Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I think it was Titanic Thompson...

But it sounds like Damon Runyan....

Monday, February 24, 2014

From the Perspective of the Corner

Everything is creepy in perspective. Or is it perspective that makes things creepy? I do not know the answer but offer this as an example.
Very often I see a dark shadowy figure, in the house, lurking at the edge of my peripheral vision. Several times it has startled me enough to make me jump.  Every time it turns out to be Sandi's jacket draped over the rolling bag she takes to work.  When it is positioned near the Monkey poster it combines to create a virtual Sasquatch in the corner of the room.  Although I know immediately what has scared me, that knowledge does not keep it from happening again. 
The photo does not communicate
the same impact it has when experienced
in real size. 
The photo does not communicate
the same impact it has when
experience in real size.
It is a matter of perspective
.











Here is a different kind of perspective. I found out recently that I was not the only one being startled by the shadow in the corner. The image had scared everyone in the family and a few guest who have stayed with us.  So, I ask Sandi not to hang her jacket on the roller board. That would put an end to the shadow people living at the house. 
My oldest son said he didn't understand. Why was I freaking out about a jacket when the next room has a puppet sitting in the chair. He's right. Why did a jacket in front of a poster freak me out when a life size ventriloquist puppet in the next room does not? It's all a matter of perspective. 
So, Is it perspective that make things creepy or is everything creepy in perspective?
As you were,
Jay




Saturday, February 22, 2014

More than a Wedding Anniversary...

It was 23 years ago today that I was best man at my brother-in-law's wedding. It was a beautiful event at a wonderful place called "Inn of the Seventh Ray" in the heart of Old Topanga Canyon.  My sister-in -lust was beautiful and the entire family was there. My Best Man toast to the Bride and Groom was nominated for "spoken word of the year" by the "spoken word of the year society" ( I don't think that society exists anymore.) And the actor they got to play the part of the preacher/priest was perfectly cast.  And now 23 years later the marriage would be common law even if they did not have such a wonderful wedding party to celebrate, but I am glad they did.
The hardest part of being a best man is arranging the bachleor party.  I knew I could not handle this difficult job alone, so I was assigned another friend of my Bro-in-Law to help.  At the time the Groom and "Bride to be"were touring in a musical performing in LA. My party co-producer was one of the dancer/actor's in the show.  Since I'm not using names... we'll call him Jerome.  
Now, my experience at hiring strippers is limited, to say the least. I don't know how much experience Jerome had but being younger than me it came more naturally. And being that  strippers and booze are the essential elements of a bachelor party we arranged for several meetings to search out the best of each.  Eventually we ended up at the office of a "stripper's agency" in Hollywood.  It was a small office above a strip mall (how appropriate is that) next to the "Tail of the Pup" - a famous Hollywood hot dog stand (even more appropriate.)
The attractive if not over done "agent" asked us a few questions about the party, and the bride to be as we sat on a black leather couch across from her desk. She mentioned some names like Bambi, Keendra, Blossom, Virginia and Hielda.  They would all be perfect for our party in her opinion.  This one had bigger boobs, that on was a better dancer, and Virginia... well let's just say she was known for being limber.  It was like ordering new car, there were "special packages" that came with each model. To say the decision was over whelming was an understatement.  
"But", said the agent,"They are all beautiful and whom ever you pick will be great for your party.  Here watch this video tape of my girls and tell me which one you like." With that she swiveled a television monitor around on her desk hit a button and left the room to have a cigarette.
There we were watching a video of stripper after stripper on the "Agency" sizzle reel. Usually it was a video taken from the audience of a strip club, but every so often there would be a girl talking off her skivies in a very low production clip, shot with a hand held camera in a small apartment.  After a time Jerome and I noticed that all the under produced videos seemed to be shot in the same apartment. Althought 23 years later I remember it as Virginia who came on the screen, names were not the focus. This girl was doing things on a couch that neither Jerome nor I had ever witnessed, obviously this is pre-porno Internet. 
We really didn't know who to "hire" and it didn't really matter. The agent was still having a smoke. That is when I looked carefully at the couch Virginia was having relations with.  I said, "Jerome, does that couch look familiar to you?" 
The answer came to both of us at exactly the same moment. Together we looked down at the couch we were sitting on.  Yep... same one. We were sitting on the same black leather couch that had been the co-star of several audition videos.   Trying not to touch the cushions we levitated off the sofa and called for the agent.  Keendra won the audition, the contract was signed with us standing, but not closely to the desk.  
As it turned out Keendra did not show up for the party and instead we got Hielda to perform for us.  The rest of the evening is a blur, but it was the last time my sister-in-law allowed Jerome and I to be in charge of anything.  
It will go down as one of the best parties I don't remember in my life.
Happy Anniversary you guys.  And Jerome.... call me.
As you were,
Jay

