Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UNICEF's Clay Aiken on Somalia: Huff Post

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Clay Aiken visits with Somali women and children during his field mission to Somalia, July 2008

- UNICEF photos by Nick Ysenburg

Interesting and timely article by Clay Aiken this morning on The Huffington Post. Clay's been a UNICEF ambassador for five years and has visited Indonesia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Mexico and Somalia, reporting back on the critical situations facing children due to warfare and natural disaster.

(More information, including previous Field Notes, can be found at UNICEF USA.org)

The former teacher, who has a degree in special education from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, is a tireless advocate for children.

Here is his essay:

Clay Aiken, UNICEF Ambassador
Posted: December 29, 2009 06:23 AM

Progress in Somalia Despite Difficult Circumstances

This past November, while we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a grim milestone was reached in the east African nation of Somalia. The conflict and instability which has characterized that nation for the past 20 years has produced a generation in its central southern province that has never known peace.

In this season of peace and goodwill, this jarring reality should spur us to action so that future generations are not lost.

The mere mention of Somalia conjures in the mind of everyday Americans a place where lawlessness reigns. Indeed, the perception is that no other country has done more to place the issue of maritime piracy at the forefront of our minds and within our headlines.

While this may be true...it's certainly not the whole story.

Last year, in my role as UNICEF Ambassador, I spent five days in northwest Somalia. There's no question that years of civil war and a defunct central government has left much of this nation dangerously unstable. In fact, half the population of Somalia remains internally displaced and in a state of humanitarian emergency.

This tragic reality affects an estimated 3.6 million people, half of whom are children. Over 1.5 million are displaced as a result of conflict, largely between Islamic extremists and government forces. Not only is this population burdened by violence and instability, but also extreme poverty and recurrent food shortages.

There are, however, glimmers of hope. For one, the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has made overtures to place the well-being of children on its emerging social service agenda.

One significant achievement the country boasts is that it has remained polio free since 2007. Also, despite a prolonged drought affecting over 1.4 million, including 700,000 children, there is visible evidence of declining malnutrition rates. This year, in fact, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) have reported that they're on track to reach up to 50,000 severely malnourished children -- more than double those reached in 2008.

In addition, through the Child Health Days initiative, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) were able to deliver low-cost, high-impact health packages this year to over one million children under the age of five. These interventions included immunization, vitamin A supplementation, de-worming tablets and oral rehydration salts to combat diarrhea caused by contaminated water.

As a former teacher, the issue of education remains close to my heart. Education provides the confidence needed to make the most of a child's abilities. A protective learning environment can help change attitudes about violence while also promoting equality. Keeping schools operational in communities affected by conflict and in camps for the internally displaced is an essential priority for UNICEF in Somalia, as is providing incentives and training for teachers. This year, in the central southern zone, 89,000 out-of-school or emergency affected children gained access to primary education.

Last month, after being one of only two countries to not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Somali Transitional Government signaled their intention to join the community of nations who have already adopted this groundbreaking human rights treaty. This is a tremendous step in the right direction. But more still needs to be done. A minimum of $12 million is needed to respond to the emergency needs of the Somali population in the first quarter of 2010.

Let's pledge to make a difference this holiday season for the children of Somalia so that the next milestone the current generation marks will be one of dreams realized for their children.

Learn more about the situation in Somalia and help UNICEF bring hope to children in this area through Unicef USA.

Bio: Clay Aiken was appointed a UNICEF ambassador in 2004.

In March 2005 Aiken toured the tsunami-ravaged Indonesia and heightened awareness about the need to restore schooling to displaced children. In May 2005 Aiken traveled to Uganda, where he saw children on the run from kidnapping and involuntary enlistment in the local guerrilla army. He has also traveled to Mexico to aid children affected by recent floods.

In April 2007 Aiken traveled to Afghanistan where he toured schools and marveled at the resilience of the children he met there. His experience prompted him to launch the "$100,000 in 10 Days" campaign to continue offering lifesaving support for kids in that country. The campaign ended up netting $250,000 in fewer than five days.

In June 2008, Aiken traveled to Somalia, a country where conflict and hunger have created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Aiken continues to be an avid champion for the often forgotten children of the world.

To find out more about UNICEF's essential work on behalf of children in Somalia and throughout the developing world, visit UNICEF USA.org

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Act Now to Help Clay Aiken's National Inclusion Project Win Christie Cookie Charity Giveaway!

Edit from October 17: This evening, at the National Inclusion Project's Champions Gala in Raleigh, North Carolina, Christie Cookies representative Sue O'Donnell presented Project co-founders Diane Bubel and Clay Aiken with a check for $10,000 for winning first place in the Christie Cookies $25,000 Charity Giveaway.

Thank you for supporting the Project in its work to make sure that children of all abilities have access to their rightful opportunity to participate in all that life has to offer.

Click the name to find out more about the work of the National Inclusion Project.

Original Post:

Want to make a difference for children of all abilities? Can you spare just two minutes in the next thirty hours?

Then join me, Clay Aiken and the National Inclusion Project and do something great for kids. Here's how you can help, without spending a dime of your own money.

Christie Cookies, the gourmet cookie company featured at the Doubletree Hotels, is celebrating its 25th anniversary by giving away $25,000 to charities. The top prize is $10,000, enough to fully fund a National Inclusion Project inclusive day camp.

Click to vote for the National Inclusion Project in The Christie Cookie $25,000 Charity Giveaway.

Here's what to do:

1. Go to the scroll-down menu under the "Check to see if your charity is already listed"

2. Select "National Inclusion Project, Raleigh, NC"

3. Fill in your first and last name.

4. Fill in a valid e-mail address.

5. Type in the two verification words.

6. Click to submit!

The rules say that you are allowed to vote from all valid e-mail accounts, so feel free to use more than one of your e-mail accounts --- then ask your friends and family to vote, too!

A few words from Clay Aiken's Facebook:

The National Inclusion Project needs your help! With just 2 minutes, you can make a huge difference in the lives of many children. All you have to do is click on the link below and vote for the National Inclusion Project as your favorite charity. The winning charity gets $10,000 – that money would fund an ENTIRE Let's ALL Play camp for the summer. We are currently several votes behind first place and would love to come back and put the National Inclusion Project on top! With your help, I think we can be back at #1 in no time.

Vote for National Inclusion Project in the Christie Cookie Charity Giveaway.

The National Inclusion Project (founded by Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel in 2003 as the Bubel/Aiken Foundation) has been rated Four Star (Highest Rating) by Charity Navigator for fiscal responsibility, so you can be sure that the Project makes the most of all donations, supporting programs that help include children with disabilities into life experiences with their typically developing peers.

