Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit. - e. e. cummings

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Dreams Are Made On.....Teller's Tempest

"We are the stuff that dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep."
- Prospero, The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
"One morning in the late 1970's I woke from a dream in which I was Prospero, the great magician of The Tempest. As Prospero I was fighting "mine enemies" not by stabbing them with a sword, but by driving them mad with illusions." - Teller 

The Tempest brought to life in this way has been a fantasy of Teller's for thirty years. What a lovely gift this magician has given to our magical city....to bring his dream to life for the first time and to do so inside a tent at The Smith Center's Symphony Park in downtown Las Vegas. Leave it to Teller to stage the show in this way, with magic, illusions and music so that it may be experienced as it never has before. The mission of The Smith Center, is "to build and establish a high quality performing arts center ....by supporting artistic excellence, education and inspiration for all." So this is a dream realized by The Smith Center in that this type of production not only takes place, but originates here. The Smith Center has done so much for Las Vegas, by creating options that never existed before and helping to spread awareness that Las Vegas, a town of musicians, actors, dancers, artists, visionaries and more is a city brimming with culture.

The production will move on to Cambridge next month to Harvard's Loeb Drama Center, then perhaps eventually Broadway. The other major player making Teller's dream a reality is his Co-Director Aaron Posner, with whom he staged a production of Macbeth in 2008.

The other night when I entered the tent what struck me first was the smell and feel of dried grass under my feet.  As I rounded the corner from behind the bleachers and saw the stage, I had a flash of what it must have felt like to see a play at the Old Globe Theatre back in Shakespeare's day. Then, upon hearing the song..."Everything You Can Think of is True," I felt infused with the coming magic already.

The stage of The Tempest....Photo The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey

Our story starts with a tempest...a violent and windy storm.

Prospero, the main character, creates this tempest to trap his deceitful enemies, one of whom is his own brother, Alonso. 

Prospero, having been sent adrift 12 years before in an unworthy sea vessel with his 3 year old daughter, so that Alonso could steal his title as Duke of Milan, now seizes his chance for vengeance. As expected his brother and his posse have not changed a bit. Prospero, a magician, has a few tricks up his sleeve. The enemies are in Prospero's territory now and instead of violence he enacts his revenge with disturbing and bizarre illusions.  After this, the island and its inhabitants are truly in a whirlwind surrounded by trickery and vengeance, never sure what is real and what is not, and so are you, fair audience. The equally important focus of the story is on Prospero's love for his daughter Miranda.  She has no memory of life with anyone other than her father and a few unusual island inhabitants, until the strangers arrive.

The cast is made up of members of the Harvard affiliated Actors Repertory Theatre, (A.R.T.) and the dance company Pilobolus. Incorporating Teller's magic into this production was a unique part of the actors' roles, and they did it beautifully. Although I have studied and performed Shakespeare I have not seen The Tempest before, so this was truly special for me.

The music and lyrics of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan combined with the bluesy and other worldly sound of the spirit band Rough Magic, lends a dreamy and introspective background to the experience. Songs such as "You're Innocent When you Dream," and "Shiny Things," and the lead singers, Miche Braden and Shaina Taub, are wonderful. Their voices together are seductive, haunting and oddly comforting. Tom Waits' music completely transports the audience to the strange world that the cast and crew of The Tempest have so skillfully created.

"Everything we do with the magic serves the story." - Aaron Posner

Cast...Photo by The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
What the integrated magic does is match the audience's experience to the characters in the sense that we are never sure when we are going to see something odd or amazing, including characters emerging from house left and right.

I found it interesting that the two Shakespeare plays Teller has chosen to bring to the stage are also the two that deal most with the use and abuse of the powers of magic and the spirits. Teller's lifetime of experience with magic gives him a perspective of these works that few have.

"My main goal with this show is to make it entertaining.... and as understandable as 
the one that Shakespeare wrote and to take out all the obstacles that people 
normally have to enjoying and understanding Shakespeare." - Teller

Shakespeare wrote The Tempest after having written about humanity, greed, power, love and so much more, for decades. Most experts say it was the last play he ever wrote entirely by himself. I like to think perhaps with The Tempest he was writing about the most enduring human emotion of all, love, and that is what to look for in the midst of the "tempest" that is all of our lives.
"We are the stuff that dreams are made on and our little life is rounded by a sleep."
William Shakespeare was born on April 23 and died on his birthday, 52 years later.