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Things you can't do with just Pen and Ink


It started as a pen and ink, then scanned and treated to a bath of digital airbrush.
One of the few ways I know how to use a French Curve. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tongue Quicker Than the Brain?

Over the weekend I was at the supermarket shopping for a couple of last minute things.  Grocery shopping may be a dynamic activity for some, but for me it is not.  I usually try to multitask while shopping because I would rather be anywhere else.
At one point I found myself in a trance facing the canned goods aisle.  I recall I was, at that very moment, mentally rehearsing the Master Class I plan to give at Vent Haven this year. I am not sure that is germane to this story but it is a fact. (Also, I am not ashamed of blatantly promoting my part in the ventriloquist ConVENTion this coming July .. Here is the link:)
My trance was broken by a supermarket stocking clerk asking, "Can I help you find something?"  
"No, uh.. I was just thinking out loud, " I replied.  
The look on his face told me I said something wrong. Of course, never having seen him before this could be his normal look. 
(A Wayland and Madame line is appropriate here, Madame: "This guy says to me..'Are you giving me a funny look?' I said to him 'you have a funny look but I did not give it to you.' ") 

There was no time to consider that idea as I was returning to the real life trappings of a grocery store. Like someone caught asleep at the switch I felt the need to explain. 
I continued to babble..."To myself.. I mean. I was thinking out loud to myself ... well, not out loud... that's why I wasn't saying anything, I was just standing here, but then you know that... it's why you asked if you could help, isn't it?"  The clerk smiled defensively and quickly vanished from my view. 
This obsession I have to fill silent space with words is very useful on stage but in real life it ends up causing more confusion than necessary.  There was a simple and easy answer to the clerk's question, "Can I help you?"  The answer is: "No, Thank you." But for some reason I thought I needed to explain what I was doing in that asile. It could be a mild form of Tauretts Syndrome.  To over analyze it, until he interrupted me I was definintely not shopping, I was silently performing. It was as if I got busted by an "intention detective" and needed to give an alibi for taking up space in the green bean asile with no intention of buying canned goods.   No one was asking and no one cared, least of all the guy who keeps the shelves full. 
It reminds me of another time when my mouth was way ahead of my good sense.  I was with a group of guys at Universal City Walk.  The "Beach" bar was hosting a "Miss Hawaian Tropic.. bikini contest" which was in full progress. It consisted of half a dozen georgous young women modeling beautiful tans and wearing bearly legal string and thong bikini's for horny bar patrons.  The MC/host would quickly interview the girls before they strutted their stuff down the make shift runway.  To one particualrly voluptuous blond, the MC asked, "Give me three words that qualify you to be, Miss Hawaian Tropic Tan?" Very quickly I heard someone yell out:
 "Big, F-----, Tits".  As the crowd was acknowledging the line with a precocious laugh, I realized the obnoxious adlib actually came from my mouth. If I was on stage I could have blamed Bob, but he was not there, and I was not on stage.  It was actually more of a shock to me than anyone else. 
Those around me, who deal with my schitzophrenic split reality, have suggested I take a breath and come back to reality before I give a knee jerk vocal reaction.  It is not as easy for me as one would think.  It is so counter intuitive to my career.  On stage it is the quick or the dead with an adlib.  There is no time to think about how inappropriate it might be.  The liberty and tolerance given to a performer is not the same as being socially correct.   I'm working on it.  
As you were,
Jay




Saturday, February 15, 2014

Weak End - UpDate

A rare insight into the decisions celebrities make before having plastic surgery. 