Don't delay: the contest ends Thursday, October 15, at 11:59 PM Central time (that's 9:59 PM Pacific, 10:59 PM Mountain and 12:59 AM Eastern). Avoid the rush and vote now!

Vote for National Inclusion Project at the Christie Cookies Charity Giveaway HERE.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Get Together" - U.N. World Humanitarian Day

Today is the first United Nations World Humanitarian Day, honoring international aid workers. The event is meant to highlight the critical role played by those who bring humanitarian relief to those in need, often due to conflict or natural disaster. This aid is provided impartially and without cost, regardless of the race, creed, color or religion of the aid recipients.

Aid staff have increasingly been the target of kidnapping and physical violence: in fact, last year there were more deaths of aid workers --- "armed" only with food, medical supplies and emergency shelters --- than of UN peacekeeping troops. This date (August 19) was chosen to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, an attack that killed twenty-two workers.

It may be hard for some to understand that the aid workers only agenda is to help ensure the survival of people whose lives have been disrupted. It is especially important to lend aid when the victims of circumstances not of their own making are children.

I have been a supporter of the U.S Fund for UNICEF since I was a grade school girl carrying my bright orange Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF donation box each Halloween. Through college and into my early professional life, I supported the UNICEF gift shops in Westwood Village and in Beverly Hills. I've sent UNICEF holiday cards for over twenty years.

But in recent years, it took the campaigns of UNICEF's celebrity ambassadors to bring the organization back into sharp focus for me. I don't have children, so my social activism was not specifically directed at them. Now it is. The celebrity ambassadors were not the reason for my involvement, but they were the catalyst. As UNICEF knows, fame has its uses, and one of its best uses is to raise awareness of critical concerns.

UNICEF works through their thousands of unsung staff and field workers, as well as through their Celebrity Ambassadors, Corporate Partners, NGO Partners, Sports Partners and their indispensible volunteers.

For more information of UNICEF's essential work and to see what you can do to help, download the 2009 UNICEF Humanitarian Action Report.

Follow U.S. Fund for UNICEF on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.

In honor of all international aid workers, it is time to stop making excuses. Act now to do your part to help UNICEF do "whatever it takes to save a child."

Love is but a song we sing
And fear's the way we die
You can make the mountains ring
Or make the angels cry
Though the bird is on the wing
And you may not know why

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

Some will come and some will go
And we shall surely pass
When the one that left us here
Returns for us at last
We are but a moment's sunlight
Fading in the grass

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

If you hear the song we sing
You will understand
You hold the key to love and fear
In your trembling hand
Just one key unlocks them both
It's there at your command

C'mon, people now
Smile on your brother
Ev'rybody get together
Try to love one another right now

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Clay Aiken Upgrades Record Label, Inclusion Project Foundation

Six and a half years after hitting the public spotlight, Clay Aiken is moving to a higher level, both in his professional career and in his work as an advocate for children.

From the Clay Aiken Official Fan Club:

We Are Excited To Announce...
Clay Aiken signs record deal with Universal Music’s Decca Records. Expect new music in the first half of 2010! Keep checking back here for more details to come.

With this signing, Clay has moved on from the second largest music group, Sony Music Entertainment, to the world's leader, Universal Music Group, clearly a sign of UMG's faith in Clay's talent and potential to create premiere music. Clay's new label, Decca Records, was the original label of some of the greatest vocalists in the world (including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby), and has evolved into the home of some of the most eclectic, singularly gifted and respected singers and musicians in the contemporary music scene.

From James to Sting.

From Marianne Faithfull to Alison Moyet.

From Rufus Wainwright to Boz Scaggs.

From Andrea Bocelli to Boyz II Men.

And with hot breaking acts like Gary Go, the Love Willows and Brendan James, Decca continues to innovate, to experiment and to provide the best in music, from the classic to the avant garde.

Clay has shown himself to be a phenomenal interpretive singer and consummate entertainer, who can go from pop-inflected rave-ups, to tender ballads, to social anthems, to inventive reinterpretations, to heartbreaking revelations, all with absolute authority and conviction. He's going to fit in just fine.

[One last look in the rearview mirror: Clay was signed to (then) SonyBMG's RCA Records in 2003 after finishing the second season of American Idol in a statistical dead heat, just one half of one percent behind winner Ruben Studdard. He then went on to record four studio albums: the number one hit Measure of a Man, which sold nearly three million copies and made Clay the top selling artist on the RCA label in 2003; the record-breaking holiday album Merry Christmas With Love; A Thousand Different Ways, and; last year's On My Way Here, which became his fourth album in four releases to debut in the Billboard Top Five. He also released a holiday EP, All Is Well, for the label. (A compliation disc, Playlist: The Very Best of Clay Aiken,was also released by Sony Legacy after Aiken left RCA.) Total sales of CDs, EPs and singles, approximately six and a half million.]

August is shaping up to be a time of lots of good news from Clay.

Five days previously, on August 5, Clay's Official Fan Club and his foundation simultaneously announced the decision to change the name of his inclusion advocacy charity from the Bubel/Aiken Foundation to the National Inclusion Project.

Explaining the change in An open letter from co-founders Clay Aiken and Diane Bubel, Clay and Diane write:

In the six years since, the Foundation has established itself as a leading voice for inclusion working with a “Who’s Who” list of youth organizations – YMCAs, Best Buddies International, Boys & Girls Clubs, CampFire USA, 4H, the ARC – as well as many other local parks and recreation departments, community centers, and privately-run programs. The Foundation has formed partnerships with Johns Hopkins University’s National Center for Summer Learning, the University of Massachusetts-Boston’s Center for Social Development and Education, the University of New Hampshire’s Institute on Disability, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s FPG Child Development Center.

As we realized the impact the Foundation has already made, it became apparent that even bigger accomplishments could be on the horizon. To that end, we along with the rest of the Board decided that a new name for the Foundation would establish long-term credibility and stability. We sought a name that would signify the Foundation’s position as a national leader on inclusion as well as recognize the Foundation’s start and the efforts of its faithful supporters. After much thought and deliberation, we are proud to introduce the organization we co-founded as the National Inclusion Project.

Be sure to check in with the National Inclusion Project's website often to learn what's new in their work "to make full inclusion for children with disabilities an everyday reality."

This year's Champions Gala, honoring those whose "substantive efforts have helped to give children with disabilities the opportunity to experience life alongside their peers," will be held in Raleigh, NC on October 17. Individual tickets for the event are sold out.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

James Thompson's "Different Faces" --- an 'Opening Night' Feature Story

A few years ago, I went to hear some music at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The headliner was Zucchero, a funky Italian superstar musician whose style is part rock, part blues, part soul and all energy. It was a terrific show.

