Deep Space Nine turns 25

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Captain's Blog: Stardate 010318.1

While "Star Trek: The Next Generation" will hold it's place for me as the gateway into this iconic franchise, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" remains one of my favorite series in the "Star Trek" pantheon. Many disagree with me on this, but here are some of my reasons.

1. It dared to be different: DS9 was billed as a darker series than it's predecessor and the further in we got, the more accurate this statement became. Characters waded in murky moral waters. Any time the writer's could make matters worse for our heroes, they would. And having the crew live on a station rather than a starship that was always on the move meant they could not flee the consequences of their actions. Most importantly, this was the first time "Star Trek" dabbled with the ongoing story arc instead of stand-alone episodes. And it was worth the payoff.

2. They dealt with Religion: Faith was a very present issue for DS9. While it was not any of our Earth religions, the Bajoran faith played a pivotal role in many of the series' high-stakes episodes. Seeing people not just of different races, but different faiths, interacting and having conversations about their faith is more necessary now than it was back in the 90s. 

3. Lesbian Kiss: TNG approached the issue of homosexuality once in "The Outcast" where a member of an androgynous species had illegal female tendencies. But in DS9, the convention of the Trill symbiont allowed for two women (one of whom was male in a previous "life") to fall in love. There was even a controversial kiss. 

4. Excellent Ensemble Acting: This was a truly exceptional cast, from captain to the recurring characters. There were some stellar group scenes that were smart, fast-paced, and so engaging that there were rarely any moments where these talented actors lost their momentum.

5. Social Commentary: The issues covered ranged from religious power in politics, military control of the government, racial discord, and so many more. With the volatile issues of the world right now, "Deep Space Nine" is almost MORE relevant now than it ever was. While it is unlikely that it will get the HD remastering treatment that "The Original Series" or "The Next Generation" received, it is still some excellent storytelling that has been getting some new viewers thanks to Netflix and CBS.com. 

Coming soon, the producers of DS9 have pulled most of the actors, writers, and behind-the-scenes staff to create what promises to be an exciting documentary of the making of "Deep Space Nine." What We Left Behind should be an exciting look into one of my favorite series. And I can't wait to watch.

Happy 25th Anniversary Star Trek: Deep Space Nine!

TOP TEN EPISODES:

  1. Emissary
  2. In the Hands of the Prophets
  3. The Homecoming/The Circle/The Siege (three-part story arc)
  4. Equilibrium
  5. Rejoined
  6. Trials and Tribble-ations
  7. Far Beyond the Stars
  8. In the Pale Moonlight
  9. It's Only a Paper Moon
  10. What We Leave Behind

2018: Going Primal

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Captain's Blog: Stardate 010118.7

So, I know what you're thinking. You've tried South Beach, you've tried Whole30...why do you think "The Primal Blueprint" is going to be any different. That's a good question. Allow my begin my answer stating that I will not be re-capping the diet/exercise/meal plan here for you. For one thing, that's boring if you're not looking to do it yourself and if you ARE planning on doing it yourself, then you should probably buy the book(s) and figure it out. 

What I WILL say about this as opposed to some of the others, is that it is less focused on a set period of time. Yes, there is an ideal reset of 21 days, but it is not "required" for success and it doesn't shame you (Whole30) for not getting there.

Another perk of this plan is that it encourages the idea of enjoying life. It lets you know what affects your body and in what way, but it also reminds you that you are a person and you have a life that is best lived in joy. If there are habits you have that are counter to your goals, then this diet encourages you to take a look at those and the reasons behind them. Examining the emotional reason behind your behavior is the way to decide if it is counter to living your best life. 

For example, if you are using coffee as a way to avoid sleep and stay awake, then maybe you need to look at that and see if there is another way to get the energy you need OR that maybe you need a quick afternoon nap!

I'm excited to give it a try, to learn and grow along the way, and see where this new, ongoing approach takes me. Additionally, I'm doing this with a few other people, so I have a support team built in which always helps. 

