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With a raft of accolades in her resume, American actress/playwright/professor Anna Deavere Smith produces work that highlights the plight of the underclass, the unvoiced and those overlooked by entitled society. In her most recent one-woman production — “Notes From The Field” which opened November 2nd at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theatre (305 West 43rd Street, NY, NY) — the 66 year-old creator continues her fascination with what’s been called “documentary theater.”
Through a set of passionately expressed portraits — based on actual news events and her own interviews — “Notes From The Field” crosses generations and poignantly renders complex issues of race, disenfranchisement, mass incarceration and discrimination as something in our faces; it’s not just to be viewed through the gauze of electronic media.
Though these people aren’t necessarily making statements through their words, this veteran actress brilliantly brings to audiences these voices asking questions and, in some ways, demanding responses.
Interspersed with video footage, comic-book illustration back drops and Marcus Shelby’s on-stage cello riffing providing a robust yet subtle jazz-inflected lament, completes the effect of there’s much more going on her than just one person on stage.
Somehow, just by changing her garb, vocal tonality or regional accent, Deavere Smith creates 17 unique portraits — with the help of director Leonard Foglia — that constantly question the powers that be.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Deavere Smith got an Acting M.F.A. from San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. After that, she went on to create numerous productions (Fires in the Mirror; Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992; House Arrest; Let Me Down Easy; The Arizona Project), win a plethora of awards (a MacArthur Fellowship; the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding One-Person Show; a Matrix Award; The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize and a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama, among others) and has been nominated for the Drama Pulitzer and two Tonys.
She’s been an artist-in-residence at the Center for American Progress, and has taught at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts as well as at NYU’s School of Law. From 1990 to 2000, she was a drama professor at Stanford University and had taught at Carnegie Mellon U.
But this theatrical chameleon has not only made the stage her home; she has also done television (The West Wing, The Practice and Nurse Jackie) and film (Philadelphia, Dave, The American President, Rent, and Rachel Getting Married) as well.
In February 2014, “Anna Deavere Smith: A Young Arts Masterclass” was part of the HBO Masterclass documentary series. And Smith has published two books: “Talk to Me: Travels in Media and Politics" and “Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts – For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind.”
In advance of her current show, she conducted this exclusive one-on-one shortly before previews began.
Q: How did you get all these interviews down and select the characters who ranged from Congressman John Lewis to inmate Denise Dobson.
ADS: The job of selecting characters is always hard. I did over 250 interviews to get them… It’s a process of trying a… I hate to call them characters, I like to call them portraits. I think of them as real people. Making an assemblage of them, bringing them into rehearsal, hearing from the dramaturge, hearing from the director, hearing from other people around and then going home and writing a different play and then bringing that one into rehearsal until I find out who’s going to work together. Because these fragments of things… are people speaking in their real life.
Q: Where does the journalism end and the creation begin; how did you draw the line between one versus the other?
ADS: I don’t really think of the things as “versus” in a way. [The author] Studs Terkel was a mentor of mine and his book [structured with interviews], “Working,” had a huge effect on me. It also became a Broadway show a long time ago as you know.
I always had been attracted to documentaries. I think there is something in truth that you can’t make it up, and I believe people, when they express themselves, are making a kind of art. That’s one of the ways I pick who ends up on stage, people who are doing something really artistic just by nature by the way they move and express themselves.
Q: What were your conversations like with the great civil rights advocate and congressman John Lewis?
ADS: I went to see John Lewis because I had heard he had gone back to Montgomery and the Police Chief made an apology to him for the things that had happened during the Civil Rights movement and had offered him his badge. So as soon as I heard that I went rushing over to his office and he was kind enough to meet with me and a tape recorder and tell me the story.
Q: How did you find the other people? How did you choose them such as NAACP legal counsel Sherrilyn Ifill and Freddie Gray beating videographer Kevin Moore?
ADS: It’s like selling Girl Scout Cookies. You knock on the door and somebody lets you in, and they feel they like you because you’re a nice kid and they say, “The lady across the street likes the mint cookies, why don’t you go sell some to her?” You meet one person and they say you should meet that person or they introduce you to someone and before you know it you went to a town with one lead and you have ten interviews before you leave.
Q: Which character was the hardest to construct or edit and were the male characters harder than the female ones?
ADS: No, it doesn’t have anything to do with that. I think about it as singing songs that people are composing as they talk to me. I wouldn’t say anybody is more challenging than another. Everybody deserves the attention that I and my coaches give them as I try to respect what they said to me.
