For the last year, my partner Kevin and I have been quietly plugging away on a project completely unlike anything I've ever attempted before -- Earth Music Odyssey. Following the adventures of space alien Jheri and their pet Borborygmus, this short-form children's series explores world music and the diversity of instruments and artists in said (extremely broad) genre. We were lucky to receive sponsorship from the BrittKids Klub, an educational arm of the Britt Music & Arts Festival in Jacksonville, OR. Kay Hilton co-produced the series on that end. Thank you Kay.
I've collaborated with Britt for a long time -- first with The Meriwethers (our Lewis & Clark Band) and then with the video projects Junebug's Forest Friends and Junebug's Curious Year. On all of these previous ventures, by best friend and frequent collaborator Manda Bryn Severin was the main creative engine and liaison with Britt. It was always a delight and privilege to work in service of her vision and I hope for more in that department. But the beginning of 2022 saw me yearning for some kind of new creative endeavor of my own. Manda mentioned that given the history, Britt might be open to hearing a pitch from me -- and Earth Music Odyssey was born.
Really, it felt like a bubbling-to-the-surface of something that's been brewing inside of me for years and years. Probably since childhood. I remember watching Punch and Judy shows on a vast lawn in Stanley Park in the late 1980s (my mom often took us with her when she was on a lengthy shoot -- in this case, for Stephen King's IT). I wish I could say these viewings immediately launched a lifelong obsession with puppets, but it I think they just planted the seed. It wasn't until 2014 or 15 that it germinated -- at the original location of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in downtown LA. Watching the puppets parade on the red carpet, I fell in love instantly. Maybe it was that I'd never seen string puppets up close before. They're delicate, expressive and demure (by which I mean they don't have a hand shoved up their ass). In my mind, they're so wholly different from rod-arm and hand puppets as to be another species. Not that I don't love the Kermits and Lambchops of the world, it's just...marionettes grabbed me in a special way.
Pause for a plug: The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has since moved to a new location on York Boulevard in Highland Park, an old vaudeville house that the company has polished into a jewel. From the murals on the walls to the little window vignettes (perhaps a nod to Bob's Disneyland window displays?) to the ornate pipe organ stage right, BBMT's new home is more than equal to its previous one. And its players are as charming as ever: tiny drums beat themselves, particolored flowers waltz on delicate feet, black cats shimmy, skeletons ride motorcycles and gangly hens lay tiny eggs that (spoiler alert) hatch and make their own exit. Every time, I gasp with delight and giggle with glee. It's actually kind of embarrassing, but fuck it.
I watched a two-year-old on her first day at the Bob Baker Theater last year, eyes stretched in silent wonder, arms reaching out toward the unbelievable spectacle. An instant fan. She left chattering with excitement, her young mother and grandmother barely able to pry her from her seat. I could relate.
Puppets aside for a moment, I began gestating another obsession circa 2015. There's no easy or polite way to say it, so here it is: Huell Howser. He drives me NUTS. He asks insensitive questions, pushes people in and out of shots, barks at his cameramen (bless you Luis and Cameron), puts his hand on the small of ladies' backs in tight hallways -- all the old-guard, quotidian offenses. He's so ridiculously tone deaf, it's surely a bit. Except it's not. (The one possible exception I've come across is an episode where he weeps with hushed reverence in the presence of premature babies and their nurses.)
And yet...he's inquisitive. He's fearless. He made something out of nothing again and again. He delights in weird shit and lifts it up for people to see. And at least he exposes everyone equally to his boorishness; in every episode I've seen -- and I've seen a lot -- he appears to be color unconscious (for better or worse) and to sincerely love learning about new cultures, arts and practices, even if he asks the most obnoxious questions you'd never think of.
I love him, the way I love my late southern grandpa West.
So Jheri, the E.T. at the center of Earth Music Odyssey, is the non-binary bastard love child of -- you guessed it -- the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and Huell Howser. A uniquely California creation and one straight from the heart.
There are a lot of people who helped out that I'd like to thank and hopefully they know who they are -- but I'll urge you, reader, to peep the episode if you want their names. (Okay, I'm also just proud of our end credit sequence.) Britt plans to release an episode per month through June, so subscribe to their Youtube channel or sign up for the BrittKids Klub e-newsletter here if you want updates.
Life is so short. I'm learning to follow my heart even if it takes me in a direction that's strange and intimidating. Wish me courage in that department and I'll wish the same for you. Nell
**POSTPONED** CIRCLE X READING
Unfortunately we've had to postpone this reading for COVID safety reasons. The producers at Circle X and the rest of the creative team are eager to get it back on the books though -- and props to all of them for putting safety first! America needs this play just now, so stay healthy and check back for an update soon.
