The Dog Whisperer Prevails

In the world of dog there are many voices. The one bark getting most of the attention though, is Cesar Millan. The renowned Dog Whisperer has trained people and rehabilitated dogs for years. Recently he confessed to the world that he had do some whispering on himself a couple of years ago when some pretty harsh life things almost took him from us (you can look that up yourself - this is not a forum for gossip). In spite of all that, he's back stronger than ever, and remains committed about dogs and teaching and preaching the value of "calm assertive energy". By the way, you can apply that energy to any aspect of your life (try it, it works). He has detractors of course (many people in the spotlight do) although a lot of them haven't watched an entire episode of his popular how-to show "The Dog Whisperer". Some of them have and are experts themselves and Cesar is OK with that. He is always willing to listen and learn new techniques and when he doesn't know something backwards and forwards he'll bring in experts himself (like a Horse Whisperer or Wolf expert). We can learn a lot from this man. Not only in helping our dogs be the best they can be, but in being open to the universe, learning its different languages and in finding peace. Calm does not mean weak. And no one knows that better than Cesar.

So all the best to you I believe in you and what you do. And so do my dogs. Si se puede! Read more!

The Challenge: Eat Mindfully For 1 Week

Posted on Peace Love Lunges (here)

Last week, my fitness coach, Sam Page   issued a challenge:

“FOR ONE WEEK, I want you to shop for your food every day with a budget of $10 — more or less — and ONLY buy what you will eat that day… and chocolate is required.
He allowed me one modification — that I shop for each day’s dinner and the next day’s breakfast (since I have a night job and don’t always follow normal eating habits anyway). Intriguing, particularly since he asked me to blog about it, which makes it all the more real an experience for me.
I realize I didn’t plan ahead all that well, so I don’t have Monday’s breakfast lined up. That’s OK. I will start that evening. I don’t have an immediate goal in mind, so I do what I normally do – stay in the vicinity of work, and shop at Ralph’s. Right away, I am more aware of what things cost. If you only have 10 bucks to spend, you are going to make it count. When Sam explained a very Zen way of eating excruciatingly slowly, savoring every bite, I said, “Well I can’t waste all that effort on a Snickers.” Same concept. I need to make sure I favor quality over quantity. Maybe I should have gone to Whole Foods I think to myself. Besides being relatively healthier, it’s probably easier to get more single servings of things. But I’ll find something.

I end up with two breakfast oatmeal bars for Tuesday morning and head to the deli to see what’s prepackaged for dinner. Even though a mozzarella roll looks (very) tempting and (sigh) expensive at $7, I settle on a turkey-cheese wheat sandwich (cheaper) and two bottles of aloe juice (2 for $4!), one for tonight and one for tomorrow morning. I’ve always wanted to try them, please let them be good (they are)! I then realize that (yikes) I didn’t even think about my coffee addiction. It’s such a given, I never even bother trying to budget it. Though I do limit Starbucks to OK, once a week, I know that I can indulge in some frothy Flavia concoction at work, without a second thought. But now that I am at my limit, I see that coffee will not happen tomorrow. At least not for breakfast. I once gave up caffeine for Lent and it wasn’t THAT hard. So maybe this toning down will remind me of that um, sacrifice.

The best part of the deal is that Sam REQUIRED me to add chocolate to every purchase, so that one addiction can be fed at least. I get a thick diety-type chocolate brownie bar from Stay Healthy(?) with not a lot of sugar. That’s the other thing – in hovering over a can of Starbucks coffee, I saw it had 26 grams of sugar instead of the much cheaper and lower 4 grams of the Aloe Vera (Aloe Glow natural aloe water to be exact). Go figure. And now that I think about it, I’ been craving green water (really!) just the other day.

I probably won’t drink the sugary SB canned coffee anymore now that I have a favorite new drink. But I’ll need to find coffee somewhere. Keeping that in mind for Tuesday. At least I have all my usual vitamin supplements handy. Also, I might want to give fresh foods a try. After all, that’s one of the points – not to waste food. And if you shop at a market every day, you can buy fruits/vegetables that won’t spoil. Huzzah!

At work, I’m surprised not to feel so hungry… Yet. The portion/budget control thing forces you to really think about what you are eating. So far, so good. Will this method help me lose 20-30 pounds? Who knows. More importantly, it will center and focus me so maybe I will start working out again.
Day One Total: $11.86
Tuesday. I haven’t been all that hungry so far. But the lack of caffeine is a problem. Had my ready-to-go breakfast from last night’s shopping. Decided to go to Whole Foods and be healthier and end up with packaged again (it’s just easier!) Pasta with meatballs. But still made fresh that day. Leaving me only a few bucks for tomorrow’s breakfast so I get a Greek yogurt parfait. It only ends up being nine-something which means I have a few dollars for coffee! There is a Starbucks nearby, but what can you get there for a dollar or two? I swing by McDonald’s on the way to work. They have yummy coffee but it’s kind of out of my price range too. Darn. I get a small hot chocolate (I later realize that their regular plain coffee is even cheaper, oh well) and then remember I forgot the daily chocolate! You can get three McDonald’s chocolate chip cookies for a dollar (yeah, I did!) so that brings me to:
Day Two Total: $13.13
I am starting to feel similar to the restlessness I get on those two day juice fasts I try once in a while. Uh oh. That means I will cheat. I curb that by just eating a handful of almonds and a tiny bit of juice. Not in my budget, but better than stealing some pizza from the kitchen. Right? I do consume a pastry someone gave me, but it’s higher quality bakery stuff so, fine.

