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June 2018

Laugh It Up

Meghan Ross

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Name: Meghan Ross

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Tapping into past experiences and her firsthand understanding of those moments to find the funny, Ross is throwing open the windows of her mind to air out the place, and in doing so, inviting us to wander around inside.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a “funny” kid, even at an early age?
Ross: Funny-LOOKING. (This is my official resignation from comedy.) I was a comedy nerd growing up, consuming everything from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (I’m the Rhoda) to “Strangers with Candy.” But I wasn’t a confident kid, so I never thought I’d actually perform it. I always tried to be funny though, using humor to cope with being an awkward, hairy Syrian girl among the upper-class Aryan race at my Catholic elementary school.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Ross: I was writing humor pieces and sketches at the end of college, after interning at TV Without Pity (RIP) and continued when I moved to New York and completed the UCB Advanced Studies improv and sketch programs. After several years of improv shows in bar basements, I realized I should focus more on solo work if I want to turn comedy into a career. I started doing stand-up, wrote my first sitcom pilot and screenplay, and pitched more humor essays during my last couple years in New York before moving to Austin to continue it. I host, write, and produce, an all-women late night show called “That Time of the Month” and one of my priorities this year is to expand it beyond the live stage show.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Ross: I’m still discovering my voice after seven years, but it probably took until this year for me to be more comfortable and consistent with my sets, particularly the monologues I write for “That Time of the Month,” which I’d been doing for about three years. Not too bad considering I’m 10 years old if any big shot Hollywood agents are asking.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Ross: I’d consider them different acts. Even after years of trying other forms of comedy, I wasn’t sure what my stand-up voice would be when I started, so I tried to do observational humor mixed in with personal experiences without thinking of the flow or delivery, which are crucial elements to a set. I still balance those two, but I’m more relaxed and try to be conversational versus before when I was robotic and memorizing out of fear of forgetting jokes. (Thanks to local Austin comic Arielle Norman for this much-needed tip from her workshop!)

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Ross: I’m not trying to force every single life experience into a joke, but I do jot down ideas in my iPhone notes app as stuff comes to me during random moments throughout the week. My notes usually read as a transcription of a fever dream by the time I revisit it later to adapt into material.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before it’s ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Ross: More hours of doubt and self-loathing than actual preparation. But I do make sure my former writing partner/co-founder of “That Time of the Month,” Liisa Murray, takes a look at my monologues before the show to make sure it’s not entirely nonsense.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesn’t seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Ross: I’m not married to any of my new jokes (commitment issues) so I usually only give it one more chance before reworking or dropping it completely.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Ross: Of course, and it could honestly be a range of different factors, from your own delivery of the jokes, to how warm the audience is once you get on stage.

I once performed a weird bit at a show in Austin (where I didn’t know anyone yet) that killed and then did that same bit a week later at a show in New York (where I did know a bunch of people) and it bombed. My first guess was because the Austin show was experimental, the host helps manage the audience’s expectations that comedians are trying out stuff they’ve never done before, outside of traditional stand-up. My second guess was the audience in New York hated my stinking guts.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Ross: Definitely, because it makes it easier to play off of their energy and even stray a bit from my set, improvising new lines from what they’re reacting strongest to in the performance. But I’ve learned not to be dependent on the audience for that every time because if the energy isn’t there, it’s still on me to finish my set strong. They’ll notice when I’m nervous or lose confidence in my material.

Photo By: Tess Cagle

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Ross: Last year after my Aunt Dawn, who I was really close with, passed away, I dedicated an episode of “That Time of the Month” to her, including a monologue memorializing her. I was nervous about performing an emotional comedy set, but it ended up being very therapeutic during a tough time.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Ross: I track down a place they like to frequent, such as a coffee shop or public park, stage a meet cute, date them for several years, establish a level of intimacy and unbreakable bond that leads to marriage, get pregnant, move into a refurbished farmhouse upstate to raise our kids, build a life for ourselves over a span of five decades, care for them in their old age, and just as they’re lying on their death bed and we’re sharing our last moment together, I lean over and whisper-scream, “IT’S NOT YOUR FUCKING TURN TO TALK.”