CIRCLE X READING
Delighted to be participating in a reading of THE MOON IS DOWN this Thursday, June 30th, at the Atwater Village Theatre. My longtime theater pal Ramiz Monsef has penned this adaptation of the John Steinbeck novel, and the inimitable Jessica Kubzansky of Boston Court Pasadena directs. We're produced as part of Circle X's Monthly Reading Series (pleasure to be working with them for the first time). It's FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC, and has the timeless appeal of OUR TOWN and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD plus the teeth of THE CRUCIBLE. Come on down and get your guts wrenched -- and your heart uplifted -- in this dark week.
The Fairy Boobmother is back -- with a whole new look!
I was delighted to be asked by Nuudii Bra creator Annette Azan to reprise my role as the magical, body positive doyenne of bazongas. Lotsa fun working with directors Angelica Migliazza and Pseudo Lunsford and the producers at Mutesix (my second time in the saddle with this talented production team).
Hey, if I can perform in a bra and fairy wings with a camera 5 inches away, I can do anything baby!
CLEAN/ESPEJOS at South Coast Rep
From March 20th - April 10th, 2022 I'm appearing in the American premiere of Clean/Espejos, a new, fully-bilingual (English/Spanish) play by Christine Quintana, directed by Lisa Portes. The formidable, funny, fabulously talented Lorena Martinez plays Adriana; I am Sarah.
This is the most challenging and fulfilling work I have ever done, and I am so grateful to South Coast Repertory for the opportunity. It's unlike any other play I've encountered. During rehearsals, we started comparing it favorably to a two-person female Hamlet. The text is that rigorous, multi-layered, complex -- and I've been lucky to mine it since its first reading at the Pacific Playwrights Festival (PPF) almost exactly a year ago. Approaching it this time, I was once again humbled to be in a room with so many brilliant, hard-working women. Yes, an ALL-FEMALE rehearsal room! My first in 20 years on the boards, and a new bar has been set.
If you're going to be in Southern California late March-early April, come on down to Costa Mesa and catch us while we're at it. The last few days of our run coincide with PPF 2022, so there's lots to see and do if you make out in then.
I promise this one will challenge and surprise you. Don't miss it.
Great experience hosting this commercial for Sinch and ThinkMojo, directed by Ron Small and produced by Ashley Moore of Sway Productions!
THE CURIOUS YEAR (PART 2)
Junebug is back with more letters from friends, holiday celebrations and lots of cuddly time near the campfire! I tried to stretch myself with the tunes I contributed, looking to more varied sources for inspiration (the theme from To Kill a Mockingbird, Vince Guaraldi Trio, Bela Fleck and Archie Bleyer were all rolling around in my head at different times). I learned a lot. I'll be meeting with the show's creator, my dear friend Manda Bryn Severin in January to begin work on an exciting new project. Check out www.comfortseeds.com for a preview. More anon.
THE CURIOUS YEAR (PART 1)
It's taken me 37 years to realize that one of the things I want to do (like, as a job, dig?) is compose and produce music for children's content. My best friend in the world Manda Bryn Severin has created a gentle and kind series centered around her long-haired dachshund Juniper (AKA "Junebug"). From the get-go, the project seemed charmed. The universe offered little resistance and lots of joy in the creation of it. Manda comes to me (and her talented husband Ezra) for some of the music -- as well as story advice and the occasional camera trap shot of a squirrel or lizard. But working on these short compositions has been a real pleasure in a curious (and frequently scary) year. The opening theme, Romi the Cat's song, Alexander Hamilton's letter, and a few other ditties are my doing. We're grateful for the support of the Britt Festival, who sponsored this video and the second installment, which will be available in a few weeks. I hope you and all the young-at-heart in your life enjoy Junebug's adventures as much as I enjoy contributing to them.
The Yard, MV
From late June to early July I was privileged to serve as dramaturg on a workshop of Threshold by Amy Brenneman at The Yard in Martha's Vineyard. Under the inspired leadership of artistic director David R. White, executive director Alison Manning and co-producer Jesse Keller Jason, The Yard provides creative residencies for dance makers and diverse artists whose works (usually) incorporate dance in some way. I had no idea what a special place I was walking into when I arrived. The support we received as a team was simply astonishing. Amy and director Sabrina Peck generated and staged a new draft in just two weeks, with plenty of time to enjoy the island between rehearsals. Not sure how this was possible, although I suspect it's due to a magical time dilation phenomenon on the Vineyard.
In regard to the work, I got to do what I love most: a little bit of everything. When I accepted the gig I thought I'd be on the other side of the table for the whole process. Within days Amy had me up on my feet for scene work and dancing. It was the most deliciously workshoppy workshop I've EVER been in -- juicy discussions, generous contributions, instincts firing, working hard and playing hard at the same time.
The response to this incarnation of Threshold at its two intimate showings was overwhelmingly positive. I'm excited to watch where it goes next. For more about the show, check out this article that appeared in The Vineyard Gazette in early July. And enjoy the short slideshow below.
She's a boob fairy -- a fairy with boobs. She's also me.