One thing I will say about my time on Whole30 in December versus my "eat whatever you want for the holidays" approach: It is clear that there are things in foods out there that make my body unhappy. Chances are, most of them are favorites of mine. Coffee is not one of them, thankfully, though I do need to keep a limit on my intake. Gluten and I are almost definitely enemies. It'll be interesting to see if dairy and I are also fighting. We'll see...

Primal roar!

ICYMI: Highlights of 2017

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Captain's Blog: Stardate 122917.3

What a crazy year it's been! There has been a lot of down time, an added third survival job, not to mention the ever-tumultuous political scene infusing every single day. It's easy during the day-to-day to lose sight of some of the exciting career moments that made this the second year in a row with some pretty great milestones. So, without further ado, the top ten successes of 2017.

  1. Completed first voiceover demo
  2. Two incredible photo shoots with the impeccable and amazing Tyler Core which brought me some of the best photos I've ever had.
  3. My earnings last year qualified me for the SAG-AFTRA Insurance plan.
  4. Made some exciting new connections which have served as both good networking and great inspiration.
  5. SAG-AFTRA DIY workshop demonstrated that I have more tools at my disposal to complete some of my smaller projects, which have now moved into development.
  6. First hand modeling gig
  7. Started the year on stage with "Diary of a Worm..."
  8. Debuted with an original musical which included a cast recording.
  9. By the same composer, last year's cast recording "PEN" is now available for purchase online.
  10. And the top accomplishment of 2017: Booking my first co-star role on a network television show. I was Hotel Manager #2 on "Chicago PD" this season.

So, despite the "resistance" that can creep into the brain during times of calm in one's career, 2017 was definitely a success. I look forward to what new steps I can take in 2018. Happy New Year!

The Iceman Goeth...Bye!

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Captain's Blog: Stardate 122017.5

I've just learned that Marvel Comics first, ongoing series featuring a gay, male lead...Iceman...has been canceled and will finish it's run in March. Gay nerds everywhere are starting to “come out” in support of this book. Some stating how important it was to have this character with his own book. Some suggesting an online fan petition to try to rescue the series before it's too late. But I have one very important question:

Why?

Look, I absolutely think it is important for LGBTQ characters to headline their own comic books. I believe that these books send the right message to kids who are trying to understand themselves. And I was thrilled to start reading this character's story...you know...until it started.

My biggest complaint about the “Iceman” comic was that it was trying to be a coming out story. The focus was on this otherwise confident Gen-X age Iceman struggling to come out to his parents, feeling guilt about a break up with a woman because he still hadn't figured out his sexuality, and all of this made worse by his totally out, Millenial self from another timeline adding to his sense of inadequacy. 

But isn't X-Men fundamentally, and continually, a coming out story? Isn't that part of what the allegory of “mutation” is able to tell? This Iceman's story was rooted in a coming out tale that seemed trite and almost deferential to an audience that has never heard a queer story before. Or a queer audience that has never read an X-Men story before. 

Suffice it to say, I stopped reading at issue five.

I wish this was an issue limited to Iceman, but this touches on an issue I have had with gay storytelling in general as of late. We are more than coming out and HIV. We are complex individuals who have relationships, passions, and personalities beyond the tropes of the “acceptable mainstream gay experience.”

Take the recent DC “Midnighter and Apollo” mini-series. Six issues where two very different characters have great, unapologetic gay sex, are divided by evil, and then Midnighter bloodies up the underworld trying to rescue the love of his life. It was great! Not only was it more graphic than I expected, but it got me emotionally as well. And there was not one part of the main plot that hinged on either character having to accept that they were gay.

Gay audiences are ready for more depth in their storytelling, even if they don't know it yet. I'm sorry to see Iceman wrapping his series...but maybe if the character works out his issues, he can be at the center of a series where the biggest villain isn't his own sexuality.  

Getting Stuff Done

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Captain's Blog: Stardate 120417.2

There’s an interesting, ironic situation in the “personal growth” sector of my life. On a friend’s excellent advice this spring, I purchased the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. 

And I haven’t finished it yet.

However, as I was meditating this morning, so many thoughts came rushing at me like I’m the enemy quarterback at the ten yard line (yup…take note…a sports reference in MY blog). As each one aimed its nasty little message at my serenity, one realization from the book came back to me.