There was this tall thin dude in an apple cap playing in the band that night, and he was all kinds of incredible. His name is James Thompson. He moved effortlessly from funky saxophone to cool flute to soulful harmonica, then used his honeyed baritone-tenor in both feature solos and impeccable backing vocals.

Damn, but that James Thompson stole the show.

I could be a bit prejudiced. I've known James all of my life.

He's my brother.

James is one of those people who could not possibly have grown up to be anything else than what he became --- one of the most gifted and versatile sidemen in the world, true, but a brilliant musician in his own right. Accomplished at bass, guitar, piano, keyboards, saxophone and flute, James, except for a single year in his life, has always made his living as a working musician.

It shows.

As I wrote in the blog "For Free", James, who is based in Italy, has played everywhere from the Vatican to Red Square, from Montreux Jazz Festival to the Royal Albert Hall. He's jammed with legendary musicians, shared a bottle of wine (or two) with some of the most important artists of the last thirty years, and continued to hone his craft before millions of music lovers worldwide.

James has also fronted his own band in various combinations for some time now, but he's finally released his own CD, entitled "Different Faces." It is as diverse, as unexpected and as entertaining as he is (James is also one of the funniest people I know), with music ranging from pop, rock, soul, and acoustic to tropical and smooth jazz. That's just for a start.

James’ first solo CD “Different Faces”, his debut CD as leader, is a project one year in the making.

Take a short trip into his multi-faceted world, where he negotiates some often peculiar musical twists and turns. You’ll hear irony, humor and sometimes abrupt mood swings in action on this pleasantly unpredictable CD.

There’s a common thread running through “Different Faces” that holds it all together nicely.
--- from the "Different Faces" album notes

Check out James Thompson's "Different Faces" --- as singer and songwriter, and playing sax and flute, he reveals his own unique appeal.

Available now at CDBaby, and coming soon to iTunes!

Listen to samples at James Thompson's MySpace.

Also visit James Thompson's website.

-- photo from musicclub

"Opening Night" is a recurring feature, spotlighting newly announced projects, new releases and new artists --- often at the same time.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009


President Barack Obama visited the renowned Cleveland Clinic today, getting a hands-on demonstration of their exemplary medical services. After the visit, the president continued his efforts to gain support for health care reform by speaking at a town hall meeting.

The president has vowed to make health insurance reform his number one priority and, with delays in getting consensus before the August congressional recess, is now urging Congress to have new legislation on his desk before the end of the year. That's practically lightning speed in Washington where, as Obama said in his nationally televised press conference last night, "inertia is the default."

Some have asked why Obama wants to move so quickly on this issue. Here's what he said today:

Whenever I hear people say that it's happening too soon, I think that's a little odd. We've been talking about health care reform since the days of Harry Truman. How could it be too soon?

I don't think it's too soon for the families who've seen their premiums rise faster than wages year after year. It's not too soon for the businesses forced to drop coverage or shed workers because of mounting health care expenses. It's not too soon for taxpayers asked to close widening deficits that stem from rising health care costs -- costs that threaten to leave our children with a mountain of debt.

Reform may be coming too soon for some in Washington, but it's not soon enough for the American people. We can get this done. We don't shirk from a challenge.

Some consider health insurance reform an intractable issue, but under the Obama Administration, I believe that progress is finally being made. I don't know if the legislation that will emerge from the House and Senate will be the best possible plan (in fact, I doubt it, since they are loath to embrace a single payer system), but I do know that action is urgent. Finally, perhaps the broadest coalition of doctors, patient advocates, insurance companies, pharmaceuticals and government agencies in history is working to make it happen.

It isn't accomplished by a long shot, but it is a good beginning. In fact, I'm beginning to believe that health insurance reform is actually going to happen --- and I'm not crazy... I'm just a little unwell. ;)

Now let's see if we can all avoid slipping too far downhill before this thing gets put in place.

Obama concludes:

...we've forged a consensus that has never before been reached in the history of this country. Senators and representatives in five committees are working on legislation; three have already produced a bill. Health care providers have agreed to do their part to reduce the rate of growth in health care spending. Hospitals have agreed to bring down costs. The drug companies have agreed to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. The American Nurses Association, the American Medical Association, representing millions of nurses and doctors who know our health care system best, they've announced their support for reform. (Applause.)

Read more about health insurance reform, along with action on other issues on Obama's agenda, at Whitehouse.gov.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Opening Night: Homemade Jamz Blues Band

So I was watching Tavis Smiley on PBS last night, and at the bottom of the show he had on an unexpectedly rocking set of musicians: two teenage guys and their ten year old sister who call themselves the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. They are Ryan Perry (age 17), guitar and vocals; Kyle Perry (age 14), bass and back up vocals, and; Taya Perry (age 10), drums. I was sure it was going to be some kind of gimmick, but these young musicians just blew me away.

See for yourself:

Proof positive that you don't have to have a lot of years under your feet to sing and play some downhome, authentic blues.

Must be something about the air in Tupelo, MS.

Learn more about them in this NPR "All Things Considered" feature story.

Their new CD is I Got Blues for You, available at Amazon and everywhere.

"Opening Night" is a recurring feature, spotlighting newly announced projects, new releases and new artists --- often at the same time.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Man in the Mirror

Written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett,
Performed by Michael Jackson


I’m gonna make a change,
For once in my life
It’s gonna feel real good,
Gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right . . .

As I turn up the collar on
My favorite winter coat
This wind is blowin’ my mind
I see the kids in the street,
With not enough to eat
Who am I to be blind
Pretending not to see
Their needs?

A summer’s disregard,
A broken bottle top
And a one man’s soul
They follow each other on
The wind ya’ know
’cause they got nowhere to go
That’s why I want you to know

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have
Been any clearer
If you wanna make the world
A better place
Take a look at yourself, and
Then make a change

I’ve been a victim of
A selfish kind of love
It’s time that I realize
That there are some with no home,
Not a nickel to loan
Could it be really me,
Pretending that they’re not alone?

A willow deeply scarred,
Somebody’s broken heart
And a washed-out dream
They follow the pattern of
The wind, ya’ see
Cause they got no place to be
That’s why I’m starting with me

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have
Been any clearer
If you wanna make the world
A better place
Take a look at yourself
Then make that change.

An immense talent, a troubled life, an activist spirit.