The Tempest, April 1-27 at The Smith Center in Las Vegas.....Thesmithcenter.com/events/the-tempest

The Tempest Team...

Some of the text and credits below are excerpts from TheSmithCenter.com

Director and adaptor Teller, (yes that's his legal name), has been part of the internationally renowned comedy act, Penn & Teller, for almost 40 years. Together they have covered every end of the entertainment spectrum, including theatre, on and off Broadway, North America and Britain. They have for quite some time, held the record of the longest-running headline act at The Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

Penn & Teller have written and starred in several television productions such as the Emmy-nominated Showtime series “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!;” “Penn & Teller Tell a Lie” on Discovery; “Penn & Teller’s Sincity Spectacular” on FX and much more. Teller has written for The Atlantic Monthly, Smithsonian, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, to name a few. He is also a frequent contributor to All Things Considered on NPR. Teller co-directed the performance film Tim’s Vermeer, a feature documentary film, which will be released in theaters internationally in 2014 by Sony Picture Classics.

Director and adaptor Aaron Posner is a Helen Hayes and Barrymore Award-winning playwright and director. His adaptations include Macbeth (with Teller, from Shakespeare), Who Am I This Time? plus several more. He is a founder and former Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and has directed at major regional theaters from coast to coast. Aaron is an artistic associate at Milwaukee Rep and the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC (where his recent production of Romeo and Juliet received rave reviews). "Las Vegas is the perfect place for the combination of Shakespeare, Teller's magic, Tom Waits' popular music and the fabulous movement of Pilobolus, all serving a really great piece of literature, a really great story. I just think that's a combination that you just don't see just anywhere." - Aaron Posner

Founded in 1971, Pilobolus has built its fervent and ever-expanding international following by proving the human body to be the most expressive, universal, and magical of media. Pilobolus maintains its own singular style. Pilobolus' core mission is to make art that builds community. Choreographer Matt Kent is the Associate Artistic Director of Pilobolus and has worked with the company since 1996 as a dancer, collaborator, creative director, choreographer, and associate artistic director.

American Repertory Theater, The A.R.T. at Harvard University is a leading force in the American theater, producing groundbreaking work in Cambridge and beyond. The A.R.T. seeks to expand the boundaries of theater by programming events that immerse audiences in transformative theatrical experiences. (Excerpt from The Tempest program).

Tom Waits is an American singer-songwriter, composer, and actor with a distinctive voice, musical style and unique persona.  Kathleen Brennan is an American musician, songwriter, record producer and artist.

Tom Nelis, Prospero
Charlotte Graham, Miranda
Nate Dendy, Ariel
Zachary Eisenstat & Manelich Minniefee, Caliban
Louis Buteli, Antonio
Dawn Didawick, Gonzala
Christopher Donahue, Alonso
Joby Earle, Ferdinand
Edmund Lewis, Sebastian
Eric Hissom, Stephano
Jonathan M. Kim, Trinculo
Rough Magic, A Spirit Band, Miche Braden, Michael Brun, Shaina Taub, Nate Tucker

Understudies...Amber Bonasso, Gonzala, Sam Cordes, Ferdinand, Stephano, Madison Kisst, Miranda, Jeff Lafferty, Sebastian/Master, Darek Riley, Antonio/Alonso, Christopher Rose, Ariel, Bernard Verhoeven, Minion/Boatswain/Trinuculo

More of the Architects and Builders of the Magic that is The Tempest...
Daniel Conway, Scenic Design, Paloma Young, Costume Design
Christopher Akerlind, Lighting Design, Darren L. West, Sound Design
Johnny Thompson, Magic Design, Thom Rubino, Magic Engineering and Construction
Kenny Wollesen, Instrument Designer, Duncan Stewart and Benton Whitley, Casting
Katie Ailinger, Stage Manager, Allegra Libonati, Associate Director
Erin Guernsey, Asst. Stage Manager, The Smith Center Las Vegas
Taylor Adamik, Asst. Stage Manager, A.R.T., Magdalene Ellsworth, Assistant Director
Andrew Cohen, Assoc. Set Designer, Paige Hathaway, Joshua Madsen, Assistant Set Designers
Katherine Nowacki, Assoc. Costume Designer, Brian Jones, Assoc. Lighting Designer
Charles Coes, Assoc. Sound Designer, Christopher Rose, Magic Technician
Derek Wiles, Master Electrician, Vinny Giordano, Proper Acquisition - The Smith Center
Lynetta Welch, Special Magic Seamstress, Morgan Goldstein, A.R.T. Production Dramaturg
Jeremy Sortore, Voice Coach, Katherine Davis, Crystal Murphy, Production Assistants,
Justin Lex, Smith Center Tech Liaison, Ruth Lichtman, Producing Intern

A.R.T. Season Support, Harvard University, DigBoston, Southwest.com

The Smith Center Support, Land Rover Las Vegas...additionally Ceasar's Entertainment, Wirtz Beverage Nevada, Popped, and Plops Cakeballs.