I vow to get down to more fruits and vegetables next time!
Back to Whole Foods, determined to be healthy again. The choices are getting to be more overwhelming and since I am now trying to stay away from packaged food, I go to the food bar. A meal of roasted chicken, collard greens, fresh veggies and yellow rice weighs in at about eight bucks. Sweet. I grab non-Starbucks bottled coffee (not skipping today!) and a small orange juice. For breakfast, I get a small container of granola cereal but didn’t see the price correctly. I thought it was $2.99 when it was really $7.99 (wow those numbers are small!) Oh well. It will be more than one breakfast then, so tomorrow I’ll just buy dinner.
Day Three Total (ran over, but I’m OK with it): $18.02
P.S. Damn it, I forgot my chocolate allowance again! So I grab a candy bar from the candy bucket at work and you know what? It doesn’t taste all that satisfying and neither did the McDonald’s cookies yesterday.

Hmmm… am I changing some body chemistry somehow? Or just my brain?
I am still not all that hungry, but I have an extra dollar in my pocket, so I get a slice of pizza for a snack (wheat crust) to tide me over until work dinner (which will be later than I usually eat). I spent most of my budget last night so today I’ll just get carrot/orange/mango juice and a skinny vanilla latte (yes, I went to Starbucks after all). At work we get free Subway sandwiches so I pick tuna on wheat with spinach, tomatoes, olives, green peppers and mayo.

And a small Twix. The idea was to budget in chocolate, but quality chocolate. But that proved too expensive, so I end up foraging at work, only I don’t go for seconds anymore AND it’s not as satisfying. I feel like I am eating to nourish, not eating to feel. So that’s a big change.
Day Four Total: $9.95 (oh, more than I thought, oops)
I have the day off today and feel more lax about food since I’m not in a hurry. However, I have a doctor’s appointment so get up (relatively) early and drink the juice from yesterday on the way to the doctor. Afterwards, I go to a neighborhood deli and have them make me a turkey sandwich on rye. Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, mayo. It’s about five bucks so I figure that’s my allotment today. Financially anyway.

At home for dinner, there are leftovers — a pasta chicken dish (I spoon a smaller helping than normal since it looks thick with sauce and I am conscious of how food looks and feels now, in addition to how it tastes), coffee (at last!!!) and later still, some snacks. Instead of my usual thoughtless binging, I think about what snack I want and go for some wheat crisps (generic wheat thins) since they have low sugar. (I read labels now!) Oh and there is leftover birthday cake too, but the rich chocolate kind, so I let myself have a slice of that and though it’s good, it feels really really heavy. Seems my body is already adjusting to burning smaller meals more efficiently. I feel more focused too, so I walk the dogs a little further than usual. And my pace is faster. I have more energy! Then again, that could be the caffeine.

I reflect on the week at some of my “lapses” (pastry/pizza) and rather than torture myself with guilt, I am OK with being human. I allow myself to give in to a craving, as long as I steer toward either something healthy or at least smaller portions of whatever devil food I ingest.  I can’t psych myself into eating my feelings again.
Day FIVE Total: $5+
The best part of the week is that my body craves healthy. I never got a handle on how to shop correctly for fruits and vegetables — the fresh ones anyway. But I know I can do it. That whole planning for the week, reading recipes, freezing for later thing that people do. And I know that now that I don’t have that specific budget anymore, I can relax a little and throw in an apple or two without worrying about the balance. And – I WANT to.

This exercise was about portion control and mindful eating, but also something a little more spiritual:
I learned to honor myself by feeding my body more thoughtful things—food for nutrition, instead of food for stress.
I realize I deserve to be good to myself: mind, body and soul, and as a result, I will (hopefully) end up being good to others. And (hopefully) live one lesson I keep learning over and over: staying in the present. Enjoying the now. Focusing on the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and thoughts right in front of me.

It’s the easiest thing in the world, but we make it hard. I can’t control the universe, or other people, but I can control what I put into my body by making healthier choices. I can control those creeping negative thoughts by gently sweeping them away, since there is no room for them when you are being truly aware. And awake and alive. Thanks Sam!

By the way, the doctor told me I lost three pounds.
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The Book of Mormon

a kate west review
book, music, lyrics by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez and Matt Stone
directed by Casey Nicholaw (also choreographer) and Trey Parker
at the Pantages Theatre 6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles
contact  1-800-982.ARTS (2787) or click here
running through November 25, 2012

The infamous foul-mouthed children of South Park (the insanely animated brainchild of Trey Parker and Matt Stone) once had a run-in with some Mormons on the popular 2003 episode "All About Mormons". The enthusiastic religious fervor was catching at first, but soon became disillusioning as more of the back story was revealed to the characters. And because the show is based on merciless satire, the Mormons were not spared ridicule. In song (some of their best work too). So it's not surprising that several years later, the creators expanded their irreverence by combining their love of mockery with the commercialism of Broadway and thus "The Book of Mormon" was born.

Garnering coveted Tony Awards (including Best Musical 2011), "The Book of Mormon" is a (slightly) tamer version of the television episode. Primarily in order to attract audiences, the stronger sting of direct spoof is often replaced with moments of spotlighted wistful hopefulness (the kind you see in Disney musicals), although all that trademark "bad" language stayed in. In other words, it's an adult family show. And now it's in Los Angeles, right at Hollywood and Vine.

Elders Price and Cunningham (in this performance Gavin Creel and Jon Bass) are paired together by their superiors and sent to Uganda to make sure the Africans properly acknowledge the Savior. As it's not the most coveted destination (it ain't Orlando), the Mormon missionaries despair at making an impact on such a strikingly different culture. Eventually they get through (more or less anyway) to these terribly unenlightened people with song and dance and lots of swearing. Which seems to be the main appeal.