Q: Do you think creating work like this which provided an alternative to conventional structured drama; have you changed the face of theatre in some way?
ADS: I wouldn’t presume to say [something like that…] You’d have to ask somebody else that, I wouldn’t say that about myself. People say I created a new form of theatre that’s now called “Verbatim Theatre” that I’ve been doing since the late ‘70s.
People do recognize that I’ve contributed something to the field in that regard. But I also… particularly in my teaching for 40 years and my book, Letters to a Young Artist, I hope that one of the things I do is give courage to younger people that try to do this. It’s very, very hard in any field in the arts to make a mark, as they say.
Q: Selma director Ava Duverney’s latest film, a documentary titled The 13th, complements your show. Have you seen it?
ADS: I saw Ava; I went to a screening of the show here in New York, and I was able to see her at the reception. I hope she can come to this show, I know she’s shooting something else right now. I would really like her to see it, I really admire her and her work.
Q: Do you think you can change people with a show like this, maybe they will change the way they vote by having them see your show?
ADS: I don’t think any of us can change anybody, really. All we can do is make ourselves present and hope that maybe something rich happens by the fact that we’re in each other’s company. We all have mini transformations all the time.
Q: Have you invited President Obama to one of these performances?
ADS: The President is well aware of this project. I had been invited to the White House to address a meeting of people doing work on school discipline. But I’m not bothering the President or anyone around him right now, I think they have other things on their minds. But the President knows about the project.
Q: Maybe they need to get some people down to see this before the election.
ADS: Once we get past this election I’ll do that, but otherwise I think they’re presently engaged.
Q: Do you hope that the audiences that sees this will think about who they’re voting for?
ADS: I sure do. It’s a very critical time right now, I’m supporting Secretary Clinton. I stand for a lot of what she stands for. I stand for justice, I stand for kids, I stand for a country where more of us can strive to love one another, I’m for her. Secretary Clinton and President Clinton have seen another one of my works, Twilight Los Angeles, and I’m hope we’re able to get them here too.
Q: How do you manage to avoid getting exhausted since you play so many characters in one intense two-hour+ performance every night?
Q: Cooked or uncooked?
ADS: Both. [I like] kale and collard greens.
With his dark shades and black/white garb on stage, master bassist Robert Miller seems like a cool cat out of a 1950s Hollywood casting of a jazz musician. But he’s much more than that. The 60-ish player is leader of Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam, a band formed nearly 10 years ago to perform a fusion of rock and jazz that’s both familiar and fresh.
“I am as much a product of rock as I am of jazz,” Miller acknowledged in a recent conversation at the Palm Two in midtown Manhattan. “I love them both equally.”
Over a salad lunch, the New York born and bred Miller outlined his valiant effort not only to keep a sound initially made popular in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, but advance it using a young generation of musicians not necessarily schooled on the same influences as he was. He draws on a pool of musicians, what he calls, “my international cartel.”
To that, the plucky player with an energy beyond his years added, “All around the world there are trained musicians who have gone to schools like Berklee in Boston. I just send out an email that I need guys — a great saxophonist say — for a certain date and they give recommendations. It always works out in time.”
Introduced to his enduring ensemble of a sometimes revolving door of members (“I have three or four variations”), the band plays an ongoing monthly residency at a Greenwich Village jazz den called The Groove NYC. There he works out new tracks, or unique arrangements for covers of rock classics done with a unique twist.
One such cover performed during their July date was the second single off The Queen’s Carnival, their latest album: a cover of The Kinks’ great rock hit “You Really Got Me,” with guest vocalist Lucy Woodward, is getting attention; Kinks' co founder Dave Davies even lent his support and, “We're still waiting on a reaction from Ray [Davies, the older brother].” [video clip: https://youtu.be/aQ7R83qO2lw]
Miller’s PGS continues to play other NYC venues. In May 2016 the band opened for four-time Grammy Award nominee Boney James at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in New Jersey. In June, the band was the featured performer at the Kirby Center For The Performing Arts in Pennsylvania.
Miller further noted, “Those songs I had played before a rock audience. We played a gig in November at the Gramercy Theater — we opened for Scott Weiland formerly of Stone Temple Pilots a week before he passed. We were one of three other acts — all hard rock bands like Weiland’s. We played before a completely rock audience and it went great. I knew we could play before any audience.”