Production Support, Zita Ezpeleta and Kewsong Lee, Sarah Hancock, Alan Jones and Ashley Garrett

All photos courtesy of The Smith Center/Geri Kodey 

Special Thanks: William B. Collins, Beth Emelson, Janet Griffin, T. Gene Hatcher, Tony Hsieh, Penn, Emily, Moxie, & Zolten Jilette, Gabriel Lyster, Barabara Mowat, Michele Osherow, Miasie Ann Posner, Angel Sugg, Pam Thompson, UNLV, Erin Weaver, Judi Williams.
From the Penn & Teller office: Glenn Alai, Steven Doctors, Laura Foley, Nate Santucci, Ezekiel Zabrowski, The Rio All-Suites Hotel and Ceasar's Entertainment for hosting The Tempest workshop at the Penn & Teller Theater. The actors who participated in the developmental workshops for The Tempest: Tommy Derrah, Brittany Duff, Alexander Hernandez, Ted Hewlett, Carol Kane, Nathan Keepers, John Kuntz, Patrick Page, Mindy Woodhead and Henry Woronicz.

Unions: AEA, USA-829 IATSE, and the stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

Some of the text and credits above are an excerpt from TheSmithCenter.com

Teller talks about the Las Vegas production of The Tempest, Video by The Smith Center/Paul Alvarez Link http://youtu.be/TempestWorldPremiere

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, (1978 edition)
Shakespeare and the Invention of the Human, Harold Bloom, 1998

Anna Wendt Copyright 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An All Star Salute To The Troops!

"Sometimes you need to put everything else aside to support
 and honor our nation's military."  - Toby Keith

The Academy of Country Music did just that with the "ACM Presents: An All Star Salute To The Troops." The show was taped the other day with a live audience of 16,000+ at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with hosts LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell, and will air on CBS on May 20th.

It was great to be a part of the production as a rehearsal actress. Though it is always a pleasure to work on these concert events, it was especially true for this one. One of the best surprises of this show is that almost all of the country music superstars are performing with a talented member of the military!

Army Sgt. Christiana Ball, myself and Air Force Staff Sgt. Bailey Zimmerman
Whether it was Lee Brice accompanied by Army Sgt. Christiana Ball on I Drive Your Truck, Rascal Flatts & Marine Corps. SSGT Brandon Valentine on Rewind, Keith Urban and Navy STGC Destiny Coates performing, For You, or any of the other powerful and poignant performances, adding this element to the tribute was meaningful and exciting!

Of all the genre of musical performers I work with it has always been the country music artists who seem the most grounded. For one thing, they never just "phone it in." This was evident more than usual in this case. The passion, honor and respect shown by the likes of Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, Luke Bryan, The Band Perry, Dierks Bentley, Hunter Hayes, and others moved the crowd, (including myself) to tears many times during the taping that night.

Carrie Underwood made the event extra special and personal by co-writing and performing a special song just for the occasion called Keep Us Safe...which can be downloaded soon.

More important than our emotional indulgences, (anyone can cry), it reminded many us of the commitment and sacrifice made every day by these fine people. If this invokes action on the part of viewers of this special tribute in the way of volunteerism, donations to various veterans programs, and compassion for our active and retired military, among other things, then the show has truly done its job!
Kellie Pickler & Air Force Staff Sgt. Bailey Zimmerman perform...Photo, bingimages.com

To cap off an amazing night Toby Keith was surprised with a "Spirit of the USO" award. Not many people know this, (I didn't), but since 2002 Toby Keith has toured on behalf of the USO performing over 300 shows on 11 USO tours in 15 countries! Even in extremely remote regions, he has managed to show up.

Toby Keith was surprised with the "Spirit of the USO" Award...Photo from USO.org

Toby Keith USO Tour, Iraq 2011

Set your DVR's for May 20, (CBS) and be motivated by the strength, courage and perseverance of the individuals that make up our country's Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Reserves!

Interested in volunteering for our veterans?



Ever thought of enlisting?