These weren’t thoughts. These were items I had to do that weren’t completed.

Contact your insurance provider. Finish tallying donations at your survival job. Print new business cards. 

The list went on and on. I would swat them away like flies, but a new one would take its place. 

David Allen talks about having methods for getting these items out of our head and into a container (to-do list, action plan, whatever works best for you). In his way of thinking, a lot of our anxiety comes from feeling like we have too much to do, but no organized plan of action.

For creatives, I feel like this can be a major hurdle to overcome. Think about it. Anytime you have to reschedule your life to accommodate an audition, a shoot, a rehearsal period, you invariably have to make concessions at your survival job. And then, in order to make sure you don’t lose your survival job, you end up sacrificing something you need to do for your work. And when you factor in your personal life and responsibilities there…(implosion.)

Oh. I’m sorry…were you waiting for my “A-HA” moment? Yeah, I don’t have one. The A-HA came from the realization that his analysis is spot on. I don’t think I’m alone in this either.

But, I do want to describe a job where I’m realizing this practice. Of the many part-time jobs that keep me eating, I spend twenty hours a week as an office assistant to a single boss. I intake checks, update spreadsheets, make deposits, send letters…typical admin stuff. My expectations were very clearly laid out for me from day one. I come in, I do my job, and then I leave. If we have a special event or a conference call, I make adjustments with the other parts of my life just as I would for an audition, but that job still functions extremely well.

The best part is…not a single “to-do” from that office pops into my meditation.

At Passover, there is the tale of the four sons…the dreaded herald to the youngest at the table that it will be their turn to recite the four questions. The oldest asks for details about the story of Moses, the selfish son asks what it means for me, the next simply asks what it is, while the youngest son is silent. He does not know yet what questions to ask.

“Getting Things Done” has given me a way to structure my approach to organization in all aspects of my life that I didn’t have before. True, I have yet to implement a number of the tangible suggestions. I did buy the label maker. I now know which is white rice and which is brown. However, one thing is clear. Just like you need a place to put your wallet and keys when you come home, every thought needs it’s place. Its thought-bucket, if you will.

If you keep it all in your head, your mental bucket will overflow. Releasing these thoughts to a list, an action plan, or whatever works for you. Hell, you might find out that a few of these tasks are so simple that if you just did them when they occurred, you would never have had to think about doing them later.

Whatever tasks you need to do, give them a place outside of your mind to dwell. That could be the first step to a calmer, quieter mind.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

Waiting in the Wings

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A Thank You to George Takei

Growing up, George Takei taught me about honor, friendship, and service through his elegant portrayal of Lt. Hikaru Sulu. His rich voice has always had a sense of calm strength that I find inspiring. 

Last night I had one of the most unique honors of my career. For the first time, however briefly, I had the opportunity to perform for one of the actors who inspired me to pursue theatre and film. I, along with some amazing Chicago talent, presented three numbers from his Broadway show "Allegiance" as an opening act to his speech in Chicago on the Japanese Incarceration Camps of the Second World War. 

Playing the various roles of soldier, FBI, and farmer, I portrayed the various ways white Americans criminalized, persecuted, and took advantage of other Americans for no other reason but their race. I was only in the first number, and for the other two, I waited in the wings. Feet away from the living legend that is George Takei.

There I was. Mr. Takei sitting feet before me, engrossed in the performance on stage, waiting in the wings with me. Two performers waiting to retake the stage. Equals. Well...except for his police entourage, wealth and fame. 

Oh how I longed to bend his ear on his experiences on Star Trek (which celebrates it's 51st anniversary today), on being gay in Hollywood, and countless other topics. But it was enough to simply be there. In proximity.

After our performance we were invited to hear him speak on his experience as a proud Japanese American in this country. Even with the unthinkable hardship put on his family, his commitment to his country...our country, America, remains true and optimistic. Two comments stuck out to me specifically. The first is that his father, who bore the brunt of the experience for the family, still believed that our system of government is still one of the best in the world because it is of the people. The second was that "We as a democracy have a great capacity to create but as fallible human beings, we can make great mistakes."

