Twist and Shout

Twist and Shout
Life is never straight (Joey Kulkin photo)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rolando Gori's (and maybe Obama's) "XLIV"



BENNINGTON -- "And it has nothing to do with Obama?"

Rolando Gori laughs and repeats my line: "And it has nothing to do with Obama. But maybe I'll change that in the future."

The near future is tomorrow -- 4 o'clock Sunday, May 17, 2015 -- when Rolando sits back and watches the world premiere of his first symphony "XLIV" at Bennington College.

The Rome-born Toronto-raised Gothamite composed XLIV to complement Beethoven's 3rd (with heavy doses from another hero, Britten) and the "musically autobiographical" work features 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 French horns, 2 trumpets, 2 percussions and strings galore (double bass, violin, viola, cello).

Michael Finckel's Sage City Symphony will perform the 32-minute work.

Rolando titled XLIV to represent his age, 44.

Finckel commissioned him to write the piece a few years ago.

"My daughter and his daughter are in the same class in New York."

The dads got to talking music and symphonies.

"He said, Let me hear a few pieces and he liked what he heard and said, Let's see if we can get you to commission a symphony."

Before these details emerged in a chat at Fiddlehead's counter, Rolando agreed to my request to play the gallery's 1936 Story & Clark piano. He beckoned his musical wife Heidi Siegell down from the mezzanine and they performed "Morning Love Song".

They co-wrote it "for friends who got married as a wedding gift," Rolando said. "It was a gift because we're all musicians and broke." He laughed again.

XLIV features 5 movements full of speed and emotion. The second and fourth movements are expansive, Rolando said, and the first, third, and fifth quicker. If you're wondering if he's nervous or scared about watching his first baby take flight ... not really.

"I'm 44, man. Everything is all right. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the show."

And who knows, maybe the other "44" will catch wind of and enjoy his version of XLIV.

In the distant future, of course.

HEIDI SIEGELL MEANWHILE is a singer-songwriter whose album "In Stillness: Lullabies and Meditations for All Ages" (here) has won several awards.

In Stillness, she said, helps people sleep or helps anybody quiet down. It was inspired by the lullabies she'd write and sing for Oceáne.

Here's the video for the title track:

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Vignettes from Vermont: Q&A with Devon Ogden



30 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. 


BENNINGTON -- Nothing inspires Devon Ogden more than those two sentences from her favorite book, the Bible. Mark 12:30-31. Makes sense when you look beyond the 29-year-old Virginian's acting resume, which includes commercials, music videos, TV, and the lead role for this soon-to-be released flick:


Lazarus Rising Teaser from John Depew on Vimeo.

Indeed, you study and are struck by Devon Ogden's personal resume at the top of which is Safi Life, her initiative to educate, empower, and advance Rwandan girls who are vulnerable as a 12-year-old Nigerian suicide bomber.

Devon named Safi Life after a young woman who'd become one of her besties because they were so much alike.

You know, just a couple of sweet 21-year-olds from different parts of the world ...

... the only difference being that Safi Umukundwa grew up in a genocidal war zone and watched warlords slaughter her family while nearly dying in a machete attack.

Time along with Devon Ogden's initiative has healed many of Safi's wounds.

"Safi's doing great. She's getting married in July!!!" Devon wrote a few weeks ago in a Q&A that touched on everything you ever wanted to know about a blonde actor who loves food, hates bullies, and, when it comes to the Gallagher brothers of the band Oasis, can be forgiven for choosing Noel over Liam.

At least she knows her Oasis, and there is no greater musical commandment than that.



Kulk: I noticed you for the first time in Noel Gallagher's video for "The Death of You and Me" -- his first splash post-Oasis. You played a burnt-out young waitress in a lifeless diner in the middle of nowhere. Thought you brought the video to life. Why do you think Noel chose you to play the part? How many other actresses did you beat out? How did you find out, and what was that day like?