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Ross: I’m excited about diverse voices finally getting the bigger platforms they deserve and I hope the industry continues to recognize them for it. On a separate thought, while it’s gotten a lot easier to put your material out there through different mediums, we’re now watching a lot of those mediums go away, such as with many humor sites shuttering in the past few years. I’m curious to see how comedy scenes adapt to these changes and what the next wave of comedy in the digital age will bring. That last sentence felt like a sound bite from a stammering TV exec at an upfront presentation for pilots adapted from Instagram Stories that will all be canceled by the end of this other sentence.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Ross: Kate Berlant & John Early, Aparna Nancherla, Jo Firestone, Jenny Slate, Ali Wong, Michelle Wolf, Jessica Williams, Chelsea Peretti, Keep It! (Ira Madison III, Kara Brown, Louis Virtel), my dog Dreidel.

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Listen Up

Hilary Roberts

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After overcoming personal struggles and self-doubt to find the strength to achieve her dreams as a recording artist, Hilary Roberts is now giving back, projecting a message of positivity and redemption through her songs. Her latest creative endeavor is the music video for her most recent single, “There For You,” which tells the story of people helping one another.

We recently sat down with Roberts to discuss the benefits of making music videos, why she was so drawn to the message of “There For You,” and how she persevered through difficult circumstances to find the value in who she is as a person and artist.

TrunkSpace: The “There For You” video dropped today. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material to the world?
Roberts: Surreal. Gratitude. Excitement. Joy. Wow. Unbelievable.

TrunkSpace: In our current multi-media, multi-platform age, how important is it for artists to put time and energy into producing music videos? In 2018, are videos meant to give existing fans more content or to help establish new listeners?
Roberts: I think it is a wonderful way to share your vision of the song and to connect with your fans. It takes it to a personal level. I love seeing what artists create visually after hearing what they have done sonically. We are creatures that love to see, touch, feel and hear and a video adds another dimension to experiencing the music. It is another way of connecting with people. Both…for people that already love the sound of what you have created it gives a visual connection to your fans. It also invites new eyes and ears to hear and see what you are about.

TrunkSpace: The ‘80s and ‘90s were the golden age of the music video thanks to MTV, but we also consumed what MTV told us that we had to. Today, anyone can access any music video that they like. While accessibility is off the charts, what’s the key to engagement? How does an artist get people to listen to his or her music and watch their videos in 2018?
Roberts: I love this question because to get peoples’ attention. You need to give them something they are craving. A lot of people are craving a higher elevation of thinking. They are wanting positive messages along with a great sound. They are wanting something that is uplifting and helpful. You also have to have a ton of talent and absolutely love and be excited about what you are doing… and never give up.

TrunkSpace: Can you tell us a little bit about what “There For You” meant to you when you were crafting the song and how you wanted that vision to be reflected in the music video?
Roberts: When I was faced with a life and death surgery, I told God that if He would let me stay here on earth that I would spend the rest of my life being there for His kids. So when Damon Sharpe and Eric Sanicola sent me the rough foundation of the song “There For You,” it really resonated with me. So we took that foundation and transformed it into a song that was personal to me and conveyed my message. As for the vision of the music video, with the vignettes/stories I wanted to show people helping one another. Some of the stories are examples from my own life. In the dance scene, I wanted to show a celebration because when you go through the darkest of times you think it will never be better, but when you walk it through and get to the other side, then you can celebrate! You survived. And you celebrate with the people you walked it out with.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been open about the struggles that you have faced and have had to overcome throughout the course of your life. Do you view your music as an outlet for telling those stories in a way that can help listeners to feel like they are not alone in what they themselves are going through?
Roberts: Absolutely. I think feeling alone and thinking you will always be alone and that you have no value are some of the reasons why we have lost so many beautiful people to drugs, alcohol, depression and suicide. I have learned that sharing the pain of my past is one of the greatest gifts I can give to help others deal with their pain and give them hope.

TrunkSpace: When did you discover your voice as an artist?
Roberts: I discovered I could sing when I was 10 years old. That is when I found my physical voice. In this last year, with the music we have been creating, I feel that I have found the sound and the message I was meant to give to the world.