The creators play up the stereotypes, exaggerating that absurdity for effect, but that plays a little better in cartoons. On stage it becomes a more obvious joke, but the audience still eats it up. And the cruder the dialogue, the bigger the laugh. Fans of "South Park" will expect this sophomoric humor (and recognize a voiceover or two) and the rest will be drawn to the shock value. And students of pop culture will have a blast. Setting all that aside, you are left with a fairly standard coming-of-age-self-realization story. Typical Broadway fodder, but nothing life altering (and very similar to the silliness of Spamalot, another mainstreaming musical venture of a once innovative show: see Monty Python.)

The actors are all great, the musical numbers lots of fun and the pacing is briskly efficient. The opening and closing numbers where everyone rings doorbells and sings "Hello" as your friendly neighborhood evangelists are a delight. As pure entertainment, it is a professionally well done piece, but it won't change anyone's beliefs. In fact, the Mormon Church advertises in the program*, apparently giving credence to the "no such thing as bad publicity" mantra. In other words, there are no huge surprises and you pretty much know what to expect. It harkens back to "South Park" itself or the Team America movie (another Parker/Stone creation), where once the novelty wears off, we get it already.

Perhaps even more fitting, you might experience Angelino sensationalism when leaving the theater and run into the LAPD in SWAT-esque gear during a Skateboarder Riot (kid you not). That's when you really know you're in Hollywood.

*"You've seen the play, now read the book." (told you)
Book of Mormon Read more!

2P2: Revisted

Or: A Boy Raised by (Stuffed) Wolves
a kate west revisit
(original review here)

As a child, Bill Olson believed everything around him was alive, with actual feelings. Especially his stuffed animals (to let you in on a little secret: HE STILL BELIEVES THIS.) More on this later.

Bill grew up (if you can really call it that) to be an actor, a juggler, a teacher of the Alexander Technique and a puppeteer with Lunatique Fantastique. He likes to say he misspent his adulthood with decades of acting, directing, writing and producing. But it paid off (another little secret: NOT WITH MONEY - do you see where this is going?)
 Bill did what anyone would do (right?) and put his imagination on film (this is the later part).

Enter the stuffed animals. Again. Proving the world is big enough for any type of imagination. Influenced by Jim Henson and Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes, Bill found the perfect outlet for his artistic bent by forming Two Plush Two Productions (2P2). What is it? According to 2P2’s Mission Statement, it is "a video production team founded to create quality entertainment for everyone through a unique form of storytelling; presenting the world as it should be, through the eyes of stuffed animals." 

How does this work? Essentially, he and his crew manipulate stuffed animals on camera into simple stories, set to different soundtracks. And just so we’re clear, it’s important to see the hand manipulation, because we need to see the blend of fantasy and reality. Remember playing with stuffed animals as a kid? It's like that, but more poignant. And funnier. And on video.

And infectious. Because Two Plush Two (2P2) is increasingly getting requests for videos. Chris Ballew, lead singer of The Presidents of the United States of America, was so excited by the video “More Bad Times”, which interpreted the Presidents' song, that he asked 2P2 to do a video for a children's song he recorded as Caspar Babypants. He says he was struck by an excellently done slow motion shot in one of the earlier videos so he commissioned 2P2 to do “Baby’s Getting Up” (later followed by "The Frogs"). This success was followed by a request from Seattle musician Jonathan Shue to illustrate his lovely lyrical ballad, “Bartholomew”, that celebrates following dreams. He had so much fun with 2P2 that he wrote his own version of "Deck the Halls" for the stuffed animals to act out. Musicians seem to love the way 2P2 interprets their themes and images.

In fact, these “critter” stories really do speak to everyone. From the classic tortoise and the hare tale, to beloved toys missing their owner (she’s off at college), it’s riveting storytelling. And it really is a unique point of view. To give you a small example, in one scene, the animals want to mail a letter, but don’t know how. They get the concept of mail, just not how it’s delivered. Their solution is adorably touching.  Oh and by the way, only one of them actually talks. That would be C.C. the black cat and unofficial spokesperson for 2P2 (watch him at a recent red carpet event here). Nothing will change Bill’s mind about this.

See for yourself in this exclusive Kate West interview:
Bill never lets go of this magic. That’s what makes it work, and makes everyone around him believe it too. Which is why the “critters” seem so real. They feel acutely and get the message of the story across in a fun and direct way. Its gentle Henson-like humor is never mean, and usually quite sweet. The greatest appeal is the way the "critters" deal with challenges - their creativity and teamwork present an idealized version of humanity. It’s obvious the 2P2 crew love what they are doing too. Bill and his human cast often share “Eureka” moments on set, which he generally voices with a pleased yelp, to the great amusement of his fellow plush fans.

The other reason it works is because we want to let our guards down a little and pretend again for a little while. To see the world from a younger, more innocent place. That’s definitely worth paying attention to. Plus (plush) it's pretty dang cute.

Thanks listening. And watching, if you’re inclined. Links to all below.

About Two Plush Two Productions

Some of us never grow up. Or at least we still know how to feed that inner child. We hold on tight to that sense of wonder. If you’ve ever felt your toys were real - if you remember loving them as true friends, and you fervently want to keep believing in childhood magic, we can help you. Two Plush Two Productions is a video production company started by friends just for fun. We make awesome videos starring stuffed animals (that we all still love and adore) acting out simple stories. Intrigued? Check us out on YouTube.