Devon: Thank you!! It's actually a pretty cool "Hollywood" story. I was a volunteer casting director on the job, helping out a producer friend who had just been hired. Mike Bruce, the director and I, had been emailing back and forth (but hadn't met yet) about some great actresses like Deborah Ann Woll from TRUE BLOOD, who we were going to make offers to. Mike thought I was a guy the entire time. When he found out from some other people that I was actually a girl, and an actress about the right age for the role, he suggested I come in and audition instead of casting it. // The audition was a scene from one of Mike's many amazing movie scripts, and the character had to be vulnerable but spicy, just like in the video. I eventually won the role against a few dozen others. I guess they saw something in me. I later heard it was the "all-American-Marilyn-Monroe-vibe", which is obviously the best compliment ever. Moral of the story -- help friends out! You never know where it will lead you.

K: Did you have *any* idea who Noel Gallagher (or Oasis) was when you read the casting call?



D: Of course! I only listened to "Wonderwall" about a gazillion times in high school dreaming of some boy or another. I actually remember having a particularly tragic moment in the Tower Records parking lot with myself, my Toyota Celica (windows down), and that song playing full blast, mourning a breakup.

K: Let me preface this by saying Oasis is ... well, was ... the best rock 'n' roll band in the world for 15 years and it's a crying shame the brothers let bone-deep differences ruin something so special and made so many people happy. They were my Beatles. It was no secret however that Noel wanted out. With that, the most telling part of the video occurs as Noel pushes you backward into the pool. To me it represents a Baptism for the waitress after she calls it quits, but on a much deeper level it shows Noel's Baptism as well -- that is, a clean, spiritual break from Oasis. Rebirth. The entire video conveys his desire to write the next chapter of his career without the rest of Oasis. Terrifying on a certain level, no doubt, yet liberating considering the brothers' tumultuous history. What do the song and video represent in your mind? How do you relate the lyrics, what with leaving tiny Fairfax Virginia to go to college in Los Angeles?

D: I really love and agree with your assessment! In my mind, the song and video are about going out and finding your own adventures. Sometimes you can feel suffocated in a place. I left Virginia because I felt that way, and just recently left L.A. for East Coast markets. Not to say I don't love both places and will be back, but when your surroundings are "sucking up your soul" as Noel would put it, it's just time for a mental shift. Everyone's adventures look different, but in my life, I've noticed travel and a change of location always bring me closer to my truest, happiest self.

K: What was it like to work with Noel Gallagher? Funniest and strangest things that happened during the shoot? How many takes did the pool scene take?


D: Noel is SO INCREDIBLE. Can't say that enough. He's kind, smart, funny, humble, and grateful to be doing what he loves. He is a true talent, through and through. // The pool scene was quite a challenge because we only had the day to shoot the video, daylight was fading, and there was NO time for more than one take of me falling backwards into the pool (since we'd have to dry my hair, clothes, shoes, everything). I don't even know if we had a hair dryer -- it just wouldn't have worked. So, we did a few shots with Noel and myself where he just half way pushed me and someone knelt behind to catch me. I wobbled once by the edge of the pool and nearly ruined the ENTIRE shoot. Thank goodness it went off without a hitch; I'm so proud of the moment we created.

K: Part 2 of "The Death of You and Me" goes with the video to "What a Life" -- which I'm not afraid to say went right over my head. Can you fill me in, please? Working with Noel Gallagher and Russell Brand at the same time must've been quite the trip.

D: Hahah! I think the video's open to multiple interpretations. I always like to think of it as Noel rescuing the Good, whatever that means to you. Russell is a genius. His speech at the beginning of the video is only about a quarter of this stream of consciousness, completely improvised monologue he made up on the spot -- and he didn't mess up a single word, ever. I've never been so stunned by a person in real life.

K: Russell's monologue at the start of "What A Life" is centered around fear i.e. fear being a "mind-killer" and fear being "the antiseptic of bravery" and it's mesmerizing. What's your biggest fear as an actor? How have you overcome fear in the acting world?

