My shoot for The Catastrophe took only one day, enough for me to realize that this amazing film's destiny is to become a feature! Written and directed by the talented filmmaker Michael Glover Smith, The Catastrophe is a short film that concerns the plight of the quintessential modern man, cigar salesman Dominicus Pike (played by Peyton Myrick). The film charts Pike's dawning realization that he may have sold his soul to a multinational corporation, which parallels the collapse of his romantic relationship and the discovery of what may be a murder plot. Rife with literary allusions and political undertones, the film is dedicated to imprisoned Iranian filmmakers Mohammad Rasoulof and Jafar Panahi.
I play the role of Carlie, Pike's jaded girlfriend, who grows tired of being put on the back burner while her boyfriend consumes himself with reaching sales goals. Smith envisioned my character to look like the 1920's silent film star Clara Bow, and that's exactly what our incredible stylist Tonia Carrier did! Pictures are coming soon, I promise, but for now, help this film reach its goal of being made into a feature by liking the Facebook page!
I'm excited to report that I'm now working on The Playboy Club TV series. The show stars Amber Heard, Laura Benanti, Eddie Cibrian, and many other glamorous stars. The first episode airs on Monday, September 19, 10/9 Central Time, on NBC. Be sure to watch the show, and for now, enjoy the trailer!
Lampoon the System's original sketch comedy show, Obama's Oval Office Live!, written by Jon Pawelko, and directed by Greg Callozzo, ran for four amazing weeks at the Greenhouse Theater. It's now over, but not forgotten! As an ensemble member, I performed in multiple roles with an amazing cast! I am eternally grateful to Jon and Greg for casting me. I learned so much as a performer, and it gave me a taste and appreciation for improv. The cartoon photo above is from the show program.
Chicago artist John Ashton Golden created this awesome cartoon graphic. To see more of his amazing work, click here.
Because eroticism is missing in our culture, I loved reading the uncensored prose in Passion: Erotic Romance for Women. Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, this anthology features 20 short stories written by veteran erotica authors such as Donna George Storey, Jacqueline Applebee, and Suzanne V. Slate.
When I say the book is more erotic than Fast Girls (also reviewed here), I mean it’s more about love and romance and all that good stuff. Fast Girls was about women living out their fantasies with strangers and lovers and becoming renewed through their sexual adventures. Passion is about women deepening their bonds with lovers and husbands, or with strangers. But in each story, love is paramount. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines eroticism as a state of sexual arousal. Eroticism is love disguised as sex. In my opinion, it's the opposite of porn.
Listen up guys: Passion is the book you should read and give to your woman. You get the Cliff Notes on what women want. And ladies, if Fast Girls was too fast, too hard or too graphic for you, you’ll find Passion a gentler, more romantic read.
What Rachel Kramer Bussel shows through the stories in Passion is how important good sex is for a woman’s well being. What is good sex? In my opinion, good sex is erotic sex, which comes from a place of love and desire, and involves communication and sensitivity to a lover's needs.
One of my favorite stories in Passion is My Dark Knight, written by Jacqueline Applebee. It’s about a “hopeless romantic” in East London who finds her very own black knight in the form of Omar, a café worker who sweeps her off her feet. Through this smutty little story, Applebee addresses issues such as race and cynicism, turning modern day assumptions about the end of romance upside down. “I believe that chivalry still exists, I hope to find quiet nobility in the most random of places, and I believe that people who love each other can live happily ever after,” Applebee writes.
Another juicy story that says so much more than the sex it entails is The Silver Belt by Lana Fox. Here we’re introduced to Maya, a 35-year-old woman who has grown apart from her husband. Although the silver belt he has given her has become a symbol of her entrapment, an encounter with a handsome stranger helps her use the belt to set herself free. “Like arousal itself, he explained, the belt was a burden, but when she yielded to true passion, it released her,” writes Fox.
In Passion, sex is women's gateway to personal freedom and happiness. With “true passion,” women break through their own barriers and those between themselves and men. In Paris, Greece, London and America, the women in Passion live out their sexual desires, inspiring readers to follow in the pursuit of love.
Raunchy, juicy, lusty, and ultimately feminine in every sense of the word, the stories in Fast Girls: Erotica for Women are provocative and earth-shattering. The new book of erotica, edited by veteran New York sex writer and columnist Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Cleis Press is a wake-up call for women (like me) who are not avid readers of erotica. Seriously, ladies. Read this book and expect to view the world in a different light. You'll no longer just be cubicle worker, waitress, mom, corporate queen or the good wife. You'll be a woman hyper aware of your own sexual power.
There's something for everyone in this collection of incredibly readable short stories: the single woman, lesbian, in-love girlfriend, devout wife, and horny college girl are all represented. Fast Girls ensures that no woman is safe from the fast girl she can become. According to Bussel, fast girls are not about being "shocking for shock's sake but following their passion, seeking out what it is that they need to be truly pleasured." As Bussel says: "What I love about these fast girls is that even as they are bold, daring and dynamic, they have a thing or two to learn about sex and themselves." Beyond the sex, the prose in Fast Girls is point blank in the tradition of crime fiction with orgasms in place of gunshots and knife stabbings. Nothing is censored, and the blood and guts is the naked flesh as a symbol for the vulnerable yet powerful woman revealed.
