Listening to the #Music and Learning to #GoWiththeFlow #Musical #Improv @thepitnyc @EvanKaufman @rebecca_vigil

Shortly after completing my level 2 class of the improvisation program at the People’s Improv Theater (PIT), I enrolled in the musical improv class. It has been the challenge of my life. We need things in life that challenge us in order to learn and grow. This class certainly has challenged me. Not only am I singing for the first time in a few years, but I am also making up the lyrics, following specific song structures, as well as listening and responding to my fellow improvisers (pianist included). Holy moly, my brain…I never knew my brain could work that fast. I also never thought that my brain would have to concentrate on so many things at once. I think that I am breaking out of a shell that I’ve been in for a while. It feels good to challenge myself as a performer, and it’s fantastic to have such wonderful teachers for the class. My level 2 teacher is one of the instructors, as well as the pianist (who is freakin’ amazing by the way) and I’ve been recommending it to everyone.

I think as performers, we should not only take improvisation to improve our skills, but specifically musical improv. It really helps get over hurdles and it’s fun too! We get to make up a musical on the spot. And for those people who think that things are pre-planned, believe me, they’re not. Believe me. But, that’s the beauty of it. It’s truly a magical thing when actors can be on the same page, work together, and come up with something interesting. I am so fortunate that I had the opportunity to take this class. Onward and upward to Level 3!!

Below I am including a video from my fellow musical improvisers at the PIT @EvanKaufman & @rebecca_vigil performing in Union Square during the holiday season with improvised Christmas carols. And guess what else? The pianist who accompanies them is one of the teachers for my class, and he is truly fantastic. Currently, they have a show called Your Love Our Musical, where they interview a couple and then make a musical out of the love story they just heard about. It’s amazing. It’s at the PIT. Plus, I have to support my fellow PIT performers. They’re awesome.

Here’s a little taste of musical improv:

Global Activism & The “Trouble with the #FWord”: An Interview from Across the Pond with @FwordFilm Director Vanessa Pellegrin. #Feminism #Equality #YesAllWomen

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When you talk to director Vanessa Pelligrin for the first time, one of the first things that becomes apparent is her combination of passion and intellect; especially when it comes to activism, specifically feminism and equality. These qualities have served the young documentary filmmaker well during production for a new project entitled, The Trouble with the F Word. Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that we shared a similar perspective on the issue of equality in general.

Born in France, and raised primarily in Morocco, Pellegrin brings a unique viewpoint to the issue of feminism. She initially began her career as a journalist, specializing in investigative reporting, current affairs and sociological issues in Morocco (which is a very male-dominated society.) This led to an interest in film production, bringing her from Morocco to Spain and then finally settling in her current home of London. She believes that communications between the sexes are lacking and that there needs to be more of an open discussion about issues facing gender equality in the modern age. As Pellegrin puts it, she wants to “take the temperature” of the current state of equality on an international level.

In 2013, with the hundred-year anniversary of British suffragette  Emily Davison, Vanessa became inspired to explore how far women have come (or not) in terms of suffrage. She decided to document British activist Lucy-Anne Holmes, famous for the “No More Page 3″ campaign and television host/actor Nick Lancaster as they explore contrasting views of feminism and equality in today’s modern culture. Actress, Emma Watson’s September, 2014 speech at the UN has only furthered the interest in this hot-button topic.

Faced with opposition from various political activist groups, including a Men’s Rights group, the film sets out to explore what problems women face globally by having two people from opposite ends of the spectrum swap viewpoints and investigate the other side for themselves. How far has women’s rights and equality really come? What issues do women in other countries face?  Pellegrin wants to bring a thought-provoking film to the masses in an era where women are still fighting for their voices to be heard.

Vanessa hopes to gain the remainder of the film’s funding from a Kickstarter campaign and release the film at the end of this year. For more information and updates on this thought-provoking film, follow them on Twitter: @FwordFilm

Official Trailer F Word Film from Vanessa Pellegrin on Vimeo.

Side-note: Vanessa has one of the most interesting accents I have ever heard in my life, and I could literally listen to her talk all day long. It was a pleasure to meet someone with such passion for a particular subject matter.

Interview with a #DeadMan: An Actor to Actor Conversation with Akie Kotabe (@AkieKotabe) of “Everly” (@everlymovie)

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Akie Kotabe (@AkieKotabe)

What happens when you’re majoring in computer science at the University of Texas in Austin and decide to change to theater after successfully auditioning for a student film, subsequently finding your passion in life? If you’re Akie Kotabe, it pays off. With roles spanning across film, television, and theater, Kotabe is currently co-starring with Oscar-nominee Salma Hayek (Frida) in the action/thriller Everly, coming to theaters Friday, February 27th. So, what’s it like to act alongside Salma Hayek? Well, apparently it’s pretty incredible. Playing a character known simply as Dead Man, many of the characters in the film, directed by Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) are referred to using descriptive monikers. Kotabe has a supporting role as a man who has become the target, along with Hayek’s Everly, of assassins and is left for dead. Trapped in an apartment, the characters are faced with dealing with their existence and survival, “Think Die Hard in a single room” Akie told me.

Based in both London and Los Angeles, Akie fell in love with acting in college when he auditioned for a student film on a whim and got the part. He says that he didn’t know anything about acting before that, but has since studied both at university and with various well-known acting teachers in the industry. This non-traditional trajectory into acting has proven successful for the Michigan-born, Texas-bred actor. He’s had guest spots on Mad Men, CSI: Miami, and Without a Trace. Kotabe also puts his bilingual abilities to the test where his roles may require him to have a command of the Japanese language and accent

However, he proves his versatility with quite an impressive filmography. Securing his first AFTRA gig (when SAG & AFTRA were separate unions) while still in Austin for the Jamie Kennedy Experiment, he says he’s had some interesting experiences. He got the aforementioned AFTRA show even after he accidentally bashed his face into a wall during the audition. Woops. We’ve all had weird auditions as actors, sometimes it’s the odd ones that pay off the most.

The passion that Kotabe has for acting is apparent when talking to him. As a fellow actor, we talked about our love for the craft, and the fact that being able to entertain people is one of the best things to be doing in life. Having gotten the acting bug in college, lived and worked in Japan, Los Angeles, and his current city of London, Akie says he’s enjoyed something different from every place he’s lived. He’s also learned from those places as well. From doing theater in Japan (both in English and Japanese) to film and television in Los Angeles and London, he tries to gain as much knowledge and wisdom as possible from the people he is surrounded by in the business. “You can learn a lot through the work” he stated, “It’s what gets me up in the morning.”

What was his favorite part of filming Everly? Well, everything. For Kotabe it was being part of a team and contributing to the bigger picture that was most exciting to him while filming in Belgrade, Serbia. I think we can agree that the best part of being an actor is the ability to be storytellers. I am fortunate enough to have the chance to tell Akie Kotabe’s.

Don’t forget to catch Everly in theaters Friday, February 27th.

Thank You Akie for being such a friendly and open fellow performer. It was such a pleasure to learn your story.

Follow Akie: @AkieKotabe & Everly movie: @everlymovie

For more information on Akie, you can also visit his website: Akie Kotabe

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