While bandleader Miller is a high-minded jazz aficionado possessed of chops equal to any living jazz great -- having been trained by the likes of Jimmy Garrison -- his influences range beyond the usual that the jazz genre reflects today. That’s because, like it did with so many young people of his generation, the ‘60s British Invasion had a pivotal impact on his musical education.
And, it provided much of the spark that pushed Miller into playing bass guitar rather than a horn or keyboards. Project Grand Slam has, to quote one critic referring to their latest single, “The Rescue” — “a timeless, youthful passion.”
He laughs, “I became a bass player when I was 16, playing in a rock band formed with friends. We all had acoustic guitars that we were learning to play that we made into electric guitars by taping a microphone from a small reel-to-reel tape recorder onto the guitar.
“We bought Beatles sheet music and I noticed that there was a line on the bottom for the bass clef. I already played the trumpet so I knew the treble clef while my buddies were struggling to learn it. So I volunteered to learn the bass. And my entire musical career evolved from that!”
In those days, from high school during the ’60s on, Miller played in or fronted bands mostly under his name. Four bassists — Paul McCartney, Cream’s Jack Bruce, BS&T’s Jim Fielder, and Vanilla Fudge’s Tim Bogert — were crucial inspirations. In the ‘70s he became a fixture in the Boston music scene as a founding member of the jazz fusion band Sagov, playing with acclaimed musicians such as Sonny Stitt, Jaki Byard, and Anton Fig.
In the 1990s, The Robert Miller Group was formed. The band’s first CD, Child’s Play (1994), featured several of self-penned compositions and included guest musicians Fig, Randy Brecker, Jon Lucien, Al Foster, Tim Reis and Tony “Thunder” Smith. The band played the Telluride Jazz Festival, the San Bernadino Jazz Festival, the NYC Downtown Jazz Festival and many well known clubs including The Blue Note and Birdland.
Along the way, he learned the music business, both the legal and label managing aspects, as well as musically, which lent him the confidence to soldier on releasing four other albums on his own terms before this latest one. The band also had a featured role in the hit NBC-TV series Lipstick Jungle starring Brooke Shields, with five of the bandʼs tunes on the soundtrack.
As Miller noted, “The core group of musicians that I work with are still the ones who did this album — and all but one will be there on August 16th when the band officially celebrates the release of The Queenʼs Carnival (Sony/RED).” The new album — which is officially out on the 19th — features nine original tunes written by Miller including the premiere single “The Rescue.” Mostly instrumental, it is textured and diverse, applying influences from Latin to Celtic and everything in between, while staying true to the PGS sound.
The record is a bit more rock while the live show demonstrated more jazz inflections. Explained Miller, “The sax player you saw was the most jazz-oriented one I have had in the group. The other guy — my main guy — plays with effects and pedals. I don’t want people to know he’s playing the sax. I love sounds that make it so indistinguishable — it works great with the band.”
He added, “On the record I have three songs I call my Arena songs; the first track, “Beyond Forever,” is really a tribute to my favorite group, Return To Forever and [its leader] Chick Corea’s a major influence. I love all these guys [identified with fusion such as Miles Davis] but I do not set out reproduce what they do. I combine influences.
“The other two songs — “Gorilla" and “Lucky 7” — I actually wrote imagining them being played in Madison Square Garden where you don't usually find jazz musicians there.”
As outlined in Wikipedia, “Jazz fusion — also known as jazz-rock — is a musical genre that developed in the late 1960s when musicians combined aspects of jazz harmony and improvisation with styles such as funk, rock, rhythm and blues and Latin jazz. During this time many jazz musicians began experimenting with electric instruments and amplified sound for the first time, as well as electronic effects and synthesizers. Many of the developments during the late 1960s and early 1970s have since become established elements of jazz fusion musical practice.”
And that pretty well sums up what one gets either listening to the recorded band or seeing them live in one of their permutations. The only question is, “How much of an audience is there for jazz fusion?” There’s alway been a serious jazz audience, but that’s been for classic straightahead jazz.
Says Miller, “I know that it has an audience but it’s not my niche. I didn’t want to go down that path. For a number years, I’ve been considered a contemporary jazz artist but that’s very open designation. So many things go into that [label]. I hate smooth jazz; to me, it’s elevator music.
“And it doesn’t reflect the other aspect of my career — the rock n roll which I played for 20 years like the British Invasion stuff. I took classic rock and tried to reimagine what I grew up with. I looked for a way and went down the middle between rock and jazz. Some have called fusion; there’s no other name I have for it. It has the power and beat of rock but the improvisational complexity of jazz. I’ve looked for the mid ground and in my search for it I’ve come up with Project Grand Slam.”