D: Acting is terrifying. To be honest, actors are some of the most insecure and strange people (myself included) who have decided that for whatever reason they need to be vessels for emotion and story. So off we go, opening ourselves up over and over again to emotional turmoil for the purpose of a creating great scene. Then in real life there's constant criticism, rejection, job insecurity ... I could go on. BUT. There are also those magical experiences actors have while "in the moment" that we all live for. When you get lost in a scene and connect with your whole heart to another human being and feel something the regular "you" hasn't or may never, that's the good stuff. It's gold, and worth all of the sacrifice it took to get there. So no, I don't think I'll ever overcome fear, but I'm going to keep pushing through it. And as I've heard a lot of people say, acting beats working for a living!

K: Favorite Oasis song? Favorite Oasis album?

D: "Don't Look Back In Anger", (What's the Story) Morning Glory?



K: Why did you choose acting? First role ever (age, location, how'd it go)?

D: My 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Unser gave me the role of Charlotte in a class reading of "Charlotte's Web". I was so excited to actually be chosen for a role because I was a particularly shy kid. I'm still pretty shy. It was only a staged reading but I guess it went well because from then on I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

K: Devon Ogden's role of a lifetime would be ___________ .

D: Something like Jennifer Connelly's in "BLOOD DIAMOND". I want to do roles that change people's minds or introduce them to something new, roles that have depth and meaning. That's why I got into this business in the first place. Film is such a far reaching medium, it's a wonderful responsibility.



K: I sent you my Q&A with Melissa Stephens and it turns out you two worked with Rob Lowe, she in "Californication" and you in his "Hairy Rob Lowe" DirecTV commercial. What kind of interactions did you have with Rob during the shoot?

D: He is one of the nicest actors I've ever worked with! How a man can be that kind AND sexy while wearing armpit hair curtains all over his body, I'll never know.

K: Describe your role in the Lending Tree commercial. You look like Lady Gaga done gone on a 12-day bender.

D: My backstory is that I was Lady Gaga on a 12-day bender!! Just kidding ... I was told to be a drunk Vegas stripper who got married the night
before, but your idea is WAY cooler.

K: In "Lazarus Rising" you play Emma, who is described as " ... liberal former political lobbyist who is now on the run for her life. She is strong willed, not afraid to speak her mind, and independent." Why did you get the part? And how does it feel to land your first leading role?

D: I made a tape for "LAZARUS RISING" while I was up in Big Bear shooting another movie. I was really tired after shooting all day, and thankfully the initial audition scene was of a girl tired in bed. Method acting! Then we had callbacks twice in L.A., I booked the role, and the film shot on the outskirts of Boston for three weeks. It was an absolute blast to shoot. I loved playing a very strong-willed, cool female character every day. // How is it being the lead in a movie? One can get spoiled! My motel had free continental breakfasts with questionable eggs! Every day off from work I'd sit around in the breakfast room and watch the public TV and take a lot of muffins to go. The staff there probably wondered if I was homeless. Then I'd grab dinner at the movie theater next door that shared the motel's parking lot because I didn't have a car to go anywhere. Life was good that summer. Hollywood is glamorous, you know?

K: Did movies such as "Hotel Rwanda" and "Last King of Scotland" have an impact on your life? If so, how?

D: Well the movie "HOTEL RWANDA" changed my entire life, but both films are incredible. One of my super-smart friends from Virginia suggested we watch it one night, and at that time I'd never even heard of the country Rwanda or the genocide against Tutsi that happened there in 1994. If anyone hasn't seen the movie, see it! It's a great example of how film can reach people's hearts and minds like nothing else, and introduce them to something new. Sadly when I ended up going to Rwanda I heard from countless locals that the man the film was based off of wasn't exactly the hero they portrayed him to be, but at least Hollywood took an interest in something important.



K: Why did you start Safi Life?