Friday, February 14, 2014

In Any Language







Valentine's Day

I am a hopeless romantic.  I believe that love should be like it is in the movies, bells ringing and dancing in the street.  Unfortunately, life is almost never like it is in the movies especially when it comes to love. However, that does not keep a guy from trying.
In my younger days my relationships did not last more than a year or so... sometimes a season at best. In those early days I had a specific Valentine's Day routine that had been perfected over the years since it could be repeated for different women. Then I got married.
The days of repeating the same romantic routine over and over came to an end. Valentine's Day and anniversaries became a study in creativity, trying to top myself each coming year.  Since I have a talent for drawing and writing, creative cards became my new modus operandi.  I could write a poem and draw a  picture and have a really great Valentine's Card. But...  now when I am looking at Valentine's Day number forty-something with the same woman, my creativity has been worked hard over the span of decades. 
My wife does not like candy and flowers are not an option for me.  Early in our marriage I surprised her with flowers at the dance studio where she was teaching and she called me by a former boyfriend's name.  I blamed the flowers which immediately went on the contraband list.  
So what to do today?  I have my drawing and it is ready to put on a card, I am hoping that I can come up with one more poem without repeating what I have done in the past.  
My Father who was not such a romantic got a pass every year from my mother.  She would tell him that she knew he loved her, he showed her every day, so why would this day be any different. She never expected that she would get flowers or a card. That sentiment did not survive to the next generation.  Although I do try to be a good husband every day, and Sandi knows that I love her, she still wants to have a symbolic gesture on the appropriate days. I get it, and do my best but this year it feels like a rerun.
So here is a shout out to all you guys and gals who are in a similar situation of what to do for the one you love. If, for you, it is just a matter of ordering a bunch of flowers or a Vermont Teddy Bear, you are truly blessed.  If you have gone through all your A material and like me are working from the C stack of ideas then today is full of stress.  You have run out of time.  If you do not have reservations at the most romantic restaurant by now, it is probably too late and trust me it is not about the food.  The same old restaurants that you go to during the rest of the year are not going to put points on your romantic score card.
As for me I will be trying to write that poem for the rest of the day.  What word rhymes with sexy that I have not used already?
As you were,
Jay

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Throw Back Thursday

Being that this is Throw Back Thursday, I am republishing a blog written the end of last summer.  It is relative to what I am thinking this very day, and a reminder to my own self. 
It was originally titled "Yes to today not yesterday."  
I had a discussion with a Buddhist friend of mine about past lives.  My question was, are Buddhists interested in past life regression to try and understand the path that brought them to this life?
She basically told me that Buddhist have no more interest in past lives than the average person. Certainly it was not a tenant of belief.  
The Buddhist philosophy is not a matter of what happened back when, it is a matter of what you are doing now for that which is to come. At least that was my "take away" answer.  I am sure the Buddha would say it better.
It stuck with me though.  If one believes in reincarnation and we are here correcting the mistakes of our past, knowing those past mistakes is not as important as it would seem.  In fact the way I see it, that's a subtle cop out.  It becomes too easy to blame the situation you find yourself in on something from your past rather than your present involvement.
If a person is afraid of dogs, for example, and finds out that in a former life they were attack by dogs, it may be interesting but not helpful.  It is not important how dogs treated your former self, but what your current self is doing to make peace with the dogs today. Rather than your life being some paper cup that is blown to some experience by the winds of fate, your life is the wind blowing the paper cup to the experience of your own choosing.
Life is a little more difficult than overcoming dogaphobia.  There are people, places and ventures that have "attacked" us in the past.  It could make us afraid to repeat the experience. At the first sign of fear we generally stop and run away. If you do that you are definitely off your path. 
When you find yourself in a place you don't want to be you ask how did I get here?  The answer is not because, "those people, places, ventures or dogs hurt me in the past. I feared they would do it again,so I ran away." They did not make you afraid, you are in control of your own emotions. To get back on track you will probably have to come their way again.  One will never reach a destination by running away and coming back to the same point in the journey time after time. 
No matter what you were before, even yesterday,  and no matter what caused your fear, unless you are moving forward you are going in circles. Deal with the issues today as a new person capable of moving forward in strength not running backward in fear.  Other wise you will be stuck in the same place for a long time and perhaps in Buddhists thinking... many lifetimes.
As you were,
Jay

