym.  Basically: willfully feeling bad about myself.  

What the . . . ?

I wrote a bit about the Gemma & The Bear journey here.  What I don't think I expressed was the extent to which the whole experience has felt like an intensive graduate program in content creation.  I know so much more than I did and am so much stronger and more capable in this area than I was a year ago.  It's kind of incredible and, looking at what I personally spent, it was probably a bargain.

So here I am.  A recent graduate without a job; in that middle place between being still tired and frayed from the final push and not yet having begun moving towards the next thing (whatever it is).  

My plan is to spend September (and maybe some of October) figuring out what the next thing might be and making an action-plan to move towards it.  August saw me struggling more and more to meet my own blogging and newsletter deadlines and so, while I hope to put more here during the next few weeks, I'm not making any promises.   I've got other writing to do in other places.  I've got a little boy starting a new school.  I'm hoping to do some quality big-picture thinking and take care of a bunch of housekeeping along the way.

In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy Gemma & The Bear.  For all of my crabbyness, it feels really good - and I'm extremely proud - to have reached this particular milestone.  Can't wait to share the next thing with you soon . . . 

Tick-Tock! TICK-TOCK!!!

When I joined the New York Neo-Futurists (NYNF) in 2006, one of the most joyful aspects of the experience was being able to recommend the show (Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind) without hesitation.  Up 'till then, I'd done a bunch of plays here and there in NYC, but they often suffered one way or another from being off-off-Broadway productions (lack of time, lack of money, etc.)*.  But the Neo's were different.  They had figured out how to make those limitations work for them and it felt so good to be so proud of something I was a part of.

I feel the same way about Gemma & The Bear.  Like Too Much Light . . . , Gemma & The Bear (GATB) is actually for something of a niche audience and I don't actually think that either is for everyone; certainly neither is perfect.  I do think both are, in turns, innovative, delightful and well-made and I am uniquely unabashed in my promotion of GATB as I was with Too Much Light . . . .

So, it has been a bit of a frustrating surprise to grapple, these last couple of months, with just how difficult marketing a (micro-budget) web series can be.  I recently watched a popular vlog that argues that the internet creates a meritocracy in which "if the video you're making is interesting to anyone . . . all you have to be concerned with is making something that someone else wants to watch."  This was more or less my assumption going in to Gemma & The Bear, but here in the episode-release-and-marketing phase, where the measure of marketing success - views on YouTube - seems to have been equated with the quality of the content (at least as far as generating press, industry attention, etc.) and where spending money to boost posts seems like the only way to be seen at all, that argument about meritocracy feels a bit false . . . or at least naive.

I've been naive all my life.  Also: impatient.

The other night, at a birthday gathering for a neighbor, I had a conversation with some people I'd just met about the social norms of meeting new people (how meta).  I was expressing my frustration with the apparent taboo of asking people what they do.  They countered that "what are you up to?" or "what's new?" or "how do you spend your time?" are completely acceptable alternatives.  I'm not sure I agree but, in any case, those alternatives don't address my real want which is to grab these new acquaintances by the lapels (maybe just figuratively) and say something like "who are you?! what's your story?! tell me everything!!"  I don't want to be coy, making small talk and teasing out the information slowly; I want the story up front!  (Looking back, my entire first date with my husband was just me interrogating him the entire night including important questions like "what are your three favorite sounds?"  I guess his tolerance was an early good sign?)

Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind wasn't an overnight success; the company has gone through tremendous growing pains and, while they've come incredibly far, they're still working hard to grow and improve.  And, of course, that's the story almost everywhere.

So maybe it isn't that the meritocracy of the internet is false (although marketing dollars certainly play a role, albeit a complicated one), maybe it's about staying the course so we can find our audience . . . or they can find us. 

I really wish they'd hurry up about it, though. 


*To be very clear: I think off-off-Broadway is great and of tremendous value.  All artists need a place to practice, experiment and grow and for theater artists in NYC, OOB is often it.  Furthermore, over the past decade, I've seen the OOB community as a whole grow and improve the quality of its work.  So, no dig at OOB.  I love it, in fact.

Summer reading for Peanuts

My kiddo - who is 3.25 years old - has loved stories pretty much forever.  He loves to be read to and he loves to be told made-up stories.  I noticed a while ago that, if we were making up a story for him, he had a pretty high tolerance for a story much longer than the average picture book.

We dipped our toe in with The Invention of Hugo Cabret which alternates a few pages of plain text with many pages of text-free illustration.  Later, over the course of a couple of low-energy sick days, we plowed through Peter Pan.  So we continued. 

Mixing longer books in with the picture books kept me from getting really sick of reading and re-reading the same five-minute story over and over again.  Longer stories have also been great as a way to enjoy some quiet time after a big day at camp or on the playground, and they keep us all entertained on longer car rides or the occasional flight. There's also something nice about having more entertainment in a smaller, lighter volume given all the other stuff we're inevitably schlepping around.

