Musings on Estelle Parsons, Dara Torres and Dynasty Handbag

12:09 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

My thoughts are usually non sequitur but the musings below are abstractly connected... I swear...

I've been thinking a lot about our society's standards of beauty and ageism. I've been thinking about the emphasis, at least within the communities that I'm in (which of course reflects society at large), put on the young women who by 18 must be in the best shape of their lives (it's all "downhill" from there apparently) and at the peak of their sexuality. I've been thinking about the messages we send our teenage girls... "Sex sells! Show some more skin to get attention" and when the young women follow the "sex sells mentality" (ie: "racy Internet pictures/youtube videos" etc.) everybody loves to blame them and use them as prime examples of the "decline of morality in the country". Regardless of what happens, these girls are examples of "what not to do/be"and by the ripe old age of 25 are tossed away.

Last night I saw a video of a performance by Dynasty Handbag called 'bags' ( ) in an EmergeNYC seminar given by Jose Munoz. I had seen Dynasty Handbag perform live awhile back but had never had the opportunity to contextualize it. Well, after our discussion tonight, I can't wait for more. For me, this performance really represented this idea that you are tossed around like a piece of trash, by people (who are, in fact, represented by plastic bags... pieces of trash) and the power relationships that you have with specific people. Is there room for creative/artistic/personal development in the "real world"? Should there be? These are the larger questions that this performance raised for me. As a product of this specific socialization, you are told who you are, what you should be and what you need to be. It reminds me of the issues raised in a brilliant show playing at the Minetta Lane Theater called "The Adding Machine". If you haven't seen it yet... RUN! It's worth it.

I've recently started a health kick, inspired by Estelle Parsons and Dara Torres. My goal is not necessarily to drop weight, but simply to get into damn good shape. A few days ago I came across an article in the New York Times by David Belcher about Estelle Parsons, the current lead in "August: Osage County" on Broadway. She is in stellar shape at 81! And of course there is one of my favorite Olympic Athletes, Dara Torres who, at 41 is competing in her 5th Olympics in swimming (Dara Torres - Not gonna lie, whenever I see her I think to myself... there is no excuse to not hit the gym.

This is a mighty long introduction to the article below. I hope you are as inspired by her as I am!

From the New York Times:

July 29, 2008
The Role Is a Workout, but She’s Fit

Estelle Parsons tears up the staircase in the haunted dollhouse of a set in the Broadway production of “August: Osage County” with the nimbleness of an Olympian. For the next several months this 80-year-old Oscar-winning actress will inhabit the physically demanding role of Violet Weston, the drug-ravaged matriarch of “August,” Tracy Letts’s Tony Award-winning play.
Her stamina may be a tribute to a lifetime of simple physical fitness for Ms. Parsons, who will turn 81 in November while finishing her six-month contract. She lifts weights and swims, she said, and has hiked the backwoods of her native New England for most of her life. She hasn’t smoked in many years and rarely drinks. She almost never eats red meat, save for the occasional lamb chop. She started practicing yoga about 30 years ago. She is the antithesis of Violet, whose self-destructive rampage gives “August: Osage County” its squirming core.
“Here I am, Miss Healthy, fit Swedish flicka playing this drug addict,” she said last week, wearing workout clothes in her apartment on the Upper West Side. “But this play is very physical. It’s closer to Restoration comedy or French farce, so you have to go out and really deliver the goods at every performance.”
As Violet, a mother who tosses back painkillers as if they were Flintstones vitamins, Ms. Parsons spends 90 minutes of the 3-hour-and-20-minute play onstage and goes up or down the three-story set for a total of 352 steps during each performance. At a time that most actresses her age would be happy to spend 15 minutes on Broadway in a couple of wheel-Grandma-out-for-a-song numbers, Ms. Parsons is tackling one of the most shrewish, complex mothers to terrorize a Broadway stage in decades — part Mary Tyrone, part Momma Rose.
“She is certainly giving a performance to remember,” Charles Isherwood recently wrote in The New York Times, “one that may prove to be a crowning moment in an illustrious career.”
Taking on this role would be a challenge at any age, considering that the 68-year-old Deanna Dunagan, who won a Tony Award in June for originating the role, cited exhaustion in her decision to leave the production. Ms. Parsons must navigate two sets of stairs (the stage depicts the Weston family’s sprawling Oklahoma house), smoke cigarettes, argue with pretty much everyone onstage, dance to an Eric Clapton song and verbally eviscerate 10 other characters in a family dinner scene.
“I think it’s had an effect on my psyche because every one of those scenes is one that I don’t want to have in my own life,” Ms. Parsons said. “Violet doesn’t want to sit down and be interrogated. Every scene is something she really doesn’t want to have, except when she’s drugged out, and then she seems to be comfortable.”
For Ms. Parsons being comfortable means being active. In addition to her weight lifting and swimming (she swims for 30 minutes twice a week), she goes on 30-minute bike rides on two other days. She takes a break from exercise on Wednesdays and Saturdays, when she has two performances. At her summer home upstate, she also rides her bike or hikes or swims on Mondays, her day off. She played tennis for years and still cross-country skis. And she does yoga in her dressing room and at home whenever she gets a few minutes.
“I’ve always been a fit person,” Ms. Parsons said. “I’ve been acting all my life, and I’ve always felt you should be in shape. I’m used to devoting my whole life to the work and what it requires.”
That lifelong devotion to performing has rubbed off on her co-star Amy Morton, who plays Barbara, the daughter who takes on Violet. “Estelle has so much stamina and so much energy, and she has stayed working and never retired,” Ms. Morton said. “She’s quite the opposite of Violet, but let’s hope everyone is the opposite of that character.”
Ms. Morton, who has portrayed Barbara since “August: Osage County” had its premiere at the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago last summer and is onstage longer than any other character, understands a thing or two about how grueling the play can be to perform.
“I don’t know that I’ll be able to do this play at 80,” Ms. Morton said. “And Estelle didn’t have the luxury of the rehearsal process that the original cast had. Most of her rehearsals for three weeks was blocking with the understudies. She was just sort of thrown onstage.”
Being in shape took on a new meaning for Ms. Parsons after she won a supporting-actress Oscar in 1968 for “Bonnie and Clyde,” playing Clyde’s sister-in-law.
“I started doing a lot of hiking after ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ because I just had to run away,” she said. “It’s very hard when you’re in a movie that big. You become notorious, and people often bothered me in public.”
This led her to the Appalachian Mountain Club, an outdoors group. “Those people I hiked with hardly ever knew who I was,” she said. “Maybe they didn’t go to the movies. It was just a completely different orientation.”
She and her husband, the lawyer Peter Zimroth, have been fitness enthusiasts for years now. This commitment is part of a lifelong routine handed down from her self-proclaimed “Swedish peasant” roots. It has also led to a balance of city and country living.
“The outdoor activity is great fun, and it’s such a change from urban life,” she said. “But listen, I’m a theater person. I’m not going to give up my life to go sit in the woods.”
When her fellow Steppenwolf alumnae Laurie Metcalf and Rondi Reed (who also won a Tony for “August: Osage County”) suggested the role of Violet to her over lunch one day, Ms. Parsons said she hesitated but was thrilled with the idea of returning to Broadway.
“After meeting Deanna backstage after I signed on, I called my agent and asked, ‘Listen, am I a lamb being led to the slaughter?’ ” Ms. Parsons recalled. “Deanna seemed to think that doing eight shows a week was nearly impossible.”
But after more than a month in the role, Ms. Parsons says she’s up for the challenge.
“Estelle doesn’t even consider this role daunting,” Ms. Morton said. “She considers it fun. She’s always amazed that people say that she should be exhausted.”
Ms. Parsons doesn’t want to dwell on the physical demands of the role, however, and shrugs off the notion that it is a feat for an octogenarian.
“I don’t like to feel like a freak,” she said. “I don’t want people coming to the show just to see what an 80-year-old looks like onstage. Isn’t that what actresses do? They just keep on working.”

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Summer Update!

6:28 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

I have been lame about updating this summer but nevertheless it's been a wonderful few months. Basically I've been reading and writing a lot, taking lots of pictures (I joined a photography club). As soon as I can, I look forward to uploading a photo blog. I'm also working on my EmergeNYC project (which has taken on many forms) but right now looks like it's going to be some sort of art installation. I've also had the chance to catch up with people I haven't seen in awhile and some of my favorite friends and mentors. And yes... on Saturday afternoons, I put on a giant Rubix Cube costume and dance around Times Square to promote "The Awesome 80's Prom" (see photo above) It's an amazing experience! For real. I'm super grateful to be doing it. I have do a lot of theatre promotions in the past and always have a blast meeting and getting to talk with the most fascinating people in Times Square but stepping into a large box makes interactions with people even more interesting. You wouldn't believe the things people will say to a woman in a box. This brings me to a larger idea... somebody needs to write an ethnography on street teams and the people in Times Square who sell "tickets to stand up comedy" (among many other things). The majority of us are all actors/dancers/singers/some sort of performers trying to make it in NYC... so aside from the fascinating people you meet along the way, it becomes a networking opportunity and chance to run into old friends.

Robby, Casey and I recently started doing "The Artist's Way" ( I did it years ago during my angsty high school years. I only got to week 3 (and never did the "morning pages"). Thankfully, things are working much better now...