He also reiterated multiple times that the way to create change is to stay engaged, give of your time, do your homework, and participate as a citizen by making informed, educateddecisions when casting your vote. 

I didn't get the chance to meet George Takei. There is no selfie, no handshake, no signed action figure. I doubt that I will have this opportunity again and that's okay. Despite my love and appreciation for this man as a Sci-Fi legend, I left with something even better. I left the theatre with hope for our future and pride in our country, both of which have been difficult to muster in recent months. I left inspired to contribute more as a citizen as well as an artist. 

We are all waiting in the wings, and America is pleading for us to take the stage.

Fast Food For the Mutants

AND OTHER MUSINGS ON HOWARD THE DUCK

Beverly (Lea Thompson) and Howard (voiced by Chip Zien) hide from the cops after an accident in the science lab.

Beverly (Lea Thompson) and Howard (voiced by Chip Zien) hide from the cops after an accident in the science lab.

My mind has been focusing lately on the epic fail of the 1986 cult “classic” Howard the Duck. Scoring an amazing 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, reviews range from “But the film, directed by Willard Huyck and written by Mr. Huyck and Gloria Katz, takes such a broad, farcical aim, that it becomes a melange of ''The Exorcist,'' ''Ghostbusters'' and ''Raiders'' itself,” from Caryn James of the New York Times, to “When the smoke clears, only one thing is certain: Howard the Duck has laid an egg,” from Dave Kehr of the Chicago Tribune. 

Yet despite the atrocious critical response, it remains one of the top ten favorites from my childhood. So, with Comic-Con coming up this weekend (which I will enjoy viacriously via social media) and a new genre project of my own in development, I revisited this scrambled skillet of a film to try and understand why I love it and what about it made such a lasting impression.

Let's start with a stellar cast. Hot off a Back to the Future success, Lea Thompson is crimped and punked out in stellar 80s attire. She and her sassy girl band “Cherry Bomb” are the closest we may ever get to a Jem and the Holograms live action movie (including the recent Jem and the Holograms live action movie). She brings a scrappy yet vulnerable balance to Beverly and audiences have no trouble connecting with her. Tim Robbins does a quirky turn as the nerdy scientist, a role I could connect with personally even back then.

And then there's Howard. Voiced by Broadway great Chip Zien (Into the Woods), his cynical commentary on American culture is bracing and sharp. And while the duck costume is definitely successful to a point, especially for it's time, the mechanics of the face can't keep up with Zien's sarcastic stamina. Nevertheless, the human performers connect to the voice and, for me, I look past the suit and see the character and story.

Now, let's talk story for a second. A number of reviews refer to the film as inconsistent and like two movies smushed together. First, you have the rom-com relationship of Beverly and Howard as he's adapting to life in “Cleve-Land.” Then, about halfway through, we launch into full-on alien action movie. That is technically true, but looking at it structurally, it works for me. Here's how.

For the latter half to feel more connected to the first, they could have sprinkled in scenes from the science lab, but for me this reveal half way through works because we, like Howard, have no idea how he got to Earth. We connect with him as he struggles to figure out where he is and what to do, and if they sprinkled in scientists along the way, I think the audience would lose the connection to Howard and Beverly which, in the end, it the heart of the film.

Back to Beverly's band for a second, Lea Thompson sounds great on the material written and co-performed by Dolby's Cube. A few years ago, a friend of mine was kind enough to share the soundtrack with me and I tend to go through annual phases of playing this on repeat. Now is one of those times. “Don't Turn Away” is a fun 80s love ballad and “Hunger City” is a rockin' blast. And the title song, of course, which closes the film as well, is just fun!

So, why does this film work so well for me? I think it stems from always being an outsider growing up. I was the kid on the playground playing “Star Trek” when everyone else was playing sports. I was Jewish and most of my school friends were not. Once I started to understand that I was gay, this outsider feeling only grew. So, I connected to both Howard and Beverly (and even Phil) and became strongly invested in their search for connection, acceptance and understanding. Which they all found in the end by producing an amazing 80s rock concert. So the next time you're wondering if you should give Howard the Duck another chance...”Don't turn away.” 