D: So in college I went on Semester at Sea through the University of Virginia, which was absolutely the best decision I've ever made. It gave me the travel bug! Then the next summer I was offered an opportunity to go to Rwanda for a month. A strange coincidence since I'd just seen "HOTEL RWANDA" about a year prior. This trip was through the USC School of Theatre, but our travel group was comprised of a bunch of artists, playwrights, and students from CalArts and USC. One of the purposes of the trip was to work with genocide survivors in Rwanda and former child soldiers and former sex slaves in Uganda using Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, which open victims of trauma up to talking about their feelings. Mostly, though, we were all just there to listen and to love people. My good friend Gabriel Cowan from the CalArts group was there to make a documentary about post-genocide Rwanda, and one of the girls who gave her testimony for his film was Safi. // Safi is exactly my age, just one month younger. At the time we met we were both 21. We had lunch together after she shared her testimony and became fast friends. I couldn't shake how strange it was that I was born in the U.S., having lived a very safe and sheltered life, and she was born in Rwanda ... forced to live through more pain and destruction than I could ever imagine. Yet here she was, after losing her entire family and enduring multiple surgeries to heal machete wounds, just as sweet and generous as can be. She put herself through school, works full time, financially supports her friends, and is full of faith. She's just an incredible inspiration. After I left Rwanda we stayed in touch, and in 2011 started Safi Life to help other girls impacted by the genocide, or orphaned, to get an education and become self-sufficient like her. One cool thing is, in Swahili "Safi" means "clean and pure", something I didn't know when I named the organization in her honor.

K: How's Safi Umukundwa doing these days? Any tangible stats that show the foundation is making an impact?

D: Safi's doing great. She's getting married in July!!! // Right now Safi Life has 10 girls enrolled full time in Rwandan universities. We are hoping to make that number double and triple in the coming years. Our scholarship recipients are absolutely incredible. Not only have they overcome all the odds to succeed in school, but they also give of their time to younger girls in the community, paying it forward as mentors, and visit with genocide widows on a regular basis. Many of them don't have parents, so we are becoming our own family. // If anyone wants to join us, donors can either sponsor a girl's education financially at $75/month, give a one time gift (any little bit helps and all donations are tax deductible), or come to Rwanda! Starting in 2017 we will be taking annual summer trips to Rwanda for a cross-cultural leadership summit. Visitors will get to spend time in Rwanda, meet our students, teach, and learn. Visit www.safilife.org to get in touch with us, we'd LOVE to hear from you.

K: You've seen and smelled and touched and tasted the heart of Africa. What's the fundamental thing most Americans don't understand about life in Africa, or might not even be willing to put in the time to understand?


D: One thing I know is anyone who goes to Africa, especially Rwanda, will fall in love. It's truly mind boggling that a country just 21 years after a brutal genocide that killed over a million people can now be absolutely thriving. It took great leadership, a spirit of forgiveness, and love for one another to move forward. // Rwanda is safe, clean, and inspiring. Rwandans join together every month for a voluntary community service day to clean their neighborhoods! In the states, community service can be a punishment, but there it's a blessing. Also, they have universal health care, and 64% of their Parliament is women, the largest percentage of women in governmental positions in the WORLD! Many Rwandans speak three languages (Kinyarwandan, French, and English). In Kigali, their main city, they have five star hotels and nightclubs with VIP lounges. Not exactly the stereotypical image that comes to mind when envisioning Africa. // I've also been to Uganda and Kenya. Each country has its own unique flavor, and every community is SO drastically different. Cities look very, very different from the rural areas. Before I went to Africa, that's something I didn't understand or really think about. All I can say is if you have a chance to go to Africa -- GO. It's a magical place, alive with a spirit unlike anything you've ever experienced. Fair warning, though, once you go, you'll want to go back again and again.

K: True or false, American girls and African girls aren't so different. Explain.

D: Absolutely true. Even though many of the women there have been through so much trauma (especially in Rwanda), I could still sit down and have a meal with any one of them and talk about our dreams and hopes for the futures. Or gossip about men. We all want the same things, need the same things. We all want creature comforts and happiness and love.

K: What goes through your mind when you read about another one of Boko Haram's abductions of the young African girls you and Safi are trying to help?