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Actor's Audition Enigma

A friend and director presented a staged reading of a play that I attended several months ago.  I came  to support his work, but enjoyed the play very much.  It was about LA Showbiz and the stereotypes that frequent this town. It was funny and showed the complete insanity in the business of "show". Although I thought the play had a few problems, it was certainly a project that could and should be fully realized.
Weeks later that same director came up to me at a social gathering and mentioned the play was being presented next month at a prestigious theatre in town.  Then he said, "I think you would be great in one of the roles.  There is very little money, and I know that your are busy, but would you consider it?"  
An actor only hears one statement in a question like that: "You would be great in one of the roles!"
Naturally I was flattered, inflated and complimented. Of course I would consider it, and could actually squeeze the project into my schedule. So I began the journey that every actor takes, no matter who they are or what the status of their career. 
The director is a fan of my work and as it turns out the writer had seen my one man show and loved it.  The director got me a copy of the script and I began to become familiar with the play.  There are three men and three women who play various characters in twelve different scenes that take place in a Deli. Since the male characters are somewhat interchangeable I
was not sure which role I "would be perfect for."
A week later the director asked me if I had gotten a call for the audition. My actor's ego rebelled a little. Audition? The director and the writer know my work and like my work, this is a little theatre that pays almost nothing, I have done four television series and am a Tony Award winner... audition?  Ego aside I said of course I would audition. I chastised myself for thinking that I was so good I did not need to audition. An actors insecurity will always trump ego.  
Turns out that I was not going to be in town for the auditions. I quickly adjusted my expectations and gave up the idea of doing the play. It was easy to let it go and tell myself "this isn't your experience to have, move on."  So I did. But it is never that easy. 
My friend said, "That's okay we'll just bring you in for the call backs when you return." 
Of course I could do that,  although I have never auditioned well.  Once I am "off book" I can find my footing as an actor, but with a script in my hand searching for the words my dyslexia will take over and torpedo my best attempts to show what I can do. With a sense of dread looming in my gut I got the sides and prepared for the audition.  
Now to prepare for any audition actors have to completely give into that role. It is always like a suit that is not tailored very well and as uncomfortable as the fit is, you have to make believe it is an Armani, custom made for your talents. No matter how many times your insecurity tells you this is not a good fit, you have to believe that you are the star of the fashion runway and go for it completely.
The call back audition day comes. It has been a long time since I sat in a room full of actors all wanting the same job but that sick feeling of competition immediately returns.  
The director comes through the waiting room, greets me and gives me a big hug. I feel the tension from the others. I am one of those actors every audtionee hates. I am friends with the director and obviously have an unfair inside track for this job.  Little do they know that this "advantage" does not quell the panic attack raging in my belly.  The pressure to knock it out of the park has only increased. 
The actor that I am reading with has agreed to run lines with me before we go in.  It is not helpful, the actor was simply reading words and there was nothing there for me to react to. It is finally our turn.  
Once on stage in front of the director and producer my partner taps into his inner Laurence Olivia and the emotion he spews forth is bipolar.  He was saving his talent for the money shot. Having had years of experience reacting to unforeseen moments on stage I was able to go with him and the scene caught fire.  I was pleased with the audition. The sheer panic of trying not to let this guy steal the audition released me from my dyslexic disadvantage. After being brought in another couple of times reading with some of the women, we all went home.
For the next couple of days I begin to work this job in my mind. How will I do that audition scene better in rehearsal. Who will be the girl that I have that great drunk scene with?  Can I get some of my old casting director friends to see me do this part? Maybe this part will inspire them to bring me in for some "pilot season" roles.  Perhaps this will be the part that will show this town that I am not just a ventriloquist actor but a legitimate actor as well. I was suddenly not just invested in the project I have mortgaged my heart for this role. 
After a day or so, I am wondering why I haven't been contacted. Why is it taking so long for them to make a decision. As fate would have it I see the director at another social function last night.  He says, "The calls went out and your name isn't on the list." So goes the heartbreak of show business, I didn't get the part.
It was not a part that I have been waiting all my life to play.  It was not a job that would have much of an impact on my career. In fact I thought I was doing my friend a favor for considering it. But to do the best audition you can you have to convince yourself that you are perfect for the role, and this job means everything. In essence you have to hand a group of producers your artistic heart only to have it returned, stamped "rejected".  Unfortunately there is no other way it can work.
There is a quote on my refrigerator attributed to Buddha, "In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.
I am gracefully moving on, but doubt that this experience will make the next one less painful.
As you were,
Jay


Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Debate

I got home yesterday just in time to catch just the last of the live Internet streamed debate between Bill Nye "the science guy" and Ken Ham "the creationist guy".  It is still on line and here is a link to the complete debate if you are interested. (They said it would be up for a few days for viewers who didn't see it live)
I don't think it was a matter of who won or who lost the debate, what I loved about it was the civilized approach each man took.  Unlike Political debates there was no yelling, no personal attacks and no mean spirited comments.  It was a straight forward organized debate from two people who have radically different views on how the world came to be. 
In this world of athletic contests where we need to have a clear winner it is difficult for us to evaluate the results of an intellectual debate like this one. 
I am not a fan of Mr. Ham but thought he stated his beliefs with dignity and poise. However, in my opinion he was at a disadvantage because his "proof" was based on one book, the Bible. 
There are plenty of people who believe that no other book is necessary besides the Bible. I get that. I have several translations of the Bible, and by this time in my life I have read every chapter of the King James version. It is interesting reading and inspirational if viewed for what it is.  But there is no question as to the fact that the Bible is not a scientific text book.  Even Mr. Ham stated that for him the Bible is part metaphor, part poetry, part Jewish tradition, part genealogical history and mostly parable. He said he knew which part was which and the parts he believed to be fact were fact. That approach is certainly not a "scientific" approach. I am sure we would disagree on the parts of the Bible I consider poetry.
Trying to discover the origin of the earth from stories in the Bible is like trying to become a Shepard by reading only "Mary Had a Little Lamb" or singing "Old McDonald" believing it stated everything you needed to know about farming. 
Before I get a thousand nasty comments about comparing the Bible to Mother Goose, that is not what I am doing. I am not diminishing the value of the Bible, I am just saying that it is not imperial evidence of geology, history or origin of the species. Even books that do claim to be such evidence can be proven wrong with the next discovery or latest experiment. The fact that the Bible still seems relevant today is a testament to the metaphoric nature of its message. 
The Bible is a highly edited compilation of spoken word stories passed down through history. Plenty of stories were left out purposely and mostly for political reasons. While I think the Bible contains a lot of truth about the nature of man, it is certainly not a history of man.  It is mainly the history of the Jewish people and the struggles of that ancient tribe. While Moses is spending 40 years in the desert, China is a thriving culture on the other side of the globe with thousands of years of history. This historic fact is never mentioned in the Bible. 
The problems in the middle east can be reduced to one unsolvable disagreement. Jews and Christians believe that God "gave" a piece of real estate to a specific tribe. Other tribes that have shared that land for thousands of years disagree. The Bible is not a land grant document and God is not a real estate agent.
When white man came to America they paid the equivalent of $23 for the island of Manhattan. It was not that the Indians were bad business men therefore they sold Manhattan cheaply. It was the fact that the native Americans had no concept of "owning" land.  How could any human own land, or sky. It belonged to everyone for all to share. I think this is more in line with how I see an omnipotent, omniscient Diety.
On the other hand neither Bill Nye nor any other scientist can tell you why two sub atomic particles will either be attracted to each other or be repelled, but that becomes the very building block of life as science sees it. Who or what lit the fuse to set off the Big Bang? And scientist are obsessed to find the "unified field" which is the one element/process that connects all of the actions in the universe. They even call it "the God particle".  To me that is simply a scientific journey to find a universal creator.
This is the great thing about a civilized debate like we had last night. It makes us think about who we are and how we got here. If the question is should we teach science in school there is no question that we should.  There is also no question that philosophy should also be taught as well.  The two are not mutually exclusive just two different studies and each important to the development of a human.
In the words of Rodney King... "Can't we all just get along?"
As you were,
Jay