Early on, we had some hits and some misses.  The Wizard of Oz was great . . . except for that scary chapter where she sends her pack of wolves to attack Dorothy and friends (yikes!).  The Enormous Crocodile was a pretty big (if slightly intense) hit which got me excited for more Roald Dahl, but The Magic Finger which focuses on characters who hunt ducks introduced a slew of concepts we weren't necessarily excited to discuss and Esio Trot was too much about spelling or romance (or both).  James and the Giant Peach seemed like it would be a good idea, 'till I started to read it and realized that James' parents are killed by an escaped rhino in the first two pages.  Duh, mom.

But, with the help of the wonderful people at our favorite local book store, Bank Street Books, we've really hit our stride this Summer.  These books all hit the sweet spot of being a great story, but with mostly accessible vocabulary for a younger kiddo, a picture on every page or two, and content that doesn't venture too far beyond their years.  And they're fun to read as an adult.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  I'm a lifelong fan of Dahl, but most of his books are too edgy for our kiddo right now.  Not so Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we borrowed from the library and read all the way through at least four or five times before returning it a couple of weeks later. 

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett.  This is a trilogy, although I happen to like the first book the best.  Each is about 70 pages long with a picture on every other page or so.  They are stories of a young, kindhearted and very independent little boy going on an adventure to find and rescue a captive baby dragon and the adventures that ensue. 

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo.  There are six books in the Mercy Watson series beginning with Mercy Watson to the Rescue, about the (mis)adventures of a toast-loving pig named Mercy, her owners Mr. & Mrs. Watson and their neighbors on Deckawoo Drive.  All the books are lushly illustrated in full color by Chris Van Dusen.  The books feel old-fashioned and wholesome though they are contemporary.  The characters are a bunch of delightful oddballs.

Bink & Gollie by Kate Di Camillo & Alison McGhee.  We discovered Bink & Gollie through the Mercy Watson books.  There are currently three books in this series about a pair of best friends who love roller-skating, pancakes and each other most of all.  These books feel a bit like the Elephant & Piggie books for the next age group up and they're the shortest books on this list.

The Magic Treehouse by Mary Pope Osborne.  This is a fun series because it involves time travel and magic.  The first book in the series - Dinosaurs Before Dark - was an instant favorite.  A word of caution, though, as other books in the series dip in and out of being little-kiddo appropriate.  A book set during the Civil War, for example, (which I never should have agreed to read, so that's on me) prompted a discussion of war in general, and an explanation of slavery - it was just a lot for a 3 year old.  So these are recommended but not without some parental vetting. 

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  Because the first book is about kids who are alone in the world, fending for themselves, we skipped it and went right on to Book Two: Surprise Island which is delightful old-fashioned.  Four siblings are allowed a summer largely to themselves on their wealthy grandfather's private island where they gather and prepare their own food, craft their own museum, and discover American Indian artifacts.  These books are probably the biggest wild-card of the group and, like the Magic Treehouse books, should probably be vetted on an individual basis for appropriateness, but the kiddo and I are well into the Woodshed Mystery (#7) and having a great time with it. 

What are you reading with the kiddos in your life this summer?  Leave a comment! 

So . . . I made a show!

It's called Gemma & The Bear and we just released the first two episodes this past Monday.

It was over two years ago that it all began - sometime between giving birth to my son and my mom's brain tumor being diagnosed.  Kevin and I wanted to make something together and I thought it should be a web series.  We'd done theater together, but I wasn't doing theater at the moment because I had a tiny child to take care of.  Something on-camera felt more manageable. 

So we began.  We met and wrote and had a reading and got rid of everything we'd written and started again.  Working on the project was always a joy; it was also my artistic life-line.  Without the luxury of time I used to enjoy, it became important to focus on doing one thing well, and that was our show. 

Late last summer - almost a year ago - we began our casting process (we paused so I could have back surgery), in the late fall we launched our Indiegogo campaign, and in December we finally - FINALLY - started filming. 

We shot for seven non-consecutive days in December, January and February, going by location rather than chronology of the script.  When our office location fell through the morning before the shoot, my brother came through with his office for us and we squeezed what we'd planned to film in three days into two.  We made third graders stand outside on one of the coldest days of the year.  We re-cast a major role at the last minute because our original actor was injured.  We called in favors.  We got it done. 

I handled the craft services and, later, the payroll.  I wouldn't choose to take on those extra roles again, but it felt really good to support our cast and crew in a loving way through food, and later, to appreciate them by redistributing about 75% of what we'd raised to make the show in the form of checks to our artistic and technical collaborators. 

I thought the hard part was over.  And then I found myself a producer of a project in post-production. 

But now it's here!  Gemma & The Bear.  Kevin R. Free was my collaborator in all things - writing, acting and producing - and Matt Scott as director, editor and co-writer has provided invaluable additional vision and input.  This has been one of the most rigorous and most rewarding artistic experiences of my life and while I learned a lot (and would do some things differently if I had to do them over) I am incredibly proud of what we've made. 

We're still working on episodes 3, 4, 5 and 6 - they'll be out in August - but for now I hope you enjoy episodes 1 and 2.