Fabulous Falsettos

Betsy Wolfe, Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz, and Stephanie J. Block in Falsettos. (Joan Marcus)

Betsy Wolfe, Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz, and Stephanie J. Block in Falsettos. (Joan Marcus)

I used to say that everything I need to know in life I learned from Star Trek. With rare exception, I would say that still holds true. However, as I sat weeping into my lightly buttered AMC popcorn watching the Live at Lincoln Center production of “Falsettos” on the big screen, I realized have one other source of developmental inspiration: William Finn.

“March of the Falsettos” and “Falsettoland,” the two one-act operettas that eventually became the full-length broadway show “Falsettos,” normalized my desire to love men, taught me to build an extended family from friends, and that my Jewishness, neuroses, sexuality, and passion were all okay.

The show has been with an active part of my life for years. In high school, I’d listen to it constantly, much to the chagrin of my parents. “Four Jews in a Room Bitching” seemed to hit a little too close to home. In college, one of the student directors at Illinois Wesleyan cast me in “Falsettoland.” Who did I play? Well, Jason, of course. I did receive the “Child Actor of the Department” award, after all. And “Four Unlikely Lovers” was a part of a cabaret with four great friends while I was living in Minneapolis.

The performances in the Lincoln Center production were nothing short of stellar. At the top of their game were Christian Borle (Marvin) and Stephanie J. Block (Trina). Her journey for Trina from unstable divorcee to a strong independent woman making her own choices was delicately sculpted with equal parts bawdy slapstick and subtle stoicism. Borle, the true heart of the piece, brought an almost cinematic truth to Marvin’s arc and his often motionless moments of power and discovery let the language and love permeate the room.

The surprise to me was Brandon Uranowitz. Mendel has always struck me as a bit of a whiner, with a little heart and a lot of problems. I loved the recording of Chip Zien for that reason. But Uranowitz demonstrated so much depth in a potentially one-note character that he almost stole the show from Borle.

The set, staging, lighting, and minimal use of props and furniture kept the pace of the show crisp and tight. An artistic shift from abstract shapes becoming furniture to the use of a practical hospital bed and chairs was a beautiful expression of the encroaching reality of a deadly virus no one at that time knew how to handle. The entire production was exquisite from start to finish.

As I reflect on the Reagan administration that put our community at risk by their irresponsible delay in acknowledging the AIDS crisis, and the current administration that threatens to unravel the strides made in LGBT rights and protections made since that time, the importance of this piece still resonates deeply. As the cast themselves stated during a pre-show promotion for Broadway Cares, in these uncertain times, “lets be scared together.”

Routine Resistance

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is assimilated by the Borg.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is assimilated by the Borg.

Captain's Blog: Stardate 30117.3

Ever since my graduation from college, despite my best efforts, my life has fought the concept of routine. Whether it was the shifting schedule as a server in a classy Italian eatery in the Mall of America, or juggling a desk job during audition season, my craving for repetition in my daily life has never been sated.

But then I looked closer. I have a routine. It’s a routine of Resistance.

Let’s start with today. March first. It was my intention to “re-kick-off” my workout today, using the time between now and my April birthday to move towards the body I want to have. Instead, I’ve been watching giant, telapathic gorillas terrorize Central City. Now, in order for me to get to work on time, I have to start my commute in forty minutes. There’s no time for a work out.

So, I stepped back and looked at my morning. There is a routine in place. Wake, turn on the stove, check my email and social media, start breakfast, make lunch, watch the news portion of Good Morning America, kiss my boyfriend as he leaves for work, watch TV, shower, write until it’s time to leave for work. This is a typical morning in my home.

Wait…so if there’s a routine in place, why am I so unfulfilled? My brain tumbles into a place instructor Bonnie Gillespie would call “actor mind taffy” where I keep pulling the thoughts back and forth, stretching them out and making them bigger and bigger but not actually achieving anything.

If I don’t get into better shape, I won’t get work. If I don’t get work, I will have wasted my life. If I’ve wasted my life, all those people who believed in me will have wasted their time and energy on me. I will have let my loved ones down. I will have let myself down. I will be nothing. 