For Ingersol, music and the arts have always played a big part in her life. Born on July 22, 1990, this Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, native grew up traveling between the US and the UK. Her mother had emigrated from London, England after her parents had met at Oxford University. The 25-year-old singer/songwriter spent her childhood in both countries, which lent a uniqueness to her experience that translates strongly into her music.
At the age of four, Ingersol’s singing debut came about in church choir, and by five years old, she was handling pieces like “Gloria” by Vivaldi and “Bist Du Bie Mir” by Bach. The singer credits choir director Barbara Bruns with promoting her passion for music and performance.
She began playing guitar after a cousin gave her an acoustic that she determinedly plucked at even though it was too big for her to hold correctly. Once her parents bought her a suitably sized electric at 13, Ingersol attended Harcum College’s Summer Music Program where she learned more formally how to play.
The program focused on rock music with counselors/teachers who were music students from Berkley School of Music, NYU, and UARTS, among others. Ingersol went into the program knowing only how to play Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” but by summer’s end, she crunched out power chords and established a confidence in her musical abilities.
While there, Ingersol began songwriting and recorded two original songs for her final project; now one of them, “Apocalypse,” is on her debut album, the self-titled Ingersol. Her experience opened her up to knowing more about her own musical direction.
Three months in Europe visiting Florence, Italy; Paris, France; London, Liverpool, England; and Glasgow, Scotland, during a summer abroad program led her to perform for roommates and “jam” with local musicians — when not in classes.
Then, while earning her Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from Susquehanna University (‘13), Ingersol also gained experience regularly playing at local venues and charity concerts.
In her crafting this debut album, she worked extensively with Grammy-nominated producer Alex Salzman, who helped her weave her many musical influences into an intimate, honest, and often profound, songwriting style. And Ingersol completed a video of first single from her debut long player by directed by Erik Palladino.
In addition to her love of music, Ingersol is passionate about painting, sketching, and photography, as well as travel, cooking, family, and animals — especially her family’s pets, currently five cats.
Ingersol’s paintings have been featured as cover art for her alumnus magazine, as well as in several shows.
Ingersol carries her Taylor acoustic guitar (fondly named Babylon) with her everywhere she goes.
And her debut video can be found on her website: www.Ingersolmusic.com
Q: Some of your songs have a dark side. Do you have a dark side?
I: I think that it’s something in everybody. Having a dark side just isn’t pronounced when you meet somebody and that’s why I decided to do music the way I do it. I wanted to keep it honest and have it be accessible to people. I’m a happy person on the outside and the inside as well, but everybody goes through rough and tumble times. It’s important to be able to articulate that.
Q: Which of these songs were inspired by your kitty?
I: He’s my mascot, I just have to make sure I sing to him instead.
Q: Does he get the dark songs or the more up tempo songs?
I: He gets the bright and happy songs because he is just a little ball of love.
Q: Which song is the best for your kitty and why?
I: I think for Pepe it would be "Apocalypse" because "Apocalypse" has that quirky, upbeat, a little bit dark, but uplifting kind of grasp to it. I think Pepe my cat, embodies that. It’s about loving something until death or the apocalypse comes.
Q: So at least you want him to survive to, if not through, the apocalypse. Everyone associates songs with relationships, what song would you associate with a relationship and what were the circumstances?
I: "Love the Way" is pretty close to embodying all those things because it’s a lovey song and feeling love no matter where you are in life or location you are. So having that long distance relationship and how difficult that can be. I could play that song for somebody I was in love with and it hits close to home with a lot of people that I’ve talked to about it.
Q: Are all your songs rooted in relationships?
I: "Chasing Shadows" is the most tumultuous relationship description because as an art major and a fool in the middle of nowhere I was surrounded by not the best sort of people sometimes. So I knew drug addicts and people like that I had never been. I was dating a guy that was into drugs and I didn’t know about that. He ended up choosing drugs over me and that’s how I found out A) he was an addict and B) we were over.
It was supposed to be a slam poem about our relationship. I wrote it with my roommate and then I was saying it out loud to them and they said, “you should write a song.” So I turned it into a song and he said it helped. It really hit close to home for him during all of that.
Q: What can you tell the tale behind other songs? Are all the songs specific to relationships?
I: They’re all specific to relationships in some way, shape, or form. “Sailor” is about my great grandparents. My great grandfather was a flight deck commander for the USS Shangri-La during World War II. He passed away in 1999 and my great grandmother passed away in 2006. So I had most of my life to get to know them very well.
