Monday, November 13, 2017

How Retailers Can Make us "Go Shopping" Again

I am constantly reading about how brick and mortar retailers are going out of business due to internet retailers. "We can't compete, we can't compete," is their cry.

It seems that in the past several years very little has changed in the brick and mortar retail world, which is a big part of their problem. Here are some ideas that might get more of us away from online and back into on site.

Dressing room lighting.
For all clothing retailers from discount to department stores, please install pleasant lighting in your dressing rooms! Most of the time clothes that I buy and try on at the store actually look much better at home because the lighting was so harsh in the dressing room. This makes me wonder how many sweaters, jeans and dresses are tried on and not purchased by consumers because the lighting in the dressing room was so unflattering.  Also, please make the doors cover more than our middles. I don't enjoy walking through the dressing room seeing everyone's feet and sometimes their undergarments on the floor...and ouch those hard benches hurt! A little cushioning in the seating would be very much appreciated.

If you spend a little more to make the dressing rooms pleasant instead of an uncomfortable experience we just try to "get through," perhaps both women and especially men shoppers, (who most try to hurry through shopping as if they were on fire), would spend more time trying on and thereby buying clothes.

Don't charge us to park. 
We are coming to give you our money! With the sad state of shopping malls and department stores these days charging to park makes no sense to me. Fashion Show Mall in Las Vegas gets this right. If you can't do it free like they do at least provide free parking validation with a minimum purchase. The idea is to get people into the malls again not send them to another retailer that doesn't charge to park or worse yet back home where they can "park" themselves on their sofa.

Fashion Show Mall Las Vegas offers free parking for all

Stop the pressure for store credit cards.
Trust me we know almost every retailer in the country has their own credit card, and yes we know we get a discount if we apply, thank you. No, we still don't want to apply, but thank you. No, REALLY we don't want to apply so stop constantly asking. This is one of the main reasons I avoid Target and other retailers who are especially guilty of this practice. Even when I'm spending a few dollars I get the credit card pitch multiple times. It's annoying and an invasion of privacy. No, I don't want to apply for a credit card when trying to buy Advil and bottled water at Target, and I don't want to "just apply anyway for the discount," as that lowers my credit score and I shouldn't have to explain that to the cashier, (as if they didn't know). I'm not getting on the cashiers case here because I feel bad for them having to hustle the customers constantly.

Macy's seems better about this since they've implemented their Plenti bonus program because they get something out of that, like our shopping history and habits, which is at least  fair trade for some discounts and points given in exchange to us. All of this pressure for store credit cards takes away from our enjoyment of shopping. Many times if I'm buying something that's easy to order online like bath towels I'll do that instead of going to the store and getting pressured at check out for a credit card. This is unfortunate for the retailers because when I physically go to a store I usually buy more than just what I came there for.

Provide some seating.
It's a mobile world and we have to check our phones from time to time, return texts, emails etc. while shopping. If you would provide a small lounge or area with basic seating we would not have to leave to get things done. You could put up a sign saying "A 15 minute limit for seating is requested."...This would also  provide a place for our impatient husbands or teens to go so we have more time to shop when they want to leave and we're not ready. That extra time we spend at your store will sometimes result in us spending more but at the very least would make the experience more pleasant and somewhere we would all be more likely to return to. You could also provide a couple of computers with a link only to your site in case we can't find exactly the size or color we want on while at your location we could find out which one of your nearby stores has it. I have to do this on my phone sometimes and it's not always easy with the Wifi situation at some retailers and malls.

Sell drinks and snacks.
Many stores sell drinks and candy bars at check out as well as some department stores and I have to admit I've caved on that many times. At check out is too late though. Vending machines that are easy to locate (perhaps near my proposed seating area wink wink), would be better. Some water, energy drinks, and a few snacks would help us weary and hungry shoppers stay put. Nothing makes me quit shopping faster than getting hungry. My local Macy's makes that easy by having a Starbucks right inside the store!

Provide better quality.
Try not to put out so much merchandise that is Made in China. We know that quality on almost all clothing has decreased and we have come to accept a certain amount of that, but please remember when we're spending sometimes a lot of money on a supposed "designer" item we can tell when it's made cheaply. I know online retailers are guilty of this too, but you all need to shape up on this one, manufacturers, distributors and retailers alike.