Huh. That’s fucking ridiculous.

Let me break this down. Looks: Bonnie has said “there is a place for everyone in this business.” Granted, if I don’t have a six pack I may not be the lead in the CW show of my dreams but…wait a second…has anyone else seen “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”? Here’s a woman who is beautiful, vivacious and hilarious. But, by many of society’s skewed standards of beauty she could never be an ingenue…and she’s playing the lead in a network show that she created and has won a Golden Globe for her performance. So, right off the bat, my focus on my appearance doesn’t hold water. Next!

Time: Ian McKellan has said that everyone in this business hits their “stride” at a different time. it is I'm possible to look at your career by the metrics of others because no one will ever have the same career as someone else. Period. So, realizing that I may hit my stride in five minutes or twenty-five years, as long as I am taking steps every day to move my career forward, which I am, then my time is not wasted.

Loved Ones: This one is tricky, because relationships with people come with variables that we don’t have control over. Our parents have fears for our well being, our partners and friends have their own set of career goals and challenges they’re working through. Sometimes, what actors have to do to achieve their goals flies in the face of “conventional” wisdom and can appear, to some, to be counter intuitive to the progress of a developing adult. But if they truly love us, which they do, they have come to understand that this comes with the package. If they didn’t understand that, they wouldn’t be here.

Okay, so now that I’ve torn down my argument over why not working out this morning would ruin my life, what’s left?

Resistance.

Steven Pressfield has written about the concept of resistance in many of his non-fiction books, including The War of Art and No One Wants to Read Your Sh*t. They’re great books and quick reads. So buy them. Read them. Read them already? Do it again.

Resistance is a force within us that keeps us from doing our work. It thrives in the parts of our soul that demand instant gratification. And as I write this I am realizing the role Resistance has been playing in many aspects of my life. With each key stroke I am realizing how and where Resistance has been cropping up in my thoughts, my actions, and my inactions. 

I see you, Resistance. You have sauntered into my daily routine in ways I couldn’t see. You have used grief, finances, age, appearance, and countless other false metrics to slow me down.

Today I declare an all out war on my Resistance. I may not have hit the gym today, but I have picked up the gauntlet and I will crush my own Resistance. This is day one.

Resolutions

Captain's Blog: Stardate 10517.7

“I resolve, here and now, I will be a different girl...somehow!” - Ilona, “She Loves Me”

The New Year is often a time for re-evaluation. Taking and dissecting the successes and challenges of the previous 365 days and finding both epic and simple adjustments to make to the following year measurably more successful.

Of course, December 31st is relatively arbitrary, as the Chinese New Year isn't for another month or more, the Jewish New Year is in the fall, and so on. But...sticking with this Gregorian or Secular New Year, the movement into 2017, I have made some resolutions of my own.

I could go on about the classes I'll take, the work outs I'll do, the vegetables I'll eat. That's all true...I hope. But this year I'm looking at making one, single change.

Mindset.

I am reversing the polarity of my approach to nearly everything. Sounds too massive to be successful, right? I hear you but bear (Baer) with me. I think it's actually quite simple. Anything I am inclined to process in a negative way, I will reframe in a positive way. For example:

  • Old way: I will fight against injustice.

  • New way: I will fight FOR justice.

 

  • Old way: I hate Donald Trump and the GOP.

  • New way: I am inspired to take greater action to support the candidates and party I believe in.

 

  • Old way: I will rail against ingnorance and intolerance.

  • New way: I will unwaveringly teach love and acceptance.

To be clear, I still hate Donald Trump, and I am angered by injustice, ignorance, and intolerance. But after the challenges of 2016, I feel as thought making it clear what I don't like isn't the answer.

For one thing, it's just too damn painful. My mother once told me that it takes a lot of energy to hate. Most of the time, that energy can be better spent elsewhere. 

I have also learned that shouting at someone that they are wrong will almost never convince them that you are right.

So, I am turning the energy I have spent hating Trump, fearing the GOP, and worrying about the future, and I am reinvesting it in love, hope, and action in 2017. The mission is the same. Only the strategy has changed.

Happy New Year!