When they died I was going through all this stuff and I found the letters my great grandmother wrote to my great grandfather while he was away in the Pacific. I obviously elaborated a tiny bit for the song, but I decided I wanted to write a song about their love and no matter how far away they were or how hard things they were going through were, they always had each other to come back to.
Q: You might have a whole future album in those letters.
I: I love them. They make me tear up every time I read them.
Q: And any others?
I: My single, “Comfort Comfort,” has a cool story. The whole conflict behind “Comfort Comfort” was in my younger relationships, when you feel comfortable with somebody but you don’t really think you’re in love and it’s that awkward in between phase when you want to spend all your time with them but you can’t understand why. You’re comfortable being around them and that song is about that feeling. I couldn’t figure out a word for it, so I had to write a song about it instead.
Q: How did you meet producer Alex Salzman? Was the musical attraction immediate?
I: We met through my manager Liz when we were looking into recording. I drove up to his studio and played a few songs in his beautiful studio. We got to talking and it was like a lightbulb turned on. His vast knowledge of everything in the industry and our similarities in music appreciation really helped us hit it off. I think I started recording with him a few months later. He put so much into this album.
Alex deserves a lot of recognition for this, because he worked day in and day out. We’d wake up and get to the studio at 10 and be there all night. He worked his butt off and I couldn’t have done it without him. He deserves a lot of kudos for everything he has done. Alex really is incredible. He is talented on so many levels. I have never met someone that talented ever.
Q: How did he finesse the songs?
I: Finesse is the key word because I come up with these crazy ideas like, “How about a glockenspiel” or, “let’s add a dulcimer.” Alex would be like, “Okay, let’s pick one of those.”
If you listen to the songs carefully you can hear a bunch of instruments coming in and out. That’s where Alex really shone through, getting the arrangement together so it made sense. He’s just a genius when it comes to that.
Q: What’s been the most rewarding so far in making record or the first video?
I: Honestly, it’s really hard to pick just one. This whole experience has been a whirlwind. Recording the album was a dream come true. Everything about it [was incredible] from being in a studio every day recording and tweaking things, to meeting the incredible musicians on the album and getting their insight on my work.
The video helped me really put into perspective how big we were going. The video director Erik Palladino really blew me away with his vision and gave me a chance to get on stage and do what I love to do.
Q: You also paint; if you have the option between painting or singing, but for you was it ever really a choice?
I: Art and music go hand in hand. It’s really difficult to say I’d be doing one or the other, it’s as the wind blows and how I’m feeling.
There’s a quote from Leopold Stokowski that I always get wrong, but I’ll see if I can remember it. "A painter paints on canvas, while a musician paints on silence."
It’s that same concept, I always have a craving to fill empty space, whether it’s with beautiful loud obnoxious noises or actual physical paint. It’s just that I want to alter the emptiness.
Q: What was the first song you heard — do you remember it? Is your music rooted in it?
I: I have the lyrics to Sting’s "Fields of Gold" tattooed on my foot. The first time I heard "Fields of Gold" was on a cassette tape in my living room and I fell in love from there, I just needed it. There’s something behind the story of words and Sting is incredible. Sting always hits me right in the feels.
I also really identified with Freddie Mercury growing up, and still do to this day, I know pretty much every Queen lyric. We never watched TV growing up, so I would listen to his voice and imagine him marching around the stage with his microphone. I didn’t even know what he looked like at the time. It was just from how my parents described him.
I also listened to “Smash” by the Offspring a lot as a kid and they have remained a staple throughout my life. They are so energetic and sharp. Their lyrics did wonders for my four year old self.
Q: How old were you?
I: Around three years old. I had been listening to so many types of music my whole life that it’s hard to name one, but I think that was the first conscious moment where I remember listening to a song and saying, “Oh gosh, I love this.”
Q: And what was the very first concert you attended?
I: The first concert I went to was a Pink concert back when she was doing “Missundaztood.” My parents originally said I wasn’t allowed to go because she was risque and I was like 12 years old. But it was for a friend’s birthday party so they agreed to let me go. She was so incredible and cool on stage. I was blown away seeing her perform. I wanted to do that.
Q: Was this before Pink did the circus and acrobatic stuff?
I: This was before that. This was when she had pink hair and it was shorn on one side.
Q: So how do you feel about the statement that women can’t rock?
I: I strongly disagree with that statement, that women can’t rock. There is a certain type of person that has to be a rocker and it might just fall into being more men than women because of the barrier of women not being able to do things.
Through the years women have been able to step forward and really hold their own on the stage when it comes to rock. I know women are generally more emotional than men, so there’s a deeper seed of the lyric of the rock music. If anything women are better at rocking.
Q: There are certain female singer/song writers you didn’t reference in your bio like Tori Amos or Kate Bush. What do you think of them?
I: I definitely know both of them very well. What I struggle with is that I listen to so many different types of music and I get inspiration from all of them. I struggle to pinpoint who my favorite artists are or who my influences are because everybody is an influence. If I listen to a song once it’s in my music repertoire. There are so many amazing women in music history and rock history that I just draw a blank.
Q: How much did you improvise for this record or is it more structured?
I: A lot of it is improvised because of my history of jam bands.
Q: Did you go to Grateful Dead concerts?
I: No [laughs]. In college I had a band and we used to play every single weekend. We’d do concerts, like battle of the bands type stuff to raise money for different organizations and we’d do other fundraisers for fraternities and sororities and for the school in general. We had a lot of fun. Having that as our background made doing improv an integral part of recording, which will also hopefully translate to page. It’s been a while, so I’m really excited for spring to come so I can get back up there.
Q: With a name like Ingersol, there’s some European element in your background; isn’t that Scandinavian?
I: Nordic, somewhere in the North. It’s a family name. My parents met in England, so my mom is definitely from the other side of the pond. My dad’s family is Mayflower family. Pretty old school America. It’s a pretty interesting mix of cultures.
Q: How does that affect your music? Is it rooted in your background?
I: I grew up listening to a lot of classical music where instead of having an A, B, A, B arrangement you have a very complicated arrangement where it stems from emotions. You want to bring people up and take them back down and really throw them around.
And Alex Salzman, my producer, has a really strong background in classical music. With us sitting in the studio together we came up with these wild arrangements where at first we’d be like “this is too wild, too crazy.” And then we sit with it, add a theremin to it, and decide it’s perfect. It was interesting to see everything blend together, our taste in music and stuff like that.
Q: Do you dream of a day when you can bring in a full orchestra for a recording or tour?
I: I hope so. That would be so incredible. There were so many talented musicians that worked on the album and it would be great to get them back again or other talented musicians. The Ingersol Orchestra, let’s get that started, it’d be awesome.
Q: Does your music have a healing force or is it for your own therapy?
I: That’s a tough question because I can only speak for myself. It’s helped me a lot to grow and change and learn about the world and myself. I know my little sister has always loved it and that it helped her grow a little bit, but I don’t know for sure about other people. I think that there’s a level of honesty and surprise in it that helps me at least.
Q: How old is your sister?
I: She’s 18, she just started college.
Q: She keeps you on the youthful tip, right? You’re already over the hill!
I: [laughs] She tries.
Q: It’s not like she suggests that you put a rapper into the mix.
I: No, but she wouldn’t be opposed to it. She’s pretty well rooted in the things I like ’70s rock. She listens to more Led Zeppelin than people my age.
Q: Where do you live now?
I: I live outside Philadelphia right now. Born and raised.
Q: Do you think your music has a suburban quality?
I: Right now we’re technically in the city but I don’t count it as center city. Philadelphia is such a sprawling place. Kind of suburban but a little bit Philadelphia.
Q: Philadelphia is very under appreciated. It has a great Chinatown.
I: I agree, it’s just great.
Q: Do you associate any of your songs with food?
I: I probably need to start doing that.
Q: Do you have songs you recommend for when people are eating?
I: I like the old Kentucky-Fried-Chicken-and-a-Pizza-Hut song. My eating food music is definitely John Coltrane.
Q: Jazz giant John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is one of the first records I ever owned.
I: It’s so good. I cry every time I listen to it.
Q: It’s an important record. It does all the right things, it makes you aspire to higher planes.
I: It wraps all your emotions into one big ball and pushes it down onto a record plate and you just play it over and over and over and just get wrapped up in it.
Q: Do you think you could live without music or art?
I: I don’t think I could ever live without music. Music is my art, art is just an outlet for it, if that makes any sense.
Q: What made you so disciplined to play music?
I: It was really just my need to make noises. I had been singing for as long as I can remember. Everything I could say I would sing instead. I was never good at taking lessons of any type so I had to teach myself everything.
It was just listening to records or movies and deciding I was gonna play it, then just sitting down and figuring it out. It’s like solving a math equation or something like that. I have to do this. I’m really stubborn.
Q: I could never stand my own singing enough to stick with music. You don’t have to think about that. Sound comes out of you and it sounds right.
I: I’m sure it’s the same as with you and writing. It’s like how you just write something down and it just clicks?
Q: No, it’s complete and utter torture for me!
I: It’s just feeling, really. When I go to speak, sometimes I just feel like I need to sing instead. I was born with this thing inside of me that I just need to make noise and it turned out to be actual music, which is pretty cool.
Q: When did somebody say you should be a musician?
I: When I was a little baby we did singing in school and it made me really happy. My parents have always been so supportive and say, “Oh you’re the best.” But you know when your parents say you’re the best sometimes it doesn’t actually means that, they just love you. That’s what I was worried about. But over the years I figured out I might have something still.
Q: Did you do solos when you did choir?
I: I did duets with my big sister. That was when everyone said, “Oh my gosh, they’re so great.” and we did all the duets after that.
Q: You have a big sister too?
I: I’m one of three girls. My big sister is 28 and the little one is 18.
Q: Are they expecting you to put them to work?
I: I hope so. My little one wants to do a Christmas album with me. She’s so talented.
Q: What would be your ultimate Christmas song?
I: I would love to do “Silent Night.” It’s nice and simple but beautiful.
Kenny Hargrove wants to raise money — fast. A week before his January 21 deadline on IndieGoGo’s crowdfunding platform, he has 80 plus contributors donate approximately $7000 for the pre-production phase of his first feature film project, Snow.
Unlike Kickstarter’s “all or nothing” policy," IndieGoGo lets you keep all the money you raise (minus the 5% platform fee and 3-5% transaction fees) whether you make the funding goal or not if the flexible funding option is chosen. Hargrove’s pressure is that an anonymous British angel backer promised to match $10,000 of the intial $25,000 funding goal, but only if $15,000 is raised. His campaign page is on: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/snow--4#/
The campaign’s press release pitches the film as “Male Filmmaker Crowdfunds to Break Hollywood’s Glass Ceiling for Female Dramas.” The tagline is “Snow: A Woman’s Journey Toward Love and Destiny,” and is compared to Madame Bovary, and Under the Tuscan Sun. “What would you do?” asks Rose, the protagnist when presented with a female’s complex choices, in the campaign’s pitch video on YouTube.
A former financial journalist in Asia and now a screenwriter and playwright living in Los Angeles, Hargrove has had experience writing press releases and marketing that is his advantage. Pre-launch, he had cultivated 10,000 plus followers on Twitter and more recently on Facebook beforehand, retweeting a refined cultural mix of art, indie films, and dance.
Hargrove also networks consistently in Los Angeles film and theater circles, well groomed in his Ivy League style, seen photographed with upcoming actors at industry events. Experts say that only 1% of followers will be core supporters, and that only 10% may donate. A filmmaker would need to have a considerable following or contact list before considering crowdfunding.
The campaign’s launch, with the help of his “campaign ambassador” team of nine females and one male, was announced not only with emailing contacts but maintained in social media. A steady stream of pretty photos of the film’s heroine and classic movie actresses are posted daily, and Hargrove also cleverly links current news involving women to his campaign plea.
He splashily thanks donors by name on his social media, and provides video updates in his personable manner, strolling by a romantic foggy coastline. His Twitter handle is: @peaseblossom7. His Facebook page: www.facebook.com/thesnowmovie
Using IndieGoGo’s self-help platform, he tweaks his campaign’s messaging and perks, upping the levels from hand-written poetry about you from Danish poet, Ulrikka Gernes, to free room and board as an extra or intern in Tuscany. You have to admire Kenny Hargrove’s charming persistence.
Hargrove (right) further elaborates on his campaign for Snow in the following interview.
[All photos in this story by Lindsey Ricker]
Q: What is the meaning of the title Snow?
KH: As I mentioned in today’s campaign update, it’s a metaphor for trying new things, exploring new challenges. I’d never experienced a snowfall until I left California for New Jersey when I went to Princeton. So, it’s about experiencing the new. The protagonist Rose has similarly never had the experience of having a snowflake fall on her.
Q: Do you want to open up and talk about the LGBT affair?
KH: Sure. It’s actually featured in one of the promo videos, the scene with the two women at the pool. I tend to shy away from it because it’s the dominant subplot but it’s really not what the story is about. I’m happy if people see Snow as a love story but it’s really a change your life story. That said, the poetess that the painter Rose falls for does help to move the story along and makes it more of an art film.
Q: Why Is the real life poet so important to this film?
KH: She’s a dear friend and I’m eager to help get the word out globally about her wonderful poems. That said, it’s not really critical which country the poet is from or that she is a poet necessarily. I just thought since Danish actresses had originally asked me to write something for them, why not use the work of my real life Danish poet friend Ulrikka Gernes? I’m really happy she’s a part of the project. She’s very encouraging and an incredible human being.
Q: Is she donating to the film?
KH: Yes. She is donating the use of her work in the actual screenplay. She is donating perks in the form of handwritten poems that will be mailed from Denmark for crowdfunding donors. Through her, her publisher has also donated 25 copies of her latest poetry collection to the campaign as well as a perk. Additionally, she did make a contribution to the crowdfunding campaign, which was a nice surprise. She’s given so much in other ways, it seemed unnecessary. That said, we need every cent that we can get.
Q: Are you the anonymous matching donor?
KH: No. I’m a starving artist. If I had $10,000 extra to donate to the project I’d probably not pursue a crowdfunding campaign. It’s too much work and I would have preferred to have remained a private person.
Q: Have you written the script yet?
KH: Yes. This is my first screenplay and everything I’ve learned about writing as well as directing has gone into it. That’s why it’s so personal. The first draft was completed in 2005. I began to shop it around in 2007 after table readings in New York and Los Angeles and also staging some scenes through my directing workshop but it wasn’t until 2009 that it was really good.
Q: Have you cast the film?
KH: No. Some “name” actors had been verbally attached but as their careers take off they’ve tended to forget about little indie films. That said, the script is out to a few Oscar Nominees at the moment whom I don’t want to mention.
Q: Is the swimming pool promo a sample of what to expect?
KH: Yes and no. There is no swimming pool scene in the movie. However, we shot the promos during the summer at the Hollywood Hills home of the cinematographer so it seemed like a fun thing to do. But, as I mentioned earlier, the relationship with the Danish poetess Oona does help to drive the story.
Q: This is your first crowdfunding campaign. Why was the campaign time extended?
KH: The basic problem is that most people that I want to reach still don’t know about the campaign. I should have contacted several hundred people before the campaign but I’m doing it as I go along on a one-on-one basis. That’s very time consuming. We’re just beginning to move into mass contacting of groups of people.
It’s not really what I prefer but we don’t have time. Hopefully that will speed things up. It does seem to take several days between when I contact someone and when they actually donate so an extension could make sense. Lots of people said that they would donate. Hopefully they will. The question is when and how much.
Q: What do you plan to do concretely with the first round of funding?
KH: This seed money is for the lawyers to draft private placement memoranda and talent attachment letters (formal offers to “name” talent), a casting director to help find “name” talent”, and a line producer to help revise the budget, which hasn’t been updated in 8 years.
Q: What do you think the real cost of the film will be in the end?
KH: The current pie-in-the-sky budget from 2007 is $2.8 million not including salaries of “name” talent. However, it can be revised downward significantly by using the low budget agreements of the various guilds, deferring as much salary as possible, and making use of state-level incentives programs that can easily cut costs by 20% or more. Unless we can attach a “name” actor or two, it would be wise to get the budget down towards $1 million so that investors have some hope of recouping their investment.
Q: What is this SEC stock investment about?
KH: President Obama’s 2012 Jobs Act offers new financing tools for smaller and newer businesses and investors in the form of equity crowdfunding. This is done at least partly online like donation -based crowdfunding but the funds involved are much larger and the process requires SEC scrutiny. Instead of receiving t-shirts and mugs, investors get equity. If a film makes money, they make money.
The part that interests me is Title III, which the SEC just approved October 30. It allows new companies to raise as much as $1 million using as many as 99 investors and relatively minimal documentation. It’s basically a poor man’s version of an initial public offering of stock. While it sounds perfect for indie filmmakers, some lawyers caution about potential lawsuits from less sophisticated smaller investors (who were previously barred from buying securities).
Most film projects don’t get made. Most that do get made lose money. You have to find investors who understand that basic statistic and are still comfortable joining the project for reasons other than return on investment. Hopefully I won’t have to go that route. Hopefully, having higher visibility through the donation-based crowdfunding will attract funds from friendly investors and film production companies in a more private way. I feel that it may be already happening. The universe is now aware of my project and is beginning to push it towards fruition. At least that’s how things have felt over the past few weeks.
If you would like to donate, head over to his IndieGoGo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/snow--4#/
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