Trust me when I say we still want to "go shopping." It's enjoyable to meet a friend for lunch and go shopping, or take our daughter to buy her first prom dress, select a gift for our friend's birthday, or go with our husband so he can  buy a suit for a friend's wedding. We really DON'T want to do everything online. Just try a little harder to keep up with the competition, (which is our living room), by making it easy and actually enjoyable for us to shop. We'll come back to those of you that do!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Wayne Newton...Up Close and Personal

Wayne Newton is one of those Vegas entertainers that us locals tend to take for granted. He's here, always has been and probably always will be, or so it seems.

Whenever I'd asked anyone if they'd seen Wayne Newton or Mr. Las Vegas (as he is known), perform, I always got the same answer from anyone who had, "Oh yes and he was wonderful, just so talented and charming!" Nobody had a bad word to say about  his act. I never forgot this because unfortunately I' d never gotten around to seeing him perform, even though he's been doing so his whole life.

So when he recently opened a new show at Bally's I made sure I was there. Wayne Newton - Up Close and Personal takes place at the newly renovated Windows Showroom. 

Wayne Newton playing one of his many instruments

This is the perfect venue for him. He's not trying to fill a huge theater anymore. Now is the time in his career to reflect and share with his audience in a personal way. This new show is a chance for him to sing a little, play a little, tell some stories and answer some questions. I like how he enters from the back of the room greeting everyone along the way, and has just a three piece band along with some multimedia and a special friend to support his story telling. The whole setup makes you feel like a special guest in his home.

Wayne starts out with the story of his life and how he saw Hank Williams perform at the Grand Ole Opry at age four and knew that that's exactly what he wanted to do. So he got started right away, singing at age five with his brother. Eleven years later they found themselves performing in Las Vegas as teens. This started his 60 years of performing in Nevada. 

He talks about being first produced by Bobby Darin, appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show,  touring with Jack Benny and of course performing with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin as a special guest.  He shares his experiences starring in  Bonanza, North and South and one of his best known roles (as himself) in Vegas Vacation. Oh, and to hear Wayne Newton sing Danke Schoen live is something nobody should miss!

His stories are not only interesting but provide insight into the world of a lifelong entertainer, and the many ups and downs this unique lifestyle can have along the way both personally and professionally. He has made some mistakes and some wrongs have also been done against him, but he's still out there showing us all how to thrive by focusing on doing what one does best. 

To see Wayne Newton do his show is to see someone at his most alive. If anyone was born to entertain he was, and it just pours out of him. The love and energy he brings to a room is magical. I have seen many shows and am a bit spoiled that way, but Wayne Newton truly enchanted me. 

Wayne Newton - Up Close and Personal is at Bally's Windows Showroom

Friday, September 22, 2017

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth...Round 2

During Mike Tyson's boxing days I never thought I'd someday be going to see him do a one man show in Vegas, and at a comedy club no less.

The former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Mike Tyson is back onstage with Undisputed Truth 2, which debuted here in Vegas earlier this month and is a sequel to his one man show from 2013. That show debuted in Las Vegas and went all the way to Broadway, then a TV Special and a book.

For this show he chose to open it at Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand. Mike Tyson enters the comedy stage differently than he entered his boxing matches. There's no flashy robe, shiny shorts or entourage. Just music, and then he appears onstage and introduces himself with humility.

"Iron Mike is dead. I'm a different person today."  - Mike Tyson

He immediately sets everyone at ease by talking about his recent "sports injury"...which consisted of falling off a hover board, an accident that led to back surgery. During his last show in 2013 he talked about his early days and how he got into boxing, how it saved him because at 13 years old without a dad and growing up in a rough neighborhood he'd already been arrested 38 times. He shared his past troubled relationships with women, drug use and the tragic death of his daughter.

His new show Undisputed Truth 2 is more about the history of his boxing career. He talks about the opponents he fought along the way, some of the more controversial things that happened outside the ring during that time, and about his friendships with late celebrities such as Tupac Shakur and Michael Jackson. He also bemoans middle age and its impact on his life which he is becoming all too familiar with at age 51. He talks about regretting how he had embarrassed his kids with some of his actions and how he gained 100 lbs while in rehab joking "I'm an emotional eater."

One can tell that he's still working on this new material but that's what I like, the imperfect moments, the beginning stages of a show when the performer is finding his way. I would like to see this show again on one of the last dates here in town, to see how it's been fine tuned and how he's fine tuned his performance before he hits the road on tour to other cities.

While watching the audience react I heard a lot of laughter, but not always when Tyson expected it. Laughs or not everyone seemed to be listening intently. Someone like Mike Tyson will always be a curiousity to the average person even if not a boxing fan. He is someone who lived his professional dream. But on the other end of the spectrum he also fell far from the top to the very bottom, with drug abuse, prison and bankruptcy. Most of us wonder what this journey would be like, the extreme ups and downs.