The unforgettable music lives on.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Horray for Hollywood: Memories of the Directors Guild Awards

A couple of years ago, after fifteen years as a member, I attended the Directors Guild of America Awards Dinner for the first time. My mentor, Jerry, who retired a few years ago, was to receive the Frank Capra Award for Lifetime Achievement. (His work ranges from "Apocalypse Now" to "Jerry Maguire". He's the man who gives Martin Sheen his orders to "Terminate with extreme prejudice" and the coach who hovers over the unconcious Cuba Gooding Jr., so he's done work onscreen as well as behind the camera.)

The event took place at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, and I knew the room --- it was the same one where, two years before, I had co-chaired a gala for a charity that promotes inclusion for children with disabilities. All of the AD's who worked with Jerry were his guests.

It was a tremendous amount of fun: Carl Reiner was the host, and he was hilarious. It's traditional that people don't take too serious a tone and, though not a roast, nominees and winners alike took a bit of ribbing.

All of the honorees from film and television were present, with actors from their projects presenting them. Ang Lee ("Brokeback Mountain") was introduced by the quiet, softspoken Heath Ledger and the charming and gregarious Jake Gyllenhaal. They talked about what an honor and a privilege working on the film had been and how Ang's direction helped them grow as actors. When Heath and Jake introduced him, they both started to tear up and gave the director hugs when he reached the stage. The soft-spoken director took a moment, looked back at them with a smile, turned to the audience and said, "I don't know, guys. That felt kind of gay to me."

Talk about exploding a stereotype! We must have laughed for five solid minutes!

There was joke after joke about "Brokeback" all evening, and not a single one was derogatory or mean-spirited. That's entertainment.

Since it's the Directors Guild, all of the feature nominees are given a plaque before the winner is announced. The presenters talk about the experience of working on the film, then introduce the director.

George Clooney ("Good Night and Good Luck") was introduced by David Straitharn (love his work) and the elegant Patricia Clarkson. (I worked with her on "Alex Haley's Queen")

Steven Spielberg ("Munich") was introduced by Geoffrey Rush.

Paul Haggis ("Crash") was introduced by Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton. (I worked with Matt on "Singles")

Bennett Miller ("Capote") was introduced by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener. Phillip and Catherine said they didn't have any remarks prepared, then called on some people in the audience to ask questions.

Ang Lee stood up and asked, "I come from China and I made a film about the struggles of being gay. Which oppressed minority do you represent?"

Clooney stands up and asks Bennett, "I wrote, directed and starred in my movie. Didn't you have any work for me?"

Spielberg says, "I've been in the business since you were five. Do you have any advice on how I can improve as a director?"

Clint Eastwood stands and says to hurry up: he's getting old and he needs to get his Lifetime Achievement Award while he's still awake.

Paul Haggis says, "Both of us are first time nominees. How come you're getting this great tribute?"

It was funny and sweet and touching --- and one of the best times I've had in years.

Damn, I love making movies.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tony Awards in the Cyber Age

I'm an acting awards show junkie. Corny, crazy or classy, at their best they remind me of just how entertaining, inspirational and uplifting art can be.

This Sunday, June 7, the 2009 Tony Awards will be held at Radio City Music Hall at 8/7c, broadcast live on CBS, simulcast in Times Square (with full video and audio) in an open-to-the-public live party for 2000. They will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, live Tweeted by Mark Indelicato, and available to follow on mobile alert, MySpace, Facebook, Tweeter and Broadwayspace.com. Join the cyber-audience at TonyAwards.com

I worked with two of this year's nomineees, Angela Lansbury and John Glover, on one of my first show's, "Murder, She Wrote," so I'll be cheering a little louder for them. Angela, a true lady, is nominated for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play for her role in Blithe Sprit. John, one of the coolest guys I've ever met, is up for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for his work in Waiting for Godot.

See you Sunday!

Here are the nominations for the 2009 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®
Presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing:

Best Play

Dividing the Estate
Author: Horton FooteProducers: Lincoln Center Theater, Bernard Gersten, André Bishop, Primary Stages
God of Carnage
Author: Yasmina RezaProducers: Robert Fox, David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers, Stuart Thompson, Scott Rudin, Jon B. Platt, The Weinstein Company, The Shubert Organization
Reasons to Be Pretty
Author: Neil LaButeProducers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, MCC Theater, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Ted Snowdon, Doug Nevin/Erica Lynn Schwartz, Ronald Frankel/Bat-Barry Productions, Kathleen Seidel, Kelpie Arts, LLC, Jam Theatricals, Rachel Helson/Heather Provost
33 Variations
Author: Moisés KaufmanProducers: David Binder, Ruth Hendel, Barbara Whitman, Goldberg/Mills, Latitude Link, Arielle Tepper Madover, Bill Resnick, Eric Schnall, Jayne Baron Sherman, Wills/True Love Productions, Tectonic Theater Project, Greg Reiner, Dominick Balletta, Jeffrey LaHoste

Best Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Producers: Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Working Title Films, Old Vic Productions, Weinstein Live Entertainment
Next to Normal
Producers: David Stone, James L. Nederlander, Barbara Whitman, Patrick Catullo, Second Stage Theatre, Carole Rothman, Ellen Richard
Rock of Ages
Producers: Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin, Jeff Davis, Barry Habib, Scott Prisand, Relativity Media, Corner Store Fund, Janet Billig Rich, Hillary Weaver, Toni Habib, Paula Davis, Simon and Stefany Bergson/Jennifer Maloney, Charles Rolecek, Susanne Brook, Israel Wolfson, Sara Katz/Jayson Raitt, Max Gottlieb/John Butler, David Kaufman/Jay Franks, Mike Wittlin, Prospect Pictures, Laura Smith/Bill Bodnar, Happy Walters, Michele Caro, The Araca Group
Shrek The Musical
Producers: Dreamworks Theatricals, Neal Street Productions

Best Book of a Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical Lee Hall
Next to Normal Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical David Lindsay-Abaire
[Title of Show] Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Music: Elton John
Lyrics: Lee Hall
Next to Normal
Music: Tom KittLyrics: Brian Yorkey
9 to 5: The Musical
Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton
Shrek The Musical
Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Bernard Gersten
Mary Stuart
New Version: Peter Oswald
Producers: Arielle Tepper Madover, Debra Black, Neal Street Productions/Matthew Byam Shaw, Scott Delman, Barbara Whitman, Jean Doumanian/Ruth Hendel, David Binder/CarlWend Productions/Spring Sirkin, Daryl Roth/James L. Nederlander/Chase Mishkin, The Donmar Warehouse
The Norman Conquests
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Steven Baruch, Marc Routh, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Dede Harris, Tulchin/Bartner/Lauren Doll, Jamie deRoy, Eric Falkenstein, Harriet Newman Leve, Probo Productions, Douglas G. Smith, Michael Filerman/Jennifer Manocherian, Richard Winkler, Dan Frishwasser, Pam Laudenslager/Remmel T. Dickinson, Jane Dubin/True Love Productions, Barbara Manocherian/Jennifer Isaacson, The Old Vic Theatre Company
Waiting for Godot
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Elizabeth Ireland McCann