D: There is a LOT of work left to do in this world for women's equality. Just because we're on the right track in some parts of the world doesn't mean we can get complacent. In fact we need to fight harder for our sisters, since "to whom much is given, much is required". In our world today, human sex trafficking (aka modern slavery), gender inequality, and lack of education for women are some of the BIGGEST problems we face, because they cause a whole host of other problems in return. Not to mention they're despicable. // The truth is that a lot of our world's worst issues would be SOLVED if women were considered equal, everywhere, with equal say and influence. Imagine a world like that - it would look completely different. It would be balanced, probably the way it was meant to be. Entire governments would shift. Check out www.girleffect.org for more info. No one is free until we are all free.



K: At some point you branch out and direct a Hotel Rwanda-like movie about the enduring struggle of African girls, right?

D: That's the best idea I've ever heard :)

K: What does MyLifeMyPower.org represent to you? What's the worst thing a bully said or did to you in middle school, and how did you react/respond?

D: My Life My Power is a great nonprofit that helps people understand their value. We all feel unloved from time to time, but when bullying is incessant from the people around you, especially when you're a kid, it can be downright miserable. I had it okay growing up, but I do remember every little thing that was said to me in middle and high school, from specific things "wrong" with my body, or my personality, etc. We all remember the negative things people say to us, even years after they're said, and it hurts!! This can be a really tough world sometimes.



K: Put acting and Safi aside for a moment ... what makes Devon Ogden tick?

D: Tick as in happy or sad? Food is probably the answer to both of those questions. I'm a passionate eater. Give me good food, I'm happy. Withhold food from me, I'm sad.

K: What did your favorite book teach you?

D: Mark 12:30-31

K: What piece of wisdom would you impart on American girls?

D: Have fun. Stop worrying. Quit checking your phone. I think that's good advice for everyone, every age. I should probably take that advice too!!

K: No, seriously, do you even like Oasis? Don't lie, I'll know.

D: Of course I do!

K: I dare you ... which Gallagher meant more to Oasis, Noel or Liam?

D: NOEL.



K: True or false: Devon Ogden desperately wants to win the Oscar.

D: False. I just want to work and do what I love, even if no one ever knows my name. It might actually be nicer that way!

K: The first woman to be president in the United States will be _________ .

D: Oh ... it's gonna be Hillary.

Tidbits ...

* Favorite food in Uganda: homemade bread from Hope North, a camp for former child soldiers that we visited. They also gave us hot tea and pineapple to go with our fresh baked bread as we danced under the stars by a bonfire. It was powerful.

* Favorite movie, favorite (and most influential) actors: I'm good with anything Cate Blanchett touches.

* Is USC ever going to beat UCLA again in football? YESSSS!!! Fight on!!!

BTW, Devon: The correct answer is Liam. Another commandment, I think.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

New Brunswick

(Joey Kulkin photo circa September '14)

BENNINGTON -- Driving to Gotham on Saturday morning but'll be there just an hour. Maybe less, perhaps 52 minutes, or 46. Dropping Joel and Addie and Sadie at the Manhattan cruise terminal. The rest of the day is mine. Don't want to drive straight back because 8 hours on the road at a time sucks the soul out of your life.

Could drive to Piscataway to watch Rutgers play Tulane, but won't.

Instead'll drive to New Brunswick to stay in a hotel.

That's my life. The end.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What's it called when ... part 1


BENNINGTON -- I think I'll just chronicle each time it happens instead of trying to remember the incidences because usually I forget the specifics.

Two hours ago, on the llama farm, I used the word squab in a post. No, not the bird squab, but a reference to throwing down back in the day in L.A. Was a time someone would say, Wanna squab? and you better've been ready to throw down, boy. But that word ain't been used in a good long while outside of the Geto Boys song.

About 32 minutes ago, on Zuckerberg's farm, I used the term McFührer in a reply to TPM's post about a swastika drawn in butter on the top-bun of a woman's chicken sandwich.

Ten minutes ago I began to read Miss Stein's daily piece and was amused, twice, upon seeing that she too used squab and Führer; the difference being that she wrote about culinary squab while dispelling rumors that Hitler was a vegetarian.

I suppose Miss Stein and I are cosmically attuned today.

Hey, maybe it has to do with the photo I took of Sadie the newly minted 8 this morning holding an original copy of "Hitty, Her First Hundred Years" -- which I gifted Sadie for her birthday after reading how much Miss Sadie Stein loved the book.