2P2 on YouTube

2P2 on Facebook

2P2 on Twitter
Earlier 2P2 review here

Bill Olson (the mad Pied Piper behind the critters) would like to thank:

Village Stationers
Sugar Shack
Leaf and Petal

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London 2012

a kate west congratulations

You were different. But we loved you. Congratulations Ambassadors of Peace!

And hooray USA!

Catch up:

p.s. Huh?!!

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War Horse

a kate west review
by Michael Morpurgo
adapted by Nick Stafford
directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris
and by Bijan Sheibani (U.S. tour)
at the Ahmanson Theatre/Center Theatre Group 
135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012
running June 14 - July 29, 2012
contact  213-628-2772 or 

The innovative British production of "War Horse" finally makes it way from Broadway to the Los Angeles stage. Originally a book by Michael Morpurgo, the story was adapted for theater by Nick Stafford and brought to life by The Handspring Puppet Company. This South African troupe uses puppetry to illustrate storytelling, a more and more popular approach to modern theater (we all remember Julie Taymor's fabulous version of "The Lion King", right?)

The essential story is of a beautiful horse, Joey, born to be a hunter, but raised as a farm horse by the young Albert Narracott (Andrew Veenstra). Both are soon drafted to the army unfortunately, for the first World War (the war to end all wars), and lose each other in the ensuing chaotic madness of battle. Both endure terrible hardships and are forced to grow up faster than they wanted to, before finding each other again. 

The play seems to tell us, that yes, war is hell. Especially when a hunter learns to be a draft horse, then a war horse, then a draft horse again. The core innocence of the horse with many masters (Michael Stewart Allen as Captain Friedrich Muller is a particularly strong and poignant owner) mirrors the boy's fragile hope in finding his beloved companion once more. There is no mercy during wartime and the only thing that can keep you going is to hold on fiercely to whatever you believe in. Men, women, children and animals die during war - there is no discrimination with death. And as far as the plot goes, that is pretty much it. But a powerful message, to be sure.

Steven Spielberg jumped at the chance to show these images on the big screen and made his award-nominated film "War Horse" while the theatrical productions were still going strong. It is hard to imagine missing out on the creativity of the staging, however. Each horse is masterfully manipulated by three actors. They make the sounds and movements so very realistic, while maintaining a lovely stylized version of that truth. This must have taken a great amount of rehearsal (in fact, the Ahmanson postponed its opening in order to perfect the carefully synchronized choreography). Each animal is crafted with mechanical precision (a bit more complicated than the horses of "Equus") and delights audiences by drawing them into the personalities of the animals. We forget there are humans behind the masks. 

As a sorrowful background chorus, John Milosich sweetly sings ballads during much of the action, giving us a local flavor of Devon, England, in a time gone by. Above the village is a large torn sheet of paper where shadows, drawings and pictures flash across its screen during key moments in the play. There are explosions and (warning) gunshots too, spooking both horse and audience. A simple and poetic story, rather reminiscent of Anna Sewell's "Black Beauty", Joey the War Horse shows us the dimensions of mankind, in moments of kindness and cruelty. It's a nice story, elevated by the incredible stagecraft spectacle of the puppets. (Oh, there's a tank too). 

Worth seeing for the imagery, so don't spoil it by seeing the move first. And you might want to skip the film altogether after this. But that's up to you since ... a horse is a horse of course.


To read Black Beauty:
Black Beauty 

To see the movie:
War Horse Read more!


a kate west revelation
#SDCC #ComicCon
a.k.a. The San Diego Comic Convention
San Diego, CA July 2012

Well who'da thunk? I finally made it to the CON. After months of trying (involving waking up early to jump online and not making it past the waiting room) I got a resold ticket. For Sunday only. Since I'd never been before, being the researcher I am, I looked up every blog I could find on the phenomenon and took the advice very seriously. Usually when I travel it springs from spontaneity and I kind of decide where to go once I'm there, but with the magnitude of the CON, I knew I had to choose a different tactic.

First of all, just getting a ticket is a big pain. Not just that waking up early part, it's also the actual waiting part after that, to see if you made it in. Then choosing a hotel, with a similar kind of website deal, just not as painful. As I feared, I ended up on Hotel Circle. Actually that turned out to be not so bad as the shuttle took us straight to the convention and the hotel was probably quieter than the ones downtown. I'm assuming.

Second, everyone talks about how huge the convention center is. No kidding. I think I read something about walking roughly three miles in order to see everything. I believe it. It's gi-normous. There is no way to take it all in in one day. And unfortunately, that's all I had.

So, three, everyone also talks about the lines, lines, lines. No kidding part two. There's a line to pick up your badge, a line to get in, a line to get a t-shirt. And these are not grocery store lines. More like overnight sold-out concert ticket lines (and yes, people do camp out, for days even, for some of the events taking place there).

Here's where I stood in line:

See? Big. I didn't mind all THAT much though because it was my very first CON so I was eager to take in every (EVERY) experience. The hotel site makes you book two nights so I had Saturday to wander San Diego itself, which I didn't know too well. I remember Old Town being kind of cool but wanted to stay more in the downtown area so I checked out the Gaslamp district. Dined at a quiet Italian place and just people watched. The crazy, crazy people. Like the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the streets teem with people in costume, handing out fliers, chasing celebrities and wreaking good natured havoc. I am sure the locals have learned to live with this July madness, just like the Scots have to every August. I loved it, though I can imagine getting a little claustrophobic after a few days. But since I just had the limited time, I drunk it all in. By the way, another tip I followed is to drink a lot of water. It's summer, it's hot, it's crowded, you get tired and lose track of time. I was told not to eat the convention food and to bring my own, but it didn't seem too bad in there.