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Not your usual convention.

It could have been any convention for any organization. After the "dealer's room" closed the bar began to fill up. As the attendees of the first ever KAX convention began to relax after a long day of demonstations, talks and presentations they could not help but talk shop.
"What would you do with Axtell's Moose puppet?" 
"I think I would keep the magnetic red nose on him and make him Rudolf."
"What I really liked was the new Zombie puppet Steve created."
"Yeah, don't you think that the floating Zombie is more of a puppet effect than a magic trick.  For me it takes a puppeteer to really give that illusion its punch."
At some point I noticed that most of the cocktail waitresses wearing some form of balloon sculpture on their bodies.  Not the standard poodle and dauchound balloon twists but intreicate braceletts, hats, necklaces, crowns and broches. Buster Balloons was in the house. Buster was sitting at the bar with a special canvas bag filled with thousands of dangling balloons of every color waiting to become a master piece.  In some alternate universe Buster is Toulouse lautrec creating master pieces out of latex for the salon crowd. 
If the subject of puppetry, magic, balloon twisting,ventriloquism or clowning came up, someone sitting near could be an expert witness on the subject. You want to talk stage back drops, sound systems, self cuing sound effects or a three card monte using Library cards this is the place to be.  Not the bar.... but the convention.
KAX the first ever midseason meeting of Kidabra, an organization started by Mark and Tami Daniels.  Kidabra is usually held only once a year at Piegon Forge, Tenn. but this extra attraction was added on the west coast. Kidabra is decicated to family/kids show performers and they are here to help entertainers on this side of the country.  The fact that Axtell Expressions is just up the street from the hotel where the convention is taking place is no coincidence.
Steve Axtell supplies a large percentage of puppets, props, mechanics and secrets to most of the people in attendance. In fact KAX is the conjunction of Kidabra and Axtell in Oxnard California. 
I am no stranger to the genius of Steve Axtell.  I perform with several of his creations two of which are part of my Tony Award winning show "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only." Nethernore and Arthur Drew are both Axtell Expression creations. When Steve said the Kidabra convention was coming to Oxnard, CA which is only about an hour drive from my house and he was going to conduct tours of his studio/workshop, I found a way to weasle my way in.  Little did I know that I would be able to witness a bit of retro-History.
I was able to get a picture of that moment. Mark Wilson one of the legends of Magic pictured here with René and his creation of the puppet of Pilsbury DoughBoy "Popin Fresh". With the puppetry of René giving him life Popin' interacted in real time with Mark on his early 70's television show Magic Circus.  For the puppet/magic/ live entertainment community the brain trust of creativity between Mark and René is as significant as the colaberation of Gilbert and Sullivan.  Both men now in their mid-eighties will perform at the Gala performance to cap off the convention tonight.  SuperBowl be damned this is the spectacle of the season.  I personally can't wait. It will not only be a reunion of Mark and René but also a family reunion of my partner Bob and his creator. See I get to MC the show with Bob and René is Bob's creator. 
Thank you Mark Daniels and Steve Axtell for the invitation. I hope you won't forget me next year. 
As you were,
Jay