Or, well, maybe my mind's playing tricks on me.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Jack marks the spot

This brick building at the corner of Depot and Benmont marks the spot
of a used-book store but you have to walk up to the window to notice.
Everything makes itself known at some point. (Joey Kulkin photo)

BENNINGTON -- The other shoe always drops, forevermore. Men and women cannot help it. Indeed, next time you look at a photo of lovers -- of the younger variety -- spy where the woman puts one of her hands. The non-verbal message that comes with a woman putting a hand on her man's stomach, or somewhere on his torso, resonates loud and clear with other females, like a bullhorn-amplified clarion call of the wild: Stay the fuck away from my man or I will eat your eyeballs, honey!

Men do it a little differently, especially men of letters. ESPECIALLY men of letters.

I figured out the first territorial marking not long ago.

The other shoe marking just fell. I Googled men marking territory women and clicked on a Yahoo Answers link:

One answerer answered like this:


The term applies to male animals who spray their scent on their territory/habit to make other animals of the same specie aware that the territory/habit is occupied by a male. As a lot of males in the animal kingdom do not like to share their environment with other males, by marking their territory, other males will hopefully find another location to call their home. ... In humans, people may say a man is marking his territory if he does something which makes his presence felt. People will also say it is a man does something which prevents other men in their environment from doing something else.

Another answerers answered like this:


In nature, certain animals "mark their territory" with urine, feces, or glandular secretions as a symbol to show what area they control. Humans, while not resorting to such methods, do the same thing but use body language.

While others who take a high shine to the language of letters are more casual and cool and mark their spot with a well manicured set of words.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Shaky Dave


BENNINGTON -- Just read a story about a man whom police found dead in the woods behind a cemetery up in Hartford. David Woodward, 51. First thought was that it was "Shaky Dave" but 51 would have been too young, but you never know.

Called the Hartford PD a few minutes ago to see if the man they found dead in the woods behind the cemetery was Shaky Dave.

Shaky Dave, legend has it, was one of White River Junction's best athletes and a terrific kid who fought in Vietnam then came home. One day, they say, he rode in the back of pick-up with friends and for whatever reason he fell out and banged his head on the road pretty good and it fucked him up for life. Never really spoke but communicated in terse grunts though a few words managed to string themselves together every now and then.

In the early to mid aughts I lived at the Coolidge Hotel during the run as sports editor at the Spectator and often bought a bagel and coffee next door. Shaky Dave stood in front of the shop now and again and so we'd interact here and there. He amused me. I amused him. One day I pointed my Nikon D-100 at him. He grunted no. I said, C'mon! He smiled and flipped me the bird, touching his middle finger to his nose. Above the knuckles on his fingers were tattooed letters L O V E.

Click.

Don't remember if the fingers on his right hand read H A T E.

The dispatcher returned from the sergeant's office a few moments later to inform me that the man police found was not Shaky Dave.

"But they told me to tell you that the guy you're talking about died last year."

Bummer.

On the other hand, Shaky Dave's having a great ol' time in the Great Beyond, no doubt grunting a few words together and flipping dead photographers the L O V E bird.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

James Garner, one for the ages

James Garner as Jim Rockford (www.movieactors.com)

BENNINGTON -- The movie ended but I wanted to see another.

The marquee atop an adjoining theatre read THE NOTEBOOK and I thought, What the hell, why not? So I stumbled in and found a seat. It was early in the movie. It hooked me in an instant. One of the most beautiful love stories ever captured on film under the auspice of old age, memories, and Alzheimer's.

The ending scene with James Garner and Gina Rowlands going to sleep, forever, hand in hand and arm in arm, slayed me. Slayed everyone. When those blue herons flapped their wings and the screen faded to black, the theatre was pitch quiet except for the sounds of sniffling and muffled crying. My eyes were drowning in tears. I'm a sucker for that mush.

The other thing about James Garner, who has died at the age of 86, is that he starred in one of the great '70s TV shows, The Rockford Files. My dad watched it religiously, I watched it with him. It was one of our bonds.