Which brings me to the big day. Right. You should get up early, get a head start on those lines, lines, lines. So I thought I was early, but even an hour early still brought me to a long line. Oh well. When that was finally over, I got my badge and a ridiculously huge Warner Brothers bag (who came up with this size?) that wouldn't fit in my satchel so that was another awkward hour standing in line until I could wrangle another bag. From the t-shirt line (did I mention the lines?)

But then I was in. And took a moment just to register it all. Yeah, big. Comics, comics, more comics (yes, they still sell comics - they haven't sold out that much), studios forcing swag on you, people, people, people, and the costumes. Nerd and geek cosplay (in costume) from STAR TREK, STAR WARS, DOCTOR WHO, every kind of superhero and comic fantasy imaginable and then some. Once again, I followed sage advice and took a break once in a while to get out of the convention center, breathe some harbor air, people watch outside and then brave the hordes once more.

I didn't do any panels. I only had one day, remember? And the panels have - you guessed, lines, lines, lines. Especially the big studio ones. The Twihards slept outside for two (TWO) days to get in to see their TWILIGHT idols (ugh). I would have liked to see a few (like my SUPERNATURAL boys) but decided to forego those lines and focus on the event itself. The inner core. And vowed to take stock of what I learned for when I came back again next year. Hell yes, I'm coming back.

So I didn't get an autograph but did glimpse my boys:

But no sign of my fave!  I love Spider-man. He's been my favorite superhero since I was a kid watching those afternoon cartoons with that catchy song (you know the one). He's a teenager and a climber(!) and ends up working for a paper. What's not to love? I guess that makes me a Stan Lee fan and obligated to see his movies and spot his cameos (and hey, comic aficionados, I know more people were involved in those early comics than just Stan Lee, but I'm still learning. I also love Neil Gaiman and his SANDMAN series so that should buy me a little redemption). But back to my adventure. As foretold, I ran into many people I recognized (not so many people I knew, unfortunately - I never seemed to be able to coordinate with peeps I knew were going, go fig) like ...

The Enigma, from that circus episode on The X-Files (Humbug), did you see that one? That was a fun one. I am sure he gets tired of being asked the same questions (did those tattoos hurt?) but as he was hawking his very own comic book, I am sure he took it all in stride.

Also saw a quirky little group of nerd music makers called Kirby Krackle. They do hilarious lyrics to rock music, paying homage to geek pursuits, like gaming and movie role playing, etc. By Sunday, there probably weren't as many familiar faces as the earlier days, but you can still spot some good ones.

Wait, Flo the Progressive Lady?!!

My feet hurt less than they should (thank you marathon shoes) but I did get awfully tired. I refreshed with  power bars, coffee and water to make it through the day before collapsing back in my hotel room with room service.

Bottom line: I have to go back. It was surprisingly hard to say goodbye to San Diego as I pulled out of the hotel parking lot. A hop, skip and a jump from Los Angeles, it's really not a big deal for me to jet down there every once in a while. The atmosphere is electric and as San Diego is already a tourist attraction, you get the sun, the water, the summer vibe, along with sci-fi and fantasy. It's Nerd Mecca. I know that die hards lament the studios taking over their comic book floors, but the revenue must be awfully nice for San Diego and even the most petulant graphic novel enthusiast can't help but jump for joy at spotting a comic hero. In addition to move stars and even more television starts, Comic-Con offers comic book illustrators and creators, muses and icons of the comic world. Almost anyone you can think of from that world has passed through the hallowed halls, to the rapture of their followers. Ray Bradbury used to show up there all the time. It's just that now it's maybe (a tad?) more crowded. But oh so very, very worth it.

Oh and my revelation? While I'm not a fan girl, I am kind of a nerd. But you knew that already. Anyway, if YOU want to go, click here.

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Sideways the Play

a kate west review
a world premiere event
by Rex Pickett
directed by Amelia Mulkey
at Ruskin Group Theatre
3000 Airport Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90405 
Contact 310-397-3244 or
Running May 18 - July 22, 2012 - EXTENDED!!!

Rex Pickett's life used to be a mess. Being a writer, the only way he could cope with it all was to scrawl all his deep darks onto paper. You can read all it about in his blog here. But for straight novelization, you'll have to turn to his acclaimed book "Sideways", the wine country's game changer and pinot noir champion (sorry, merlot), particularly in the Santa Ynez Valley. If you haven't read it or seen the delightful award-winning Alexander Payne film, (and if even your parents have seen it, why the heck haven't you yet?) it's about two old friends, Miles and Jack, who go on a wine tasting road adventure for one last hurrah before Jack gets hitched (and Miles can try to forget his recent divorce and publishing woes). How much trouble could they possibly get into? Prepared for a more sophisticated palate than the usual "Hangover" crowd might expect, with a good helping of artistic ennui thrown in, "Sideways" leads us down some dark (but profoundly delicious) paths. For even more in vino veritas insight you can jump on the grape bandwagon, so to speak, and take the actual "Sideways" wine tour in an "Eat, Pray, Love" follower kind of way (more on that phenomenon elsewhere in this blog), or you can check out the newly published sequel "Vertical". If you choose the latter, you may notice a marked difference in the writers voice. The first book was wholly from the point of view of Miles, with a marketable blend of humor and grief, while the second book shows more of that real writer anguish behind the iconic character. Both are semi-autographical, but the second reads much more introspectively.