EPISODE 1: HE'S BAAAAAAAACK! Gemma gets a big assignment at work and graduates from therapy, but a blast from the past threatens her security. CAST: Gemma Woods: Eevin Hartsough Karen: Natalie Kim Tom: Debargo Sanyal The Bear: Kevin R. Free and Jojo Gonzalez as Dr. Dormer www.gemmaandthebear.com

EPISODE 2: MEET THE BEAR Gemma visits her dad, Hank, to try to get to the bottom of the Bear's reappearance in her life. CAST: Gemma - Eevin Hartsough The Bear - Kevin R. Free Hank - Ray DeMattis More at www.gemmaandthebear.com

This isn't theater so I can't see your faces; leave a comment! 

A good idea I had (about buskers)

I had this idea: 

How great would it be if the street musicians you see performing in the subway or in busy public areas let you sing with them live-karaoke-style?! (Answer: pretty great!)

Hear me out.

  • It wouldn't work for every musician.  It has to be someone who does covers.  And they'd have to be fine just playing and singing on their own; it couldn't hinge on the event of karaoke.
  • Live Karaoke is already a thing - a popular and very cool thing.  I've done it.  It was fun.
  • The transit system (and the street) are venues where, for performers, engagement is already really low; people aren't there to hear this band or musician.  Defying expectations by engaging a member of the public - both for the person brought temporarily into the band and for casual observers - grabs attention and turns the energy way up by introducing an element of risk.  The performance becomes a special event, not just background noise.

That's all.  I think it would be a MAGICAL development in street performing if, occasionally, a performance was built to accommodate (but not dependent upon) the participation of passersby.  At the very least, I think some marketing campaign could co-opt this idea to good effect. 

You're welcome!

What's your latest good idea? Leave a comment! The world need to know!!!

M.C. Double-E

That's my rap name.  Okay.  Not really.  BUT my rap video did just come out.  You're saying "WHAT?!" I know.  It's a little "off brand," as they say. Here's the story . . .

The One I Love

The weekend before last, my husband and I found ourselves in the rare position of having an evening to ourselves (the kiddo was asleep early) and enough time to watch an entire movie in one sitting.  Hot Damn!  

Some quick googling of "best date movies" led us to The One I Love staring Elisabeth Moss and Mark Duplass plus Ted Danson in a small supporting role.  It's currently streaming on Netflix which describes the movie this way:

Confronted with the potential end of their marriage, Ethan and Sophie take off for a weekend together, hoping to negotiate their future. When they reach their idyllic destination, however, the couple strolls into a bizarre new brand of trouble.

We really enjoyed it.  I wrote before about another Mark Duplass movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, and what both of these movies have is a kind of eerie magical realism that works really beautifully. 

Also, as a recent producer of video content (aka Gemma & The Bear) it was hard not to be impressed with how the movie really only has two actors in it - such a smart way to have room to focus on excellent acting (which The One I Love has in abundance) and great production values. 

If you watch it - or if you've seen it - leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

I scream, you scream, we all . . . ARTs-cream!!

This past weekend, my husband, the kiddo and I explored a cool public art exhibit that's going in in Central Park right now.  Presented in conjunction with Creative Time, the exhibit is called Drifting in Daylight (all the info if you click on that link).  It's based in the northern parts of Central Park and it happens Friday and Saturday afternoons through June 20th.

Time-Sensitive Culture Alert: "Next Year Jerusalem"

Hello! We (the Royal "we") interrupt the scheduled postings for this blog to tell you about the FABULOUS movie I saw this past Saturday night.

The film is Next Year Jerusalem.  As it happens, I know about the movie because I know the filmmaker personally.  But, before you start thinking that I'm just pushing my friend's project because he's my friend: stop thinking that!  If you've ever known anyone who's made something truly excellent, you'll know the feeling where on the one hand is the regular guy you know and make jokes with and then there's this other really talented artist who created this amazing thing and you're honored and surprised to realize that you know him too.  It was like that.

Anyway, here's what you need to know:

1. Next Year Jerusalem is currently screening in NYC through May 22 at Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, New York, NY - (212) 255-8800.  Tickets are available for purchase at movietickets.com - search zip code 10011 for the Quad and select appropriate dates and showtimes.

2. The film will screen in Los Angeles May 30 - June 5 at Laemmle Cinemas, Locations and Showtimes TBD - (212) 255-8800.  (If you live in or near LA, please consider going to see the film in honor of my June 4 birthday. Seriously!)

3. You can see a trailer for the film here!

The movie is about eight residents of an old folks' home in CT who take an unlikely but inspiring trip to Israel.  Honestly: I'm not a fan of old people.  I do not swoon for Young @ Heart, Dr. Ruth never made me anything but uncomfortable, and while I just tolerate Santa, I see Scrooge as a fairly accurate portrayal of the majority of people in his age group.  So, I expected to appreciate this movie but not to really like and enjoy it.  But I did!  That is how good Next Year Jerusalem is.  Because it's really about how we choose to live our lives - the classic Viktor Frankl: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I do hope you'll see the film - or, if you can't, that you'll sign up for news about future screenings and the DVD release - and then leave a comment with your thoughts.