TrunkSpace: Where did your journey with music begin? At what point did you decide to pursue it as a career?
Roberts: I have wanted to be a performer since I was a little girl. I had to walk out some very traumatic circumstances from childhood and things that I drug myself through, which always stopped my dreams. Once I started walking through the healing, I could pursue my goal of becoming a recording artist. This past year I have done just that with nothing able to hold me back.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an artist and how do you overcome self-doubt when it comes to your creative endeavors?
Roberts: I have to be diligent about not beating myself up for past mistakes and just let myself create. I overcome self-doubt by realizing it is not about me. I am here to give to others.

TrunkSpace: What do you consider to be success in the music industry and by that definition, have you achieved it?
Roberts: Of course, we all want the Billboard awards, the Grammys and the respects of our fellows and fans. To me that would be mind-blowing. But, more importantly I want to make a difference in this world. I have not achieved a Billboard award or Grammy yet, but I know that the music we have just released is already helping the hurting and transforming lives, so yes, I have already achieved success.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Hilary, if you could sit down with your 12-year-old self, what would she say about your current career path? Would she be surprised by the artist you have become?
Roberts: She would say she was proud of me, excited for me. She would say, “You are doing it and you are getting to do it.” She would be blown away. She would be so proud that I am helping others. And she would say, “I am so happy that you found out that you are worthy.”

View the “There For You” video below.

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The Featured Presentation

CJ “Lana” Perry

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Photographer: Diana Ragland/Hair: Robert Steinken/Makeup: Brian Valentine/Wardrobe: Madison Guest

CJ “Lana” Perry is known as The Ravishing Russian in the ring, and while we find it impossible to discredit her ravishingness (yes, totally a made up word!), The Resilient Russian is just as suitable of a name. The WWE Superstar has been focused, hard working, and tireless in her quest to achieve a career in the squared circle, despite her lifelong struggles with learning disabilities. Passion for the craft and an unwillingness to listen to the naysayers has carried her forward however, and now she’s set to appear at Money in the Bank this Sunday on pay-per-view and the WWE Network, going boot to boot with some of the best and brightest in the women’s division ladder match.

We recently sat down with the ravishing AND resilient CJ “Lana” Perry to discuss her training focus for Money in the Bank, how she never lets go of the WWE butterflies, and why, like life, her career is a marathon and not a sprint.

TrunkSpace: You are gearing up for a very exciting weekend by the looks of it!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes, a very exciting weekend. I’m so excited that I don’t know what to do with myself.

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to stay focused on Money in the Bank, but then also have to juggle everything else that’s going on with work, and life, and just sort of building towards the event?
CJ “Lana” Perry: There’s definitely a lot going on, that’s for sure. We’re filming “Total Divas” right now on top of everything, so it’s pretty much just go, go, go. I think I have 12 hours home today before I leave tomorrow. But my number one priority is Money in the Bank this Sunday, and training for that. I actually fly out to San Diego tomorrow to train with Daniel Bryan because, it’s not like he hasn’t had any ladder matches, right? He keeps on telling me to keep my feet on the ground. I’m like, “I can’t keep my feet on the ground. I have to climb a ladder!”

TrunkSpace: We get nervous just climbing a ladder to put up Christmas lights! Even when you plan for every possible outcome and scenario, there still has to be some nervousness, right? It’s so high!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, it’s nuts. I’m not scared of heights, but I realize ladders… they’re so unstable, so it’s not just the height. It’s just insane to me. This is going to be Naomi’s third ladder match, so I was able to train some with Naomi. We were using basically an 8’ ladder, and they’re going to be 10’ and 12’ is the big one. It’s the 12’ one that you have to go up to actually grab the briefcase! It’s crazy. When we put the ladder in the ring, it’s even more unstable. Obviously they’re going to be trying to pull you down, and who knows what other shenanigans are going to be happening. So I’m just trying to prepare myself as much as possible for this – lifting a lot. It’s really heavy. People don’t realize how heavy these ladders are. That’s why I was training with Naomi. We went to a ring, she had me doing things outside in her backyard, because she’s insane. She’s the crazy cat lady. (Laughter) Then I’m training with Bryan tomorrow and Friday to prepare for this.

I have to get used to the fact that my feet will be coming off the ground.