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Producers: Howard Panter and Ambassador Theatre Group, Tulchin/Bartner, Bill Kenwright, Northwater Entertainment, Darren Bagert, Tom Gregory, Nederlander Presentations, Inc., David Mirvish, Michael Jenkins/Dallas Summer Musicals, Independent Presenters Network, Olympus Theatricals, Sonia Friedman Productions
Producers: The Public Theater, Oskar Eustis, Andrew D. Hamingson, Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Gary Goddard Entertainment, Kathleen K. Johnson, Nederlander Productions, Inc., Fran Kirmser Productions/Jed Bernstein, Marc Frankel, Broadway Across America, Barbara Manocherian/Wencarlar Productions, JK Productions/Terry Schnuck, Andy Sandberg, Jam Theatricals, The Weinstein Company/Norton Herrick, Jujamcyn Theaters, Joey Parnes, Elizabeth Ireland McCannPal Joey
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Marc Platt
West Side Story
Producers: Kevin McCollum, James L. Nederlander, Jeffrey Seller, Terry Allen Kramer, Sander Jacobs, Roy Furman/Jill Furman Willis, Freddy DeMann, Robyn Goodman/Walt Grossman, Hal Luftig, Roy Miller, The Weinstein Company, Broadway Across America

Best Special Theatrical Event

Liza’s at The Palace
Producers: John Scher and Metropolitan Talent Presents, LLC; Jubilee Time Productions, LLCSlava’s Snowshow
Producers: David J. Foster, Jared Geller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Judith Marinoff Cohn, John Pinckard
Soul of Shaolin
Producers: Nederlander Worldwide Productions, LLC; Eastern Shanghai International Culture Film & Television Group; China on Broadway
You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush
Producer: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Steve Traxler, Home Box Office Inc., Gary Sanchez Productions, Bat-Barry Productions, Ken Davenport, Ergo Entertainment, Ronald Frankel, Jon B. Platt, James D. Stern, The Weinstein Company, Tara Smith/b. Swibel, Dede Harris/Sharon Karmazin, Arny Granat

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical

Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

Best Lighting Design of a Play

David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Direction of a Play

Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical

* * *

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award
Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre
Shirley Herz

* * *

Tony Nominations by Production

Billy Elliot, The Musical - 15
Next to Normal - 11
Hair - 8
Shrek The Musical - 8
Mary Stuart - 7
The Norman Conquests - 7
God of Carnage - 6
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone - 6
Rock of Ages - 5
33 Variations - 5
Exit the King - 4
9 to 5: The Musical - 4
Pal Joey - 4
West Side Story - 4
Reasons to Be Pretty - 3
Waiting for Godot - 3
Blithe Spirit - 2
Dividing the Estate - 2
Equus - 2
Guys and Dolls - 2
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas - 2
Liza’s at The Palace - 1
Slava’s Snowshow - 1
Soul of Shaolin - 1
Speed-the-Plow - 1
[Title of Show] - 1
You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush - 1


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

For Free

It is a scene so common that it usually escapes notice. I had decided to spend another sun-kissed California spring day throwing away some money shopping and, as I pulled the car into a parking spot, a sound caught my ear. It was the ring of guitar strings and the percussive slap of palm of wood.

There on the sidewalk down the block, standing near Starbucks, Noah's Bagels and the market, a street musician was playing and singing to the oblivious shoppers passing by. I couldn't quite pick put his words, but there was something sweet about the sounds that were reaching me.

My brother James is a professional musician, one of the fortunate ones who makes a living with his gifts, so perhaps my gratitude for his good fortune explains why I sometimes give a listen and drop some change for the musicians who play under the street lights instead of the spotlights. I had a stop or two to make first, but I promised myself to head on down and listen for a while when I was through.

James is not a star, but he has been a working musician for more than three decades, starting when he was a teenager. Making music is the only job he has ever had. That’s him, playing behind the superstar Italian rocker. There he is, playing with the quirky jazz rock orchestra. There he is at the all-star jam closing out Montreux Jazz Festival, with Sting or Miles or Bocelli. He took part in a Pavarotti & Friends for War Child concert. He has played for the Pope in Rome --- and for the comrades in Red Square. He's been on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London and at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, and he's toured in Paris, Tokyo, Rio and Sydney. He lives comfortably, if not lavishly, but he lives his dream of making music his life, not just his livelihood.

This morning I read an article in Forbes about the 2008 top 10 wage earners from American Idol. I probably haven’t watched the show more than a dozen times since the end of the second season, having grown weary of the formula and the "man behind the curtain" manipulations of public opinion. In the shows I have sampled in its eight seasons, I have seen a rare few bright lights, several decent talents and too many mediocrities, but only one singer has caught my attention, my time and my money.

He has long since stood on his own: a truly rare vocal talent, a gifted and subtle interpreter of lyrics, an activist for children's causes, an idiosyncratic and interesting man who is a collection of dichotomies. That is why Clay Aiken joins india.arie and Green Day on my list of the most compelling new artists of this decade.

Clay was #6 on the Forbes list, having earned $2.2 million dollars in a year when he did not even tour. Clay has made a Pollstar-estimated $30 million touring since 2003, not including merchandising, his earnings from 5 million CDs and over 1 million CD singles sold, and his New York Times Best Selling memoir Learning to Sing.

Beyond his superb voice, Clay has become an appealing comic actor, as those who have seen him on "Scrubs" or last week's "30 Rock" season finale, or on Broadway in "Monty Python's Spamalot" can attest. That makes sense: his concerts are part glorious vocals and part standup comedy, and he has been an absolute riot during his many visits to his buddy Jimmy Kimmel's late night show.

Clay never, to my knowledge, sang on the street. As a child, he stood on the carpet samples as his mother worked at Sears, and he would sing for a dollar. He was, for a time, part of the Raleigh Boys Choir, he sang in church and he was later the only boy in his school choir. He did a few musicals, he sang in his uncle's band and he went from singing in the North Carolina Connection variety shows to hosting them before he was twenty. He has said that he became well enough known in his community as the boy with the big voice that he grew weary of being called The Singer.

In a turn of fate, he started working as a camp counselor at the Y, grew frustrated withn seeing children with disabilities excluded from many of the camp's activities, and decided to go to college and pursue a degree in special education.