My favorite Fast Girls story by far is Waxing Eloquent by Donna George Storey. I love this story because it's multilayered with a solid tone of jaded sarcasm masking a college girl's insecurity. Storey also attacks the sanitized culture of L.A., which is rightly deserved. In order to get in bed with the gorgeous TV actor next door, the protagonist does a typically LA thing: she gets waxed. "I'm lying on a table in a salon in Westwood, waiting for some nice lady in a white coat to rip off all my pubic hair so I can go have a proper L.A. fuck with Cody himself." As a reward for her pain, she gets to bed the hot actor. "Thanks for keeping your promise to test me out Cody. That was one hell of a L.A. fuck," she tells Cody after they celebrate her second waxing that leaves not a hair in sight. To which Cody answers flatly: "Sorry Shannon. If any promises were kept, it's not L.A." Here the reader gets a slice of the twisted side of L.A. life served up in a smart, sexy vignette.
Another goodie is Winter, Summer, by Tristan Taormino, in which the protagonist's fear of intimacy is violently overcome through a one-night stand with a butch blond pool player she meets in a bar. Fireworks by Lolita Lopez concerns the explosions that occur between husband and wife when they decide to have sex on the sly at a family picnic. Married Life by Charlotte Stein reveals how a husband's secret sadomasochistic fantasies can be rudely awakened by a wife who's not afraid to play with whips and rope. In all of these, the reader is right there with the narrator as the hot sex and personal revelations occur. In Fast Girls, sex is merely an art that brings the participants into closer association with themselves. Each story is a healing for the writer and voyeuristic trip for the reader. In Whore Complex, by Bussel, the protagonist discovers more rewards as the personal whore of a very handsome, intelligent and dominating man than through her corporate day job.
Oh, and did I mention the scene involving menage a trois (and then some) in Fast Girls? There's the somewhat shocking Playing the Market by Angela Caperton that details how an everyday woman can become an instant prostitute, simply because she needs to pay rent in a downturn economy. Here the threesome is composed of two hunky men and one woman, while Communal by Saskia Walkergently plays with the idea of a foursome via steamy shower scenes in a college dorm setting. The women in Fast Girls are unafraid to push their own boundaries and test their limits. Perhaps the boldest heroine in this anthology is the protagonist in Let's Dance by D.L. King. Here an older woman makes the moves on a college boy with lustful force.
Not only is the prose in Fast Girls witty, raw and honest, the women portrayed within its pages are heroines. Forget about mainstream America when you read this book: there's not a single Sex in the City scenario in sight. A fast girl might love shoes, like the woman in Tess Danesi's story, Lessons, Slow and Painful, but they're merely impractical sex props for her pleasure. She lets her boyfriend knife the words "Fast Girl" into her back because she thinks his kisses are worth the pain. These fictional women know what they need to make themselves feel reborn, and they will go to any extreme to get there. Fast girls aren't worried about being "too fat" or whether or not they look like Julia Roberts; they're accepting of their own flaws and desires. Fast girls are willing to risk humiliation in order to find themselves.
In similar fashion to Whore Complex, there's a recurring theme of a reward for staying true to one's self throughout Fast Girls. In Confession of a Shopaholic by Jennifer Peters, the protagonist unabashedly carries her new sex toys on the bus, wining a handsome guy to take home to try out her new trinkets. In Waiting For Beethoven by Susie Hara, a 51-year-old woman aggressively pursues a pianist that's young enough to be her son, to her own exquisite benefit. I wish copies of Fast Girls could be delivered to every desperate housewife with the enclosed note: "You deserve more!"
Click here to read more reviews on the August 2010 virtual book tour for Fast Girls: Erotica For Women.
Yesterday I met with Rory Leahy, writer and lead actor of the play, The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden, which plays at Cornservatory until September 4. I reviewed the play for Centerstage Chicago, noting the bumps, but ultimate promise of the American Demigods theatre company that Leahy is running. What stands out about the play is its positive, upbeat message: Stay true to your childhood self, no matter how much people and life beat you down! I was also excited to learn that American Demigods has a mission I can relate to: "To know how we as humans can aspire to be better than we are." It turned out to be a very relevant conversation, topped off by news about American Demigods' exciting slate of projects for 2011: The production of two plays by Chicago playwright Reina Hardy and a 24 Hour Theatre Project. I know a good thing when I see one, so don't touch that dial.
Marla Seidell: Tell me about the original production of Jarvis, which was mounted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a decade ago.
Rory Leahy: I was in a group called The Penny Dreadful Players. We pretty much did our own thing with theatre. We didn’t have a faculty advisor: We were the blind leading the blind. Jarvis was first conceived in the late '90s, with another friend of mine, Tom Beach, who had the idea for the boy detective.