This blog article is dedicated to two of my family members...Justin Hattesohl, Decorated Afghanistan Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient, National Guard 849th, (2014), and Sara Wendt, Iraq Veteran (2007-2008) Staff Sgt. 934th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron.

Also, a special salute to other family veterans, Navy; Ernest Duane Wendt,  Gary Wendt, Ralph Nelles and Bill Nelles. Army; Barry Wendt, Robert Lumpkins and Air Force; Cory Schneider. Thanks to all of you for being a positive representative of our family and a role model to the next generation by way of your military service.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

ACM Awards final curtain call at MGM Grand Garden Arena?

It was nine years ago that I worked my first Academy of Country Music Awards. I was standing in for Carrie Underwood (among others), and back then she was only known as the winner of American Idol. But with her first single Jesus Take the Wheel rising up the charts, it wouldn't be long before that changed for good. Listening to her perform that song at rehearsals it was obvious that she was born to be a star. Nine years later it's hard to imagine she ever wasn't!

I've had the privilege to witness many artists like her go from excited newbies to seasoned pros and everything in between.....It's a great inside perspective and a fun part of the job.

Carrie Underwood 2005.....Photo by justjared.com via bingimages.com

Back then Darius Rucker was still "Hootie" to most people and now he is now more known as a country music artist than anything else. Taylor Swift was 12 years old and dreaming while she wrote her little songs hoping to get a record deal someday. Nobody had ever really heard of Jason Aldean. There was no "Miranda and Blake." Brooks and Dunn were still together. Facebook had just launched the year before and social media was not part of national television advertising or promotions.

Since then and during the nine years working this show, besides standing in for Carrie every year I have accepted and presented awards for "Best New Artist", "Song of the Year", "Best Female Artist", "Entertainer of the Year", and more. I have danced onstage with Brooks & Dunn, Toby Keith, Trace Adkins and Blake Shelton, to name a few. I have performed as Carrie Underwood with my sister Karen next to me as Miranda Lambert and done Reba McEntire's job  (as her rehearsal host), before she arrived.

Now at this year's ACM Awards I am feeling a little nostalgic because I found out the show next year, which will be the 50th Anniversary, is going to be be held and broadcast live from Dallas. So I won't be working on it. I'm sure they'll all enjoy the change of pace, but they will be back here very soon.

ACM Stand in/Rehearsal Actors group selfie....Scott, Anna, Heather, Phil, Brian, Karen, Rusty

According to reliable sources quoted in the Las Vegas Review Journal this past Thursday, the ACM Awards will be back in Las Vegas for its 51st...Better yet, it is expected to be one of the very first events held in the brand new mega arena that is going to be built by MGM Resorts International and AEG. This 20,000 seat arena will be placed near the Monte Carlo and New York New York properties and is set to break ground later this month, and be completed in the spring of 2016.

The only thing constant is change and with that in mind I will enjoy what will likely be the last Academy of Country Music Awards in the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Hats off to you, you've been a great host!

Digital rendering of new Las Vegas 20,000 seat arena by MGM Resorts Int'l and AEG....bingimages.com


Las Vegas Review Journal, November 5, 2013 and April 3, 2014 issues



Monday, March 31, 2014

Checkin' out the Chippendales

I first saw the Chippendales perform several years ago when they gave tickets to my sister and me after we all worked together on a VH1 Divas Las Vegas special. I was happily surprised at the quality of their show! These guys are tanned, toned and talented.

So when I recently found out some girlfriends of mine were coming to Vegas I decided it was time to check out the Chippendales again since it had been so long. I also knew it would be the perfect way to show my friends a great night out!

For those who don't know, with the Chippendales there are no dollar bills thrust into the G-strings of these muscled men by overly excited and somewhat inebriated females. The Chippendales and their show in Las Vegas is an actual show, a Broadway style male revue with professional dancers, set to modern music such as rock, hip hop and techno. Although the guys occasionally dance in the audience (like a lot of shows), there is a no touching, no tipping policy.

Back to me and my friends. It was an hour and a half of music, dancing, zip off jeans, tear away tank tops, motorcycles, black light and fluorescent body paint... to name a few of the highlights!

Tanned, toned and talented....Chippendales perform in Las Vegas

Established in 1979, Chippendales was the first all male stripping troupe to make a business performing for mostly female audiences. The story of the early years of the Chippendales is racked with drama as co-owners fought over the entity and who should control it. However, the Chippendales brand has  come a long way, with none of the former owners involved for over a decade now. Today and for many years the Chippendales have produced and performed Broadway style shows worldwide. Officially, these men are seen by over two million people every year. They are exciting and entertaining, just like their adopted hometown of Las Vegas!