He admits that music became his Plan B.

Clay had fallen in love with the puzzle that is autism and decided to become a teacher for children with developmental disabilities.

Life threw a curve at his Plan A.

I've seen a photo of the marquee at a Raleigh-area theatre: in the months before his life changed, "Clayton" Aiken starred in another local music show.

Music called him back when he decided to audition for American Idol at the behest of a friend. Now Clay Aiken is a singer and an entertainer, but he still works with children through his UNICEF Ambassadorship and his own Bubel/Aiken Foundation, which seeks to incorporate kids with disabilities into the full range of activities and opprotunities available to their typically developing peers.

Two men, two ways of making a life in music.

Here is the third.

I finished in the card shop and, as I got closer, I could hear the words this Guitar Man was singing: a familiar song, but his own arrangement and tempo. His voice was sweet, his guitar work was strong and he looked almost impossibly happy, standing there by his open guitar case.

I touched the dollar out of my pocket as I heard him sing:

“Don’t stop believing, hold on to that feeling...”

I listened for a while, then dropped the dollar. As I walked away, I said, “You sound great, man.”

And he smiled, sang “Bless you” and he kept on singing and playing.

I know nothing about the Guitar Man on the street, nothing of his life or his back story. I do not know if he was well-known, and part of a local version of the Joshua Bell subway experiment, if he's an eccentric who loaded his guitar into the back of his BMW and headed back to his law office, or if he was in line that night for a spot at the shelter.

I do know that the look on his face as he sang and played was one of absolute bliss.

And I know that I have seen that same look on James's face, and on Clay's.

Perhaps, if the twists of life had been different, Guitar Man would be playing at the Fillmore, or preparing for his next world tour backing up Steely Dan.

Maybe James would have ended up with a desk job, and found himself jamming whenever he could at the local open mic night.

And maybe Clay would have become North Carolina Teacher of the Year --- and kept on hosting those local talent shows on the weekends.

But when music is in your blood, it finds a way to express itself. There are, of course, musicians who have become jaded. For them, it has become more about the reqward than the process, more about the fame than about creativity.

But on the street, in that passing monment, and on stages across the country and the world, I have seen the love and joy that making and sharing music brought to three very different men. In the turning of fate, I believe all would still be driven to express it, that all would retain their passion for their art, and, even if financial rewards eluded them, that all would gladly make music...

For free.

For James, for Clay, for the Guitar Man:

“Don’t stop believing...”

I slept last night in a good hotel
I went shopping today for jewels
The wind rushed around in the dirty town
And the children let out from the schools
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free

Now me I play for fortunes
And those velvet curtain calls
I’ve got a black limousine
And two gentlemen
Escorting me to the halls
And I play if you have the money
Or if you’re a friend to me
But the one man band
By the quick lunch stand
He was playing real good, for free

Nobody stopped to hear him
Though he played so sweet and high
They knew he had never
Been on their t.v.
So they passed his music by
I meant to go over and ask for a song
Maybe put on a harmony...
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good, for free

--- Joni Mitchell, “For Free”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

GLAAD All Over

Aint no doubt about it, it must be love
One little kiss from you and I feel
Glad all over, oh mercy,
I think that it’s silly but I’m glad all over

- - - “Glad All Over’ by Jeff Beck

The 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards, the first of three national awards ceremonies for the organization, took place in New York City on Saturday, March 28. Comedian Kate Clinton was the host.

Members of the GLBT community and their straight allies supporting equal rights for all, many sporting the white knot symbolizing marriage equality, turned out for the festivities, which took place at the Marriott Marquis.

If you missed this evening, you have not missed the celebration. Keep reading and find out how you have two more chances to show your support while you show off your latest designer wear.

- Tyra Banks, GLAAD President Neil Giuliano and Clay Aiken (all photos and videos (c) GLAAD)

Honorees in New York included Tyra Banks, who was presented with the Excellence in Media Award by singer and actor Clay Aiken. This was the first GLBT event for Aiken, who came out following the birth of his son last year.

Watch video of the presentation:

-T.R. Knight and Suze Orman

Actor T.R. Knight of “Grey’s Anatomy” presented the Vito Russo Award to financial expert Suze Orman.

Here is video of the presentation:

Phil Donahue was also on hand, honored for his continuing commitment to supporting equal rights for the GLBT community as a straight ally and friend. (NEW: read more about the Ally and Friend PSA campaign HERE.)

- Phil Donahue

Other honorees included Keith Olbermann, who received the Outstanding TV Journalism Segment Award for his commentary on Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

A full list of honorees can be found at the GLAAD Blog.

If you missed the New York event, here’s your chance to get GLAAD all over. GLAAD Media Awards celebrations will take place on Los Angeles, California, on Saturday, April 18th, with the final event taking place in San Francisco on May 9th.

20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - Los Angeles
Saturday, April 18, 2009.
5:00 PM tp 11:59 PM
Nokia Theatre L.A. Live

Honorees will include the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, who will be presented with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award. Bishop Robinson,invested as the Ninth Bishop of New Hampshire in 2004, has dedicated his ministry to advancing the Church’s curriculum and clergy wellness programs. He is also the co-author of three AIDS education curricula for youth and adults and has done HIV/AIDS work in the United States and in Africa. He is the first openly gay bishop of the Church and is a vocal advocate for full civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The L Word, which has aired for six seasons on Showtime, will receive an award of Special Recognition for breaking new ground for LGBT visibility on television. For six seasons, the show has entertained audiences and pushed boundaries, all the while taking on serious issues facing the LGBT community, including marriage, adoption, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," employment non-discrimination, and transgender issues.

20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards - San Francisco
Saturaday, May 9, 2009.
From 5:00 PM to 11:59 PM
Hilton San Francisco

Chad Allen, actor, producer and activist, will receive the Davidson/Valentini Award. Chad Allen began his professional acting career at the age of five-years-old starring as Tommy Westfall, a child with autism, in the television series, St. Elsewhere and went on to play Mathew Cooper on the long time hit CBS series, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. Allen has earned critical acclaim through his work on television and in the theatre.

Through his acclaimed independent film company Mythgarden, he has brought gay and lesbian storytelling to the forefront. Additionally, he has produced and starred in the film Save Me which offered audiences a look into the world of so-called "ex gay" ministries. Save Me is nominated for Outstanding Film – Limited Release at the 20th Annual GLAAD Media Awards and was selected for the Sundance Film Festival and as the opening night feature for Outfest 2007. Allen raising more than eleven million dollars to end AIDS through his participation in the annual AIDS/LIFECYCLE, works with Soulforce to fight religious intolerance, and ia an Honorary Board of the Matthew Shepard foundation.