These past several years like a true champ he has picked himself up and risen from the ashes to do what he can now, which is to entertain while being his rough, oddly sweet and comedically talented self. I love to see someone re-invent themselves, take chances and share with others so openly. What better way to take control of your own story than to tell it yourself? His show is worth your money and time.

Word is there's a movie in the works about his life that will star Jamie Foxx and be directed by Martin Scorsese. Also check out his cartoon series Mike Tyson Mysteries.

Mike Tyson's Undisputed Truth 2
Brad Garrett's Comedy Club at MGM Grand
Through Nov. 20th 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My First Movie Role Killed Me

I can't believe it has been 20 years since my very first movie role. I was playing the part of a girl who follows a celebrity out of an autograph signing and then is immediately afterwards killed in a car accident. This was all I knew because I had originally auditioned for another part but was cast in this one.  I was a little nervous about the car accident scene but the assistant producer assured me it would be filmed without any of us actors actually inside the vehicle. They generally don't give the whole script to the day players so I didn't yet know the larger theme of the film.

I was in performing arts school at the time and was pleased with having been cast in my first real part in Deathumentary, an independent film with a budget of about $50,000.

The night before the shoot I was watching a movie at home with my friend Jeannine and on the news came the shocking story that Princess Diana was in a serious car accident and in grave condition. As many now know, she left her Paris hotel with her companion in a car driven by a chauffer, when there was a distraction with paparazzi on motorcycles that played a significant part in the crash. Jeannine and I watched and waited late into the night to see if Diana would survive. She was so young and well liked, it was really hard to believe she could pass away. But as the news came on again we gasped in horror and sadness that she was gone. The worst part to accept was that the Paparazzi that had relentlessly hounded her most of her life, beyond anything ever seen before with a public figure, were a major contributor to her sudden and untimely death. 

Anna Wendt, Karen Wendt, Leland Crooke

The next day I arrived on the set ready for my car accident scene, but distracted with the news of the night before. One of the producers then told me that coincidentally the premise of my scene, which had been written several weeks before, was very similar to what had happened to Princess Diana.  If you don't already know, the paparazzi were taking photos of Diana while she lay dying in the mangled Mercedes after the accident. This was exactly the premise of the scene we were shooting less than 24 hours later.

As we waited for the other actress in the scene to show up, she flaked out and called to cancel at the last minute..  So I suggested we contact and ask my sister Karen who lived close by if she'd like the role. The crew thought that was a great idea and so they called and offered her the part...if she could get there quickly. She said ok, and in that strange way was cast in her first film as well. Thankfully she was a good sport and got ready and whizzed over there to join us within an hour, keeping the production on schedule. (Too bad we had to both die in our very first scene together.)

In the plot of the film, a man known as Dr. Seymour had happened along a car accident one day, filmed the aftermath and started selling copies of the video. This went so well for him he found another crime scene and filmed that, and on it went. Unbeknownst to any but his inner circle, he then started to actually cause accidents in order to film and profit from them.

Now, twenty years later, it makes you wonder about some of the video and live streaming content you see these days. The screenwriter of Deathumentary must have had an insight, albeit a macabre one, into one particular aspect of the future.  Now that we live in a 24/7 live streaming world, let's hope society polices itself on what is and is not "acceptable" media.

A clip from Deathumentary -

Deathumentary, although written and completed in 1997, was not officially released until several years later and only on the film festival circuit. Writer/Director Lawrence Riggins.

Related article:

Friday, August 11, 2017

"Something Rotten" at The Smith Center

The other night I got to do something I really enjoy, which is to watch someone else experience their first show at The Smith Center. We chose Something Rotten for her first show there, since Colette Robinson and I are avid fans (and sometime performers) of Shakespeare.

As we took our seats in Reynolds Hall just before curtain, I was pleased we had been able to snag gallery box seats since we'd had to wait until the last minute to get our tickets. Sitting down in the the gallery boxes made me laugh because doing so reminded me of those two curmudgeonly spectators from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf who sat up in their balcony box judging everyone. The highest level boxes at Smith Center provide a lovely close up and somewhat aerial view of the stage because of their height. 