I decided that I'm going to read all of the books that have been stacking up this past year before I go to new material. I think everybody does this at one point or another. This strategy has been working... a little. It was fine until I became obsessed with "Regarding the Pain of Others" and Sontag's work and took a detour only to read Sontag. Oh well. I got through six books before I got onto the Sontag kick. I'm reading one of her biographies now. It's outdated, as it leaves off about two years before her death. My Sontag kick couldn't have come at a better time, as I'm completely obsessed with photography.

Still have many more books to get through including...

City of Windows, Haifa Zangana
Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postmen
Theatre of the Oppressed, Augusto Boal
The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew: Three Women Search for Understanding, Rayna Idilby/Suzanne Oliver/Priscella Warner
Brecht: On Theatre, Edited and translated by John Willett
Take this Bread, Sarah Miles
Radiant Mind, Jean Smith
Living My Life, Emma Goldman
Restaging the Sixties: Radical Theaters and Their Legacies, Hurling and Rosenthal
Artistic Citizenship, Mary Schmidt Campbell and Randy Martin
Letters from young Activists, Edited by Berger, Boudin, Farrow
Performance Studies: An Introduction, Richard Schechner
Hamlet and the Baker's Son: My Life in theatre and Politics, Augusto Boal
Legislative Theatre, Augusto Boal
A Rainbow of Desire, Augusto Boal
Who Sings the Nation State? Judith Butler and Gayatri Spivak

I hope by the time I return to this post, I will at least have gotten through half this list.

The audition front has been very slow but it doesn't matter to me because I have a ton of directing projects and COTE related events keeping me busy until November. We have auditions coming up on August 9th and 10th for our fall projects and outside of COTE, I am working with the Manhattan Theatre Source's "Estrogenius Festival" and directing a one-act play at the American Theatre of Actors called "Inseminary" by Dicky Murphy. This runs August 20th-24th. I am also working with the East Village Community Coalition, organizing a bike parade (for October). I'm thrilled to be doing community organizing and to have the opportunity to work within my own community - Alphabet City and the Lower East Side.

Sometime between now and the end of August I'm going to be sending in an audition tape to Globe Trekker. I have one... it just needs major editing. I will probably need a MAC for that project...



12:14 AM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

Although they are

Only breath, words

which I command

are immortal.

(Sometime between 630 and 612BC)

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Interpretations of the End - Art Installation

8:10 PM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

I'm creating a performance art/visual/photography installation for The Hemispheric Institutes's EmergeNYC commission that will be held this October in New York City. I'm developing this piece around interviews/literature that I've received from hundreds of people regarding beliefs in the "end of time"/"end of the world"/"doomsday"/"Apocalypse"/"rapture" and I'm collecting drawings/doodles/sketches/painting/collages etc. (anything you can think of... be as creative as you would like) from anonymous sources and individuals around the country of how you think the world will meet its end (If, indeed, you do believe that there is an end). Will humans destroy themselves through nuclear war and/or global warming? Do you think there will be a final battle between aliens and humans? Will God come back to earth? Will there be no "end"?

Whatever you believe, put it on paper and send to:

Interpretations of the End Art Project
375 Kirby Avenue
Elberon, NJ, 07740

Your work will be featured in my upcoming performance art piece beginning in October 2008 and in any other manifestations that this project takes.

I will also be spending some time in Union Square and Washington Square Park on the following days, collecting drawings from anyone who stops by. I'll have paper, markers, crayons and art supplies available but feel free to also bring your own if you prefer anything specific:

Saturday, July 19th from 1:00pm - 4:00 pm in Washington Square Park. (Under the Garibaldi Statue)
Sunday, July 20th from 1:00 - 4:00 in Washington Square Park. (Under the Garibaldi Statue) Friday, July 25th from 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm in Union Square Park. (Under the Gandhi Statue.... Southwest Side)

*** If you are planning on sending submissions through the mail, please keep them to 11x14 size and smaller.

To be put on this project's mailing list e-mail .
(Credit provided. There is no pay. All submissions become property of "Interpretations of the End Art Project")

Thanks so much!

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4th of July Weekend!

10:44 AM / Posted by Ashley / comments (0)

Pictures from 4th of July Weekend... (details below)

Okay... it's a little late but Happy 4th of July! I had a wonderful time on the Jersey Shore learning how to work my new camera (see above). I've been (sort of) working on a photo project on Asbury Park NJ since 2005. I have over 100 pictures from then until now documenting the change and gentrification of the city through photography. The photos above don't even begin to tell the story. It all started through the Urban Ethnography class I took in undergrad. I'm not sure yet what I will do with it but not concerned about it now either. There are two random pictures in the middle (graffiti and church) that were taken in Alphabet City (my neighborhood). I'm probably going to start a photo blog for the Asbury Park pictures and store them on there for now.

Now, it's back to work/finding work. I had an audition yesterday and another job interview tomorrow. Co-Op Theatre East has decided on the 6 short plays that we will be presenting in September. We're happy with the selections... it was very hard but we selected the perfect bunch.

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