MS: How much of you is in the play?
RL: A great deal, although, I wouldn’t say Jarvis is based on me, it’s more like he’s inspired by life. If I had multiple personalities Jarvis would be one of them. Really I’m all of the characters, even the female characters, especially Michelle [played by Julia Beck].
MS: How so?
RL: She’s got that really nerdy thing, and she’s shy. She reads a lot, she’s not good at parties--she’s my grade school, high school self.
MS: Where did you grow up?
RL: In Edgewater [in Chicago], although I went to high school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette.
MS: So you're hardcore Irish Catholic.
RL: Yeah, my family is originally from the South Side.
MS: At what age did you decide you wanted to do theatre?
RL: I have always wanted to make things up and perform, even before I realized it was a profession. I was seven when I performed in a Christmas pageant. I had a small role as a shepard so I promoted myself to archangel, and got all the neighborhood kids together to put on our own pageant. We didn’t have a script but I phonetically dictated the dialogue to the other kids. I did that sort of thing for a while. The first play I wrote that I’m proud of is a play called Love Story, a political satire, that I did junior year of high school.
MS: How long have you been writing?
RL: Pretty much I’ve been continuously writing things, many of them awful, since I was 17.
MS: How often do you write?
RL: I usually devote my Saturday and Sunday afternoons to writing. Some weekends are more productive than others.
MS: What are you working on now?
RL: I'm working on a prose project, not connected to theatre. It’s a novella, which is premised on the notion of current events. In the story Barack Obama and Dick Cheney switch bodies, with Cheney in Obama’s body and the reverse, and the shenanigans that result.
MS: Tell me about your theatre company, American Demigods.
RL: American Demigods was officially founded in 2009, and we produced a play called Monks in Trouble [directed by Leahy; written by Marc Heiden]. It was a big hit, a lot of people like it, it was produced at the Apollo Studio Theatre. It was kind of a theological horror company, about a group of monks in a monastery, and the evil unholy force there.
MS: What do you want people to take away from Jarvis?
RL: I want people to see themselves in it--it relates to a broad spectrum of the audience. There’s a cheesy message about childhood innocence and that’s a good thing and people should not dismiss it. For most of us, youthful innocence gets ruthlessly beaten away. I want people to think of youthful ideas when they see it.
MS: Are you happy with how it turned out?
RL: Yes, I’m very happy about that. The cast embodies the characters really well. Anyone reading this that has $15 in his or her pockets and has a free Friday or Saturday night should definitely come. It’s pretty lighthearted with some dark moments. It’s a nice contract to doom and gloom in the theater medium.
MS: What are your goals for American Demigods?
RL: I would definitely like for the company to become one of the well-known storefront theater companies in the next few years. There are dozens of Chicago theater spaces and all are cranking out good material. A lot of them go on to great glorious things and die within five years. I hope that American Demigods is one of the ones that doesn’t.
MS: Tell me about how you picked the name, American Demigods, and about your mission.
RL: The reason I picked that name, is firstly, because it’s badass, and second, because I like stories about heroes and mythical things. We explore how to be good and how to be human, and how to be semi-divine. We want to explore what that [divinity] means. It’s obviously a mythical idea; it’s not normal. We want to know how humans can aspire to be better than they are. Whatever kind of theater we produce, even if its edgier and darker, we always want to create protagonists that are sympathetic, even if flawed, and we want them to be heroes to cheer for. Our name also comes from founding fathers [of the country]; they were called the American Demigods.
MS: What’s next?
RL: We’re doing a 1-day event on September 25, a staged reading of the play Erratica by Reina Hardy, followed by a burlesque show. And for 2011 we have three shows planned: In February or March we want to do a 24 Hour Theatre Project, with 4 playwrights, 5 directors, and 15 actors. We as producers will give the premises of the play, and the playwrights will have 12 hours to write short plays and the actors and producers will have 12 hours to put it together to perform on a Saturday night. It’s in the tradition of theatre bootcamp, trying to demonstrate you can really create something out of nothing under very difficult circumstances if you have the right talent and enthusiasm. For the summer, we’re planning to do Con Musical [a working title], a musical about nerd culture at Comic Con. Reina Hardy is writing the book and lyrics and the music is being developed by Matt Board. For the fall, the most likely contender is a series of one-acts I will write with a Halloween theme.
MS: It sounds like you really enjoy your work.
RL: It beats not doing it. I do it because I can’t really conceive of an alternative. I’m not really good at anything other than making stuff up and performing. I’m rubbish with math and science; I pretty much just do the artistic stuff.
The Irrelevant Adventures of Jarvis McFadden is performed at 8.p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, at Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln until September 4. On Saturday, September 25, American Demigods hosts a staged reading of Reina Hardy’s play, Erratica, at The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway, at 4pm. A burlesque show follows the reading.