If you think the story of the Chippendales would make a good movie, you're right... "I Am Chippendales" is a big budget feature to be brought to the screen by writer and director Alan Ball (True Blood). This film is an adaptation of the book by Rodney Sheldon. Ben Stiller is rumored to take a lead role in the film as the choreographer Nicolas de Noia. This is a story about how the male dance club became one of the most famous adult entertainment shows in the world.  Sources: Variety.com 3/31/14, Entertainment Weekly 3/31/14 and Deadline Hollywood 3/31/14 posts.

Chippendales hard at work onstage in Las Vegas

Chippendales was voted Best Male Strip Show for the third year in a row in Las Vegas Review Journal's Best of Las Vegas issue. 3/30/14

Pictured above after their 3/27/14 show: Bottom...Jonny Howes,  Jaymes Vaughan (singer), James Davis, Ryan Stuart, Top ..Sami Eskelin, Mikey Cross, Matt Marshall, Nathan Minor, John Rivera...(John Cook not pictured)....Also pictured, Lisa Cross and me (Anna Wendt)

Want to audition to be a Chippendale? According to their website you should be at least 5'10", be able to dance and learn choreography, rehearse for four hours a day, and maintain a healthy lifestyle, among other requirements.  For audition information email info@chippendales.com, or fill out the online application at Chippendales.com, click on recruitment.

Want to see the show?

The Chippendales perform nightly at their special theater in the Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas. There are also special appearances in certain cities as well as occasional touring productions.


Photos courtesy of Chippendales




Link to Variety.com story on "I Am Chippendales"


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hollywood Underdog turns 3!

Today is the third birthday (anniversary) of my blog! I started Hollywood Underdog on March 23, 2011.

The catch is that I wrote several blog articles before I actually published or told anyone about it. Although excited about the idea of it I just wasn't sure if I wanted to be a "blogger." Was it a commitment I could keep? Or would I start it and then not be able to keep it up and forget about it? After several months I felt I had the hang of it and published them all at once in 2012.

It took some time to get used to writing a blog or article every few days. This can be hard sometimes and always will, and is the number one reason of bloggers who quit.

Bingimages.com....Illustrator unknown

During those first few months I trademarked the name and secured the domain. That first year I also spent weeks learning Google's Blogger application.  This included creating my blog layout and various settings, my Adsense account and application, selection then placement of advertising, listing the blog with the various search engines for optimization, and much more. Thanks Google for making this process as understandable as possible! What a great mental exercise! My husband would come home and find me hunched over my laptop, eyes glazed, neck stiff but excited about grasping something that would get me closer to launching my blog.

I learned what I needed to and got to the point where anything more technical will require more time or a real expert and so "it is as it is" until it is time to change it.

If you read my beginning blogs from 2011 and 2012 you would notice they are more personal and "journal" like,  and that was fine. However I realized I wanted to write more complete pieces, so I do that mostly now. Although more challenging, I find it to be more satisfying as a writer.

This opportunity to branch out has been so good for me. I have always enjoyed a dual career in entertainment and marketing. However, sometimes because the money is better in corporate America than the entertainment biz, (at least for me),  I had tended to ignore my creative side for long periods of time. What I've learned is that I really need to do both to be content, balanced and to grow as a person and a professional.

The last thing I need to express is how much the people who supported me with my blog in the beginning helped me, especially my husband, two sisters and my mother in law. It's not easy to put yourself out there and I was unsure and a little nervous as to how it would be received. Their encouragement has meant a lot, and so has anyone else who read, commented, or passed it along to others.  Also, for those I have interviewed, gone to their shows to blog about them, or been involved in a story in any way thanks for your positive contribution to my passion project!

Here are some of my blog articles that have meant the most to me to write in the past 3 years either because I really enjoyed writing them or they had significance in another way....

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Why you should call your Mother

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com...Bringing Change to Mind

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com...My Day Without Mirrors

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Ivan's Rules

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Rediscover a Downtown

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Ten Tips to look good in every Photo

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Broadway Cares in Las Vegas

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Ode to the Marys

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com...A Taste of Shakespeare, my first "Vlog"

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com...The Blonde in the Convertible

Hollywoodunderdog.blogspot.com....Sometimes I Miss Vinyl

Anna Wendt...Copyright 2014