TrunkSpace: We would have to imagine that a ladder match requires a different approach to training because, even just the art of falling… it takes on a new artistic point of view from 12’ up!
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, for sure. Definitely a completely different approach. Ladder matches are… the risks, the stakes, are so much higher. They’re so much more intense. We’re so much higher! You could fall 12’ at least, or maybe more, depending if the ladder falls onto the outside and you fall out of the ring. You just have to be really, really prepared. You have to be prepared physically, but also mentally. That’s the reason why the first ever ladder match happened a year ago for women, because the stakes are so high, and it is really intense. That’s the reason why this is the second ever Money in the Bank ladder match at the pay-per-view Money in the Bank, besides the rematch that they had on RAW last year, the following week after the pay-per-view. So it’s just… to be a part of a historic moment like this – and the talent in this match, the women, they’re all such incredible talents – so I’m really, really excited, and grateful to be in the ring with such talented women.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in this industry for a long time now, traveling the globe doing what you love. It’s a lifestyle that few people ever get to experience. Do you still experience that same excitement about what you do as you did early in your career?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Oh, of course! I get excitement all the time! I mean, I can’t even tell you how I’ll feel goosebumps. When we went to Santiago, Chile, and the fans were just exploding. It was electrifying. The energy there is just… I could feel it through my entire body. Then I went into the audience and had a hoodie on, and I watched the rest of the show once I finished, because it was just such… the energy was just so exciting. I just love what we do so much. I’m so grateful for what we do. I never lose the butterflies.

I love traveling. I love experiencing new things, new cultures, food, sights, and people, so it’s so exciting. I always try and get out in any of the cities that we are in if we have time. I always try and go sightseeing, eat the food, and just experience it because I’m so blessed to be able to do what I love for a living and travel the world. And I have my husband with me, so it’s really, really, really exciting.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

 

TrunkSpace: Yeah, that has to be a part of it that makes it even more unique – getting to experience it all with the person that you love?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes! I’m so grateful for it. We always talk about that, Rusev and I, how grateful we are that we get to travel the world doing what we love with the person that we love.

TrunkSpace: It was just last month that you won your very first singles match. Have things been altered for you at all – your approach to preparation or training – since that career changer?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I would say it’s been very encouraging, but I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been training. I say it’s the slow and the steady that’s going to win the race, and I am the slow, and I am the steady. I might not be the fastest, or the quickest learner, but I am passionate. I work hard. I am resilient and I work hard to persevere. It takes time to become good. It just takes time to be good at anything. I would say I’ve really only been wrestling on a weekly base for the last year – wrestling at live events every week has been only consistently for a year. It takes years to become great.

One thing is just getting in the ring and training. Another thing is that where you get good is having matches every week. Having matches at least several times a week is the way you become good, and so it’s just been the persevering of, “Okay, yeah I lose, but…” I lost a lot. I think my first win before my singles match was on Mixed Match Challenge. It was with Rusev, and I beat Bayley, which was just, I believe, a miracle, because she’s incredible. Incredible, incredible talent and in ring performer.

I had read – and my dad actually sent it to me because he likes to read the internet – he sent me that I had had 60 matches, and that I had lost 60 times on the main roster. This was my first win. It was 61, and it was on his birthday, and he was turning 61. So it was really cool for me.

I think my story is about persevering and working hard, and that reflects my life. I haven’t always been the best at anything, but I continue to work and persevere, and I will win the race.

TrunkSpace: Everybody needs a dad internet filter because the internet can be a scary place! (Laughter)
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I know! It really, really is. It can be very, very scary.

Photo courtesy of WWE.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how you’ve been performing in the ring regularly for the last year, but what was that very first moment like when you were standing behind the curtain, waiting for your music to play?
CJ “Lana” Perry: Well, last year was my singles debut at Money in the Bank actually, against Naomi for the title match. I was beyond nervous. I thought I was going to throw up. It was just so much pressure. I wanted to be in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Shane McMahon told me that I hadn’t proven myself yet. Then Naomi wanted to face me because she wanted a match for Money in the Bank, so I really, really, really lucked out that I was able to have my first singles match, and that it was a title match. I got really lucky, but at the same time, it’s like, “Am I ready for a title at Money in the Bank pay-per-view?” (Laughter)

I didn’t deserve that, but those were the cards that were handed to me. So it’s like, “Did I earn that yet?” No, I had one tag match on TV, and that was a year before Wrestlemania. But, life throws you some crazy cards, and you have to play the cards that are given to you. You have to make the most of it. I was so, so nervous. I was just like, “Okay, I know some people might think I do good, but I’m sure half the internet and Twitter trolls are going to eat me up and say I’m the worst wrestler of all time.” It just is what it is. You just have to make the most of it. I was so nervous, but when I walked through that curtain and, I can’t explain it. When I’m standing there, my heart is racing and I’m just trying to calm myself, but once I go through that curtain, it’s just like, “I’m born to do this.” I love it.

TrunkSpace: Like you mentioned, you’re currently filming the latest season of “Total Divas.” How does that fit into your day-to-day life? Is it something that you’re consciously aware of at all times, or does it just kind of exist as a part of your life, going along with you?
CJ “Lana” Perry: I just let it go along with me. I always wanted to do “Total Divas” because I felt like my journey was so unconventional, especially compared to all the other women – all the other WWE superstars. I really, really wanted to show my life, and to show my journey, because my journey to the WWE, and my in-ring journey reflects, really, my life journey. I have had a very, very unconventional life. I’m an American that grew up in Russia. I have Christian missionary parents. I have a lot of learning disabilities, and you’re going to see that in “Total Divas.” I knew I had learning disabilities, but I didn’t realize I had such severe learning disabilities. You’re going to see me deal with that. At one point I wasn’t on TV for 13 weeks and I was just so discouraged. I can get really, really, really discouraged. When you keep on working hard and you keep on trying, you keep on trying to get into storylines, and you just have to wait. It’s a patience game, and it’s about being resilient and persevering. I’m happy that I am able to show these ups and these downs on “Total Divas,” because life is that. If I can share anything with people, to girls and boys and people of all ages, it’s that life is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. My career is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and that applies to all areas of life.

TrunkSpace: Sharing the story of your struggles to overcome learning disabilities could help other young people feel not so alone in their own struggles.
CJ “Lana” Perry: Yes. That’s what I hope, to really encourage people. Even if you do have learning disabilities, and you do learn differently, that doesn’t mean that it can stop you from achieving your dreams, and achieving the things that you love. I think that when I realized that, when I saw all the disabilities that I have, I was like, “Wow, I went through college?” Holy freaking moly! I should never have. That’s the reason why I feel like I’m able to persevere in WWE, because it’s kind of like, even with the critics, even with people saying I shouldn’t be here or that I’m not the best or not good enough or not strong enough, it’s like, no, I am going to keep on being resilient and I’m going to keep on persevering.

TrunkSpace: Well, we think you should let your husband keep Rusev Day, and much like how we celebrate our birthday, you should adopt Lana Week!
CJ “Lana” Perry: (Laughter) I like that! Though I take a whole month for my birthday, so we can do Lana Week and Lana Month! (Laughter)

Money In The Bank airs Sunday on pay-per-view and on the WWE Network.

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The Featured Presentation

Jennifer Bartels

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The new Paramount Network series “American Woman” may be marketed as a comedy, but there are plenty of dramatic moments throughout the course of the first season, which proved an exciting change of pace for star Jennifer Bartels. Although trained in theater and the Meisner technique (an approach to acting developed by Sanford Meisner that places emphasis on instinctive response), the North Carolina native became a familiar voice within the comedy scene, studying and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater before being cast in a reboot of “In Living Color” and serving as writer, performer and executive producer of truTV’s sketch comedy series “Friends of the People.”

With “American Woman,” a period piece that also stars Alicia Silverstone and Mena Suvari, Bartels is getting to flex dormant muscles, and relishing in the fact that her character Diana travels so far from her starting point in the pilot to where she ends up in the season finale.

We recently sat down with Bartels to discuss the need for actors to create, how she’s settling her hustler nerves so that she can enjoy the “American Woman” ride, and why she’s eager to shape opportunities for other actors in the future.

TrunkSpace: It must be quite a whirlwind for you these last couple of weeks?
Bartels: Yeah, it’s been amazing. As