Read more about honorees and participants at all three events HERE.

A personal note:

The vast majority of the time, I have tremendous respect and admiration for the individuals and organizations GLAAD chooses to honor or invite to participate in its events, including all of the people I've included in this blog. I encourage everyone to find out more about the organization and to support its programs.

There are a rare few times, however, when I believe a participant, through their work or public expressions, treats members of the GLBT community with all the respect accorded the depiction of an African American in a minstrel show. It may matter to no one but me, but their names won’t show up in my blog.

I'll still send my donations to GLAAD, for the vitally important work they do in helping extend respect, dignity and equal treatment to all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Defying Inequality: The Dream - Fierstein Challenges Obama

I am a woman, and an African American. I've often joked with friends that, had I also been Jewish or a lesbian, I would have hit the trifecta of discrimination.

Growing up with the echoes of King and Kennedy and Chavez ringing in my ears, with Gloria Steinem giving the lie to the stereotype of feminist and with a man named Harvey Milk still deeply loved and missed among friends in the San Francisco Bay Area, there simply was no way I was going to look down on another human being.

Not even Republicans. ;)

When Proposition 8 passed in my home state of California, I was doing one of my typical soapbox numbers when someone I (thought I) knew cut me off with "You're straight. What's it to you?"

What's it to ME?

Here come those words again:

"If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?"
- Rabbi Hillel

Monday night in New York City, the Defying Inequality benefit concert raised $400,000 for a consortium of equal rights organizations. Though I could only be there in spirit and witness the evening in my mind's eye, there are two things I'd like to share from the event.

The first is "The Dream," a performance created by Steven Skeels and choreographed by Brian Thomas. Elegant and touching, it communicates the dream through a group of dancers, singers, words and images ("The Dream" features lead dancer Reed Kelly, a member of the cast of "Wicked," and singer Marty Thomas --- I'll edit to add additional credits.)

If you'd like to comment, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnhH05ILF9Y

For more on the event, go to http://www.defyinginequality.com

Reading the benefit coverage at broadwayworld.com (and checking for photos of actor Christopher Sieber ["Shrek," "Monty Python's Spamalot"], who I freaking love), I was dumbstruck by the poetry and passion of Harvey Fierstein's open letter to President Barack Obama, a man I voted for and very much admire. If I could write my heart like this, well... I suppose I'd be a Tony-winner.

Please pass this on to everyone you know who cares about equal rights for all.

Dear President Obama.

While fighting for the abolition of slavery, one politician qualified his stance, "I have never been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people."

That politician was Abraham Lincoln. Obviously time and experience brought Mr Lincoln to what would have been called the extremist view; that freedom cannot be compromised just to appease the majority.

And so he made a grander gesture reminding us of "...a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". Passing a law would change the course of slavery, but those words changed the course of the history.

Mr Obama, I have heard you speak eloquently in favor of inclusion for gays and lesbians. But then you sternly state your opposition to marriage rights. It leaves me wondering if you are straining to be politic or, if like Lincoln, your views still need maturing.

Days after your historic election an aide of yours told me that you plan to do away with the military's DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL. I applaud the gesture. But don't kid yourself. Redefining that policy will do little to end discrimination against us.

With or without the Pentagon's permission gays and lesbians have been serving in the military since the birth of this nation.

We may have served in silence.

We may have fought in secret.

But a complete ban of gays did not stop us from fighting and dying for our country.

Abolishing DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL won't bring us into the military or end discrimination against us.

Legalizing gay adoption won't end discrimination against our children in the playground.

Even legalizing gay marriage won't bring about the whole cloth change our nation needs.

When you, leader of the free world, accept, tolerate and even invite bigots into your fold changing a policy is not enough.

In any case, we don't need you to fight our small battles for us.

We will eventually win these on our own. Property matters, adoption rights, and even gay marriage will be won in courts of law as they are now being won in courts of public opinion.

Given time, our constitution, and the American values of fair play and justice, will prevail. We will win equal rights.

But what only you can give us is the grand gesture.

Mr President, we need you to be more than another reasonable voice.

We need you to raise yourself up out of the mire of majority opinion.

We need you to rise above the daily politics of compromise.

We need you to mount that bully pulpit our blood, sweat and tears have erected, and speak to the greater ideal.

America needs to hear you say, "We will no longer tolerate the oppression of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles. They are our family. They are we and we are they."

The nation needs to hear you say, "We must prove ourselves worthy of the title Americans; protectors of the weak, standard bearers of freedom, and guarantors of equal rights for all."

Mr President, history will record the day you say, "From this day forward no amendment, statute or law that seeks to deny full rights of citizenship on the basis of sexual preference will be tolerated. Hatred and bigotry are here forth banished to the dark recesses of small minds.

Let the Pledge of Allegiance light our way to tomorrow as "...one nation, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.'"

That, dear son of Lincoln, is the grand gesture we need from you.

We need a hero, and you have been elected.


Harvey Fierstein

If not now, when?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Defying Gravity... and Inequality

"Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes and leap

It's time to try
Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down..."

"DEFYING INEQUALITY: The Broadway Concert -- A Celebrity Benefit for Equal Rights" tonight at the Gershwin Theatre, hosted by the cast of "Wicked," stars some of the brightest lights on Broadway. This show benefits marriage equality, because every loving couple should have the right to marry.

No more second class citizenship.

No more legislated fear and hatred.

No more limits on any American's equal rights.

Come celebrate love.

"I'm through accepting limits
'Cause someone says they're so
Some things I cannot change
But 'till I try, I'll never know
Too long I've been afraid of
Losing love - I guess I have lost
Well, if that's love
It comes at much too high a cost

I'd sooner be
Defying gravity
Kiss me goodbye
I'm defying gravity
And you can't pull me down..."

- Lyrics from "Defying Gravity" by Stephen Schwartz, from the acclaimed musical "Wicked"

For more information, go to http://www.defyinginequality.com

Jai Ho --- The 2008 Oscar and Spirit Award Victors

"Jai Ho," the exuberant song performed over the closing credits of this year's Academy Award-winning Best Picture, "Slumdog Millionaire." The song's Oscar-winning composer and performer, A.R. Rahman, told Oprah Winfrey that "Jai Ho" means "May victory be yours."

For "Slumdog Millionaire," victory was theirs --- eight times. Go see this film!