Something Rotten, created by two brothers, (The Kirkpatricks), is a show about two brothers, (The Bottoms), who write plays. Unfortunately for them, this is during the time and in the same town as the one and only William Shakespeare. Before you stop reading because maybe you're not a fan of Shakespeare, you should know that they speak standard English for most of the show, and you don't have to know his work to enjoy it, which is one of the things I like about this show. If you know his plays it makes it even funnier, but if you don't it doesn't take anything away from your experience as an audience member.

With an upbeat opening, "Welcome to the Renaissance," performed first by Nick Rashad Burroughs as the Minstrel, then joined by the cast, Something Rotten is a play on Shakespeare's play within a play, a spoof of musicals, and a spoof of a Shakespeare play that makes fun of itself constantly. Lest you think this is a show praising the Bard think again. The second song is "I Hate Shakespeare!"....where Nick Bottom bemoans Shakespeare's overrated talent. 

Speaking of Nick Bottom, he is trying to keep his wife and himself out of poverty, so he involves the help of a seer to look into the future to see what Shakespeare will write next so he can steal it and reap the profits.  The seer, Nostradamus, (ok not quite Nostradamus, it's his nephew Thomas), tells Nick what the play will be. So Nick and his brother begin to write it...not realizing they're working on a slightly warped version of a play due to Thomas Nostradamus' shaky psychic abilities. (I'm not going to write about that and let's just make it a funny surprise, like the first time I ever saw The Producers).  The Bottom brothers, wanting to really make a splash, decide to add another dimension to the show by making it a musical. This decision is followed by a dazzling display of the meaning of "A Musical!" Blake Hammond as Nostradamus was funny, light, and gleeful as if an animated character, throughout the production.

One of the subplots referring to modern times is about Nick's wife Bea wanting to be an equal partner in her marriage to Nick, and finding ways to help support the family so he could write. This was obviously not a thing women did much of in the 1500's, although Bea was hopeful and exclaims, "It's 1600 women will be completely equal to men in every way!"....Haha oh boy! Nigel Bottom also has a love interest, Portia, whose Puritan father is not so crazy about her blossoming love for a poor and unknown playwright.

Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Now, Shakespeare himself, an obviously important part of the story is a big cheese in town. He's bold, handsome and eccentric in his bedazzled Renaissance threads! 

"Shakespeare is like a rock star. We always talked about him early on being a cross between Mick Jagger, James Brown, Tom Jones and a little bit of Austin Powers. This is a version of Shakespeare you haven't seen before and it works if you love Shakespeare or hate Shakespeare." -Karey Kirkpatrick

I also like how they portrayed him equal parts insecure and conceited, like many great artists. In one scene after he enters to the chants of "We Want Will, We Want Will," he delves into a mini concert and the song "Will Power" for a throng of admirers holding up their lit candles with praise...because you know this was before lighters and smart phones.

In the end will Nick and Nigel Bottom find their way to the top?...(to quote one of the show's songs). Or will they forever live in Shakespeare's shadow? As the story progresses it takes itself to new and funnier heights. At some point I just let go trying to understand it all and just laughed and laughed. Colette and I were like two schoolgirls mesmerized and totally in the moment either giggling or bursting out into laughter throughout.  I have to appreciate the writers, cast and crew for giving me the experience of enjoying something like a child again. To even grasp a moment of that here and there as an adult is a true gift. From my aerial view I also noticed the audience's energy in the packed house as the laughter built throughout the show. At the end, (we stayed until most had left), as people were leaving they were still laughing and clapping as they made their way down the aisles to the exits. 

In many ways, aside from the obvious comparisons to Spamalot, (who is the same Director/Choreographer for Something Rotten, Casey Nicholaw), this show reminds me of Noises Off. It takes maximum talent, effort and timing for a cast to pull off a show like this, and when they do it's indescribably surprising and fun! 

The Kirkpatrick Brothers along with John O' Farrell spent four years and several rewrites (the original title was Shakespeare's Omelet) before they completed the show and it opened on Broadway in 2015. For example they originally composed 50 songs, (yes 50!) before narrowing it down to 15. 

Rob McClure, Josh Grisetti, Adam Pascal, Maggie Lakis, Blake Hammond, Autumn Hurlbert, Scott Cote, Jeff Brooks, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Joel Newsome, and a funny, talented and energetic supporting cast!

The Smith Center production's Music Coordinator, Philip Fortenberry

Something Rotten remaining shows -
Aug. 11 7:30 pm & Aug. 12 and 13 2:00 pm & 7:30 pm
Tickets are $29 - $127  

Parking is free at the Smith Center, (thank you Smith Center!)

Copyright Anna Wendt 2017