But this is a theater review. The good news is that "Sideways" turned out to be rather conducive for the type of monologuing so often used on stage. And Pickett found just the place to collaborate with at the Ruskin Group Theatre. And in case you weren't aware, this company exists right across from Santa Monica Airport (yes, Santa Monica does have its own airport - who knew?) You get free parking there and if you are seeing the world premiere production of "Sideways", free wine poured from high-end wineries (list below). Sharp Cellars showed a particularly fun little pinot during a Sunday matinee.

Now about the production itself. Amelia Mulkey directs her professionally adept actors with a light hand, choreographing transitions nicely (the scene changes are very fun too). The actors are likeable, especially the quiet romantic interest, Maya (Julia McIlvaine), who seduces Miles with her wine expertise. Crowd favorite Jack is boisterously played by Jonathan Bray and very much a match for Thomas Haden Church in the film version (if we're making comparisons). Cloe Kromwell lends some hot Italian flavor to Terra, the temptress who enables Jack to fully embrace his bad boy. As for our protagonist Miles, John Colella lends a properly pretentious voice to the famous wine connoisseur. So do people really speak that condescendingly in daily conversation? Yes, writers (and wine drinkers) do apparently, and while his character is constantly made fun of for it throughout the piece, you might also feel the urge to strangle him at times. 

Interspersed with one-sided phone calls to the "real world", the Miles and Jack journey grants us some temporary fantasy, which is easy to believe in after a few drinks, but nausea-inducing upon reflection the next morning. Still, the characters are flawed but believable, and earn their redemptions. Road trips are always fun, even without an actual car, and the play captures the spirit of that wanderlust nicely. A competent crew of secondary characters fills in the action well and Set Designer CJ Strawn gives us a cozy all-purpose setting, which the actors use fully. Director Mulkey creates a charming atmosphere, the way sunny alcohol-fueled vacations should be. Oh, included in the price of admission is a boar hunting trip from the novel (not the movie) with live-fake gunshots, just to warn you. Fun scene though. Kerouac worthy, in fact.

If you've read the original novel and seen the movie, you will see that both the film and stage version stick close to the plot and both are true to the heart of the story, each with a slightly different vision and some scene changes, here and there. Payne added his own indie angst to the project for the movie, while on stage Pickett happily unleashes his full writer angst with subtle changes to the dialogue. Some of that "Vertical" self-consciousness slips through in places, as in the line where Maya praises Miles for being brave enough to write what he writes. You can't really blame Pickett for taking some power back from Hollywood (try collaborating with a major studio sometime and see how creatively unfulfilling it can be) but every once in a while you get that little reminder of the voice behind it all. Granted, a thrillingly intellectual voice.

Plus you still get some of the more famous scenes (spit bucket ring any bells?) so every taste bud will be satisfied. Who hasn't felt as lost as Miles at times, helpless to stop the inevitable self-destruction that seems to consume us more and more in this crazy modern world. All we have to hang on to is each other sometimes. Jack's wild side may be a misdirected complement to the introverted Miles, yet while they are initially bad influences on each other, sticking together through the insanity lands them safely (more or less) where they are supposed to be. Eventually. And really, that's all you can ask of a friend.

Here's the book: Sideways: A Novel 

Here's the new book: Vertical (The Deluxe Edition): The Sequel to Sideways 

Here's the wine:  

The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition

Here's the movie: Sideways (Widescreen Edition)

Classic road tripping: On the Road (Penguin Classics) 

Photo by Agnes Magyari: 

Cloe Kromwell (as Terra), John Colella (as Miles), Jonathan Bray (as Jack), and Julia McIlvaine (as Maya)

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American Idiot

a kate west review
music by Green Day; lyrics by Billie Joe Armstrong
book by Billie Joe Armstrong & Michael Mayer
directed by Michael Mayer
musical arrangement by Tom Kitt
choreographed by Steven Hoggett
at the Ahmanson Theatre/Center Theatre Group 
135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles 90012
running March 13 - April 22, 2012
contact  213-628-2772 or 

The popular Bay Area punk band Green Day won the best rock album (Grammy) in 2005 with their smash hit "American Idiot", released the year before. The structure of this innovative album tells a story of an anti-hero, "Jesus of Suburbia", who just wants to make his mark in the world and find out if there is anything worthwhile beyond television and beer. Michael Mayer (Director of the excitingly youthful "Spring Awakenings") strongly felt this would make a great musical and a rockin' collaboration began. Premiering in Berkeley and then later on Broadway, "American Idiot" combined flashy media with "Rent"-like scaffolding, creating a minimalist stage focused mainly on strong music. And now it's finally made it to Hollywood. Yeah for us.

Johnny (Van Hughes) and his pals Will (Jake Epstein) and Tunny (Scott J. Campbell) want more out of life than what they see around them. So they set out to explore possibilities and each of them ends up with a very different life than expected. Will becomes entrenched in Jingletown suburbia, Tunny joins the military and our protagonist Johnny ends up with sex, drugs and rock and roll. And that's pretty much it. It's a simple story, bare bones really, but the music tells you all you need to know about the quintessential American dream quest. The most well-known songs, "American Idiot", "Jesus of Suburbia" and "21 Guns" express the most dramatically powerful pull of youth and angst. When we are young, we are hell bent on knowing what it all means, sometimes to our detriment. The singers are quite strong for the most part, though it was sometimes hard to hear the women (Leslie McDonel and Gabrielle McClinton) in this production (mike check, anyone?)

Choreographer Steven Hoggett matches the in-your-face lyrics with strikingly angry moves, showing the frustration of being trapped in your own worst self. The production follows in the footsteps of louder, less traditional musicals like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Rent" by giving us a rock concert version of underlying sentimental melodies. There are nice ballads too though, don't worry, such as "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" (no explanation necessary) and "Wake Me Up When September Ends" which enhances the diary entries Johnny provides us. "Extraordinary Girl" even includes some acrobatic moves with Scott J. Campbell and Nicci Claspell.

The difference between this and the afore-mentioned Broadway hits is that this show comes from an existing album, so lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong and Director Michael Mayer had to rearrange different orchestrations (with Tom Kitt) to allow a chorus of voices in on the action. And they do that very well. One nice characterization is the imaginary St. Jimmy (Joshua Kobak) who appears as Johnny's alter ego and embodies uniquely delightful punk, which is the heartbeat of this kind of music. In earlier versions, Armstrong himself appeared in this role and that must have been a real treat for the die hards.

Overall, Green Day's music is killer and makes up for the thin story. In other words, you probably won't remember the plot all that much, but those songs sure will stick with you. The hard-to-miss political elements fit right in with our world today too, hopefully allowing us to question how the next generation will  be affected by our decisions of today. Tell your parents the music is loud, but only because of the need to be heard. Oh and that also there is no intermission.

Get the original album here:

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Sam Page Fitness

a kate west recommendation

I've said it here before and I will probably say it many times more. Sam Page is the best trainer you can hope to find in the greater Los Angeles area. His gentle coaxing will inspire you beyond what you thought your limits were, but he can be tough when he needs to be and he can tell when you need it too, probably more than you can. Right out of the gate, you get a thorough physical assessment of what you are capable of and what your goals are. If you ever wanted discretion in sharing your BMI, he's your guy. Rates vary, depending on how many sessions you book (the more you do, the cheaper it ends up, especially if you buddy up). You can add a meal plan to that and Sam might even go grocery shopping with you. You can absolutely trust in his years of experience as a personal trainer and entrepreneur and revel in that sunny demeanor. Motivational sayings and music propel you toward your best self, along with the latest technology (no one is hipper than S.P.) as you marvel at how far you've come. Of course Sam would say he believed in you the whole time. Heard enough?

Yeah, he's easy on the eyes too.

Go book him here now:

Older review here: Read more!

LA Phil Live With Gustavo Dudamel

a kate west review
Los Angeles Philharmonic and
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
John Lithgow, host

MAHLER: Symphony No. 8

LIVE from Caracas, Venezuela
Sat FEB 18, 2012 5PM ET / 4PM CT / 3PM MT / 2PM PT
US Encore Broadcast on February 29
Get tickets:
or check your local movie theater listings

Ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience? Venezuelan-born Gustavo Dudamel took the Los Angeles Philharmonic all the way to South America to perform with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. He recreated his fabulous sold out performance in Los Angeles, using multiple choirs and soloists in Mahler’s 8th, “Symphony of a Thousand”. More than 1,000 musicians performed on stage in Caracas, Venezuela, all telecast live at a movie theater near you. That's more than he wrangled in California.

Just so you know, it's important to pick a movie theater with an excellent sound system if you want that same I-feel-like-I'm-there feeling you get with the New York Met Live HD operas. Today was a mediocre theater (everything else was sold out) and some of the patrons grumbled a bit. You had to close your eyes to really soak in the fact that so many voices were harmonizing together to tell a story of heaven. Yet there are some fun behind-the-scenes looks with Host John Lithgow, to set your expectations on just what a great accomplishment this is for Dudamel. So taking all that into consideration, open your ears (and heart) and let the music transform and transport you.

Background: The innovative conductor wanted to take on the "Mahler Project" which meant performing all the composer's symphonies, recruiting two orchestras and several choirs to help achieve this stunning feat. Since they were unable to fit everyone in their home turf at the Walt Disney Hall downtown, voices and instruments were moved to the Shrine Auditorium where they wowed audiences and brought the house down. Local musicians then got to adventure on to the next continent, while sharing the simulcast with the rest of us. The voices are sublime, especially the soloists Anna Larsson, Klara Ek, Alexander Vinogradov, Brian Mulligan, Burkhard Fritz, Charlotte Hellekant, Julianna di Giacomo, Kiera Duffy and Manuela Uhl. Dudamel also introduces us to "El Sistema" which brings music to youth of all ages and promotes a message of peace and unity.

In two parts, Symphony No. 8 alternates between the dramatic and the poignant. If you are lucky enough to hear all the Symphonies, be sure to carry that memory with you always. And if you can only do one, make it this one, the Symphony that carries a thousand voices, invoking chills and tears in spectators and inspiring creativity in our souls. Really, words will not do, when the music speaks for itself. Kudos LA Phil and Dudamel. Well done! Read more!

Our Town

a kate west review
directed by David Cromer
by Thornton Wilder
at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90401
running January 13 - February 12
contact or 310-434-3200

You can't get much more small town America than Grover's Corners, New Hampshire. In 1938, Thornton Wilder captured our reverence for nostalgia so very well in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Our Town", set in the fictional East coast town, more or less around the first World War. And aspiring acting students have been rehearsing it for ages since. Director David Cromer brings the latest adaptation straight from the Big Apple, with his modern Broadway take on this American classic. It's easy to dismiss the work you were force-fed in school, but read it again as an adult and you might come to appreciate its profound message about life, love, aging and of course, the inevitability of death.

Helen Hunt ("Mad About You", "As Good As It Gets") plays the Stage Manager, usually reserved for a folksy older Mark Twain-ish fellow (think Hal Holbrook). While that role does not necessarily have to be gender specific, it is traditionally depicted as a wise and kindly all-knowing observer. Hunt is matter of fact, which is fine, despite her tendency towards mannerisms, but she does lack some warmth. However, she works well with the rest of the cast and you can't go wrong with excellent dialogue so she does keep our interest.

Grover's Corners is a typical happy little village with typical gossip and neighbors. Emily Webb (played sweetly by Jennifer Grace) marries her next-door-neighbor George Gibbs (the amusing James McMenamin) and generations happen. Scenes of soda fountains and sports at school and the local choir are all played out under a subtle shadow of war. Mothers and Fathers fret and argue, Milkmen and Paper Boys comment on the goings on while Hunt's Stage Manager fills us in behind the scenes. Wilder's general message is that life can be sweet and good, but is too often marred by tragedy and therefore should be all the more precious to most of us. Some of his clever devices include the audience being lectured by various townspeople like Professor Willard (David LM McIntyre) and Editor Webb (Tim Curtis) who regale us with the town facts, while the Stage Manager prompts the audience to answer prepared questions. A complete picture of the town is set up quite nicely in this charming fashion.

The stage itself initially has minimal props, essentially a couple of tables and chairs, and in this production the dress is modern, even though it is set in the early 1900's, the idea being to give us a sense of timelessness. However, seeing a teenager discuss a fifty cent raise with his father can be jarring when he's wearing jeans and sneakers. Director David Cromer does use the space quite well, until one of the last scenes when Emily goes back to visit her family and a true set is revealed, way in the back of the theater, with a fully functioning kitchen. One generally wears rose-colored glasses when looking into the past but it would be nice to be able to fully hear and see properly as well. The most famous monologue of the entire play takes place upstage, far away from the audience and you can barely make it out. The shadows of the past should be a bit more metaphorical in favor of giving us a satisfying ending.

Still, much of the staging works great. The wedding scene is nice and emotional, with poignant turns from Mothers Webb and Gibbs (Ronete Levenson and Lori Myers). Normally portrayed as the height of romantic fulfillment, this wedding shows us the reality of growing older and the fear of leaving youth behind. Hunt comments that one minute you are happily in your twenties and then suddenly you are seventy. It happens so very fast. The final act is done very well (with the exception of the kitchen scene) with stoic actors reflecting on the way the living don't see what's right in front of them and never take the time to fully enjoy and appreciate life while they are in it. Choir Director Simon Stimson (the sharp Jonathan Mastro) especially captures the bitterness of this realization.

All in all, the production will leave you with much to reflect upon. The actors are strong and there is even the occasional dramatic score (courtesy Jonathan Mastro), which adds a nice touch. Thornton Wilder is too often dismissed as a sentimentalist but this play has a lot of hard truths, which are far from sentimental. You will find despair and hope, love and anger and eventual acceptance, like much of life. Cromer is to be commended for a slightly modern take on an overdone piece of theater, but also needs to be careful not to undersell the more important parts of the play.

So do any of us figure out any of this life stuff before it's too late? According to Wilder, "The saints and poets, maybe - they do some." Take heed, folks - slow it down a little. And since we're being all modern - be your own Ferris Bueller.

Get your own copy here:
Our Town

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Improv Can Change Your Life

a kate west congratulations!

Oscar nominations 2012: Groundling alums make good showing

Click for photos of reactions from the top nominees

Funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars -- a detour through the Groundlings comedy improv troupe resulted in five Oscar nominations for alumni on Tuesday.

The Los Angeles-based proving ground for such comic talents as Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz and Paul Reubens has a whole new class of graduates to celebrate as writers Jim Rash  and Nat Faxon received a nomination for their "Descendants" script (adapted screenplay), Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo were tapped in original screenplay for “Bridesmaids,” and Melissa McCarthy earned a nod for her raucous supporting turn in “Bridesmaids.”

“We have had Emmy nominations in the past, but this is our big Oscar day,” said Heather de Michele, managing director of the Groundlings Theatre and School.

With "The Help's" best picture nod, writer-director Tate Taylor is also making the troupe proud. De Michelle added that “The Help” supporting actress nominee Octavia Spencer is a “friend of the Groundlings,” so there's another mini-celebration to be had.

“In order to be a Groundling, you not only have to have done extensive improv performing, you have had to have done some sketch writing,” said De Michele. “That is what is benefiting this great group of talent now."

And while students attend the Groundlng school, they have to hone their improv performance and writing skills. " 'The Sunday Company' is the top level [of the school],” De Michele said. “Every Sunday night, you have to do new material for six months. It’s like boot camp. At any given time we have 300 students."

Currently, there are 26 members of the Groundlings troupe. Rash, she said, is the only active member among Tuesday's Oscar nominees. Not only does he direct the group, “he performs all the time on our stage. And he does occasionally teach upper levels,” De Michele said.

In fact, Rash said Tuesday morning, he would be heading to the theater that night. “I have to go teach this class tonight,” he said. “I’m covering for someone. I have been teaching and directing there for 10-plus years. We have a little workshop tonight for an opening at the theater. They all know about the film, so they better be respectful and listen tonight.”

De Michele said that the Oscar nominations will undoubtedly help the theater company, which began in 1974.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “With the success of ‘Bridesmaids,' we saw a huge boost of enrollment in women who wanted to be comedians!”

--Susan King

 Photo: Kristen Wiig (and Annie Mumolo) at the Golden Globes early last week. Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP

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Millions of Americans oppose SOPA and PIPA because these bills would censor the Internet and slow economic growth in the U.S.

Two bills before Congress, known as the Protect IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business. Millions of Internet users and entrepreneurs already oppose SOPA and PIPA.

The Senate will begin voting on January 24th. Please let them know how you feel. Sign this petition urging Congress to vote NO on PIPA and SOPA before it is too late.

Click here: Read more!


Peace Everyone.

Kate West Read more!