Here is a complete list of the 2008 Oscar winners from oscar.com (primarily mainstream films, through some indies are included in the winners), followed by the winners from the Spirit Awards, give to independent films:


Actor in a Leading Role - Sean Penn, MILK

Actress in a Leading Role - Kate Winslet, THE READER

Directing - Danny Boyle, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Foreign Language Fim - Departures (Japan)





Sound Editing - THE DARK KNIGHT


Documentary Short - SMILE PINKI

Documentary Feature - MAN ON WIRE

Actor in a Supporting Role - Heath Ledger, THE DARK KNIGHT

Short Film (Live Action) - SPIELZEUGLAND (TOYLAND)



Costume Design - THE DUCHESS


Short Film (Animated)- La Maison en Petits Cubes

Animated Feature - WALL-E

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) -SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Writing (Original Screenplay) - Dustin Lance Black, MILK

Actress in a Supporting Role - Penelope Cruz, VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

Now go see these films the way they are meant to be viewed --- in a movie theater!

And check out full credits, acceptances speeches, photos and video from this year's winners and nominees at oscar.com

2008 Spirit Award Winnrs:

For movies that are outside of the mainstream, be sure to see some of the independent films featured at http://spiritawards.com/

Best Feature
The Wrestler
Producers: Darren Aronofsky, Scott Franklin

Best Director
Thomas McCarthy, The Visitor

Best First Feature
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, Sidney Kimmel

John Cassavetes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000)
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
Writer/Director: Alex Holdridge
Producers: Seth Caplan and Scoot McNairy

Best First Screenplay
Dustin Lance Black, Milk

Best Screenplay
Woody Allen, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Female Lead
Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Best Male Lead
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Supporting Female
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Supporting Male
James Franco, Milk

Best Cinematography
Maryse Alberti, The Wrestler

Best Documentary
Man on Wire
Director: James Marsh

Best Foreign Film
The Class (France)
Director: Laurent Cantet

Robert Altman Award (Given to one film's director, casting director and ensemble cast)
Synecdoche, New York
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Casting Director: Jeanne McCarthy
Ensemble Cast: Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Dianne Wiest, Michelle Williams

Someone to Watch Award
Lynn Shelton, My Effortless Brilliance

Truer Than Fiction Award
Margaret Brown, The Order of Myths

Producers Award
Heather Rae, Frozen River and Ibid

Saturday, January 31, 2009


"If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay

Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are
How fragile we are how fragile we are."

--- Sting

For all of the fragile children of the world, please support unicefusa.org

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Always and Forever

Always and forever
Each moment with you
Is just like a dream to me
That somehow came true

And I know tomorrow
Will still be the same
'Cause we got a life of love
That won't ever change and

Everyday love me your own special way
Melt all my heart away with a smile
Take time to tell me you really care
And we'll share tomorrow together
Baby, I'll always love you forever

There'll always be sunshine
When I look at you
It's something I can't explain
Just the things that you do
If you get lonely
Call me and take
A second to give to me
That magic you make and

Everyday love me your own special way
Melt all my heart away with a smile

"Take time to tell me you really care
And we'll share tomorrow together
Baby, I'll always love you forever..."

It was just three lines.

It took twenty seconds.

Today, it has been six years.

Five albums.

Six million sales.

Eight tours.

One foundation to include kids with disabilities into the life experiences of their typical peers.

One UNICEF ambassadorship, with five trips to Indonesia, Uganda, Afghanistan, Mexico and Somalia.

One book on the New York Times Best Sellers list.

One atypical Broadway musical.

One extraordinary song, Lover All Alone, with lyrics written by you.

One son.

One coming out.

One singular voice.

Congratulations, Clay. Thanks for the fun, the love and the laughter.

Baby, I'll always love you, forever...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Change is Gonna Come

There's been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh, yes it will

---Sam Cooke

Martin Luther King Day is not a recognized paid holiday in the film industry, and on several occasions I’ve had to work. I like to think Dr. King would be pleased to see an African-American woman working in a position of responsibility on multimillion dollar films.

Access to all opportunity for qualified people was part of the dream, after all. During his lifetime, the number of African-American members of the Directors Guild of America --- or members of Hispanic, Asian or First Nations descent, for that matter --- could be counted on two hands. Though women and minority numbers are still low, we are there, working major projects of all kinds. That's progress.

A change is gonna come.

I think he'd also be pleased that this year, the day after the holiday honoring his life, his work and his ideals, this country's first African-American president will be sworn in.

On Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama will become the 44th president of the United States. I needn't go into the remarkable life history, and the even more remarkable set of circumstances, that led to his election. That information is now well known, and can be read in detail at the official site of the Obama - Biden transition team, Change.gov .

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

--- The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Obama campaign showed much about how this man will handle challenge and controversy, but the months and years after his inauguration will show far more. How will we take his measure, as time goes by?

Despite the obstacles that still remain in extending equality to women and to racial, religious and sexual minorities, there has undoubtedly been progress towards that goal in the forty-five years since Dr. King delivered his "I Have A Dream" speech.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Something amazing happened on November 4, 2008. America voted across lines of age, class, color, and gender and elected Barack Obama on his own merits --- the content of his character.

And now the real work begins, for a nation and a world that cannot afford to be mired in past animosities, tied to policies built on lazy thinking or weighed down by the foolish habit of excluding alternative American voices.

A change is gonna come.

And, just perhaps, one of those changes will be to restore the constitutional freedoms that have been eroded during the past eight years. American freedoms that were hard won -- but far too easily set aside --- are the essence of "We the People of the United States."

The more perfect union is at hand, but it will not come easily. Perhaps Obama will begin by reminding us that we are one nation, one people, and we cannot prosper as us vs. them.

A change is gonna come.

That’s a wonderful thought to end this with, as we approach these days of dreams turned into action.

Happy Martin Luther King Day, everyone.

Congratulations, President Obama.

Read King’s Nobel lecture and hear an excerpt HERE at the Nobel Prize site.

Read King’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech HERE.

Find writings by and about Barack Obama at Amazon.com's Obama page.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day

It's true, it's true
We can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one
I will begin again...

From 'New Years Day' by U2

Since I don't care to frontload my failures, I don't make resolutions.

I am a contemplative sort, though, so I took a bit of time to consider the year gone by.

Hmm. I'd better keep looking forward.

There are good things ahead. The Obama inaugural is just 19 days away, and though he has so much he needs to accomplish (and even more he needs to undo) on this quest for the more perfect union, I'm just thrilled by the thought of soon having a man with an excellent command of language and a detail-oriented, complex and inquiring mind.

I look forward to seeing what he has to say when I come across him on television, rather than changing the channel as quickly as my fingers are able.

After eight years, I think my remote control could use the rest.

Have something to say to the President-Elect and his team? Check out Change.gov, the official site of the Obama-Biden Transition Team.

Though torn in two, we can be one.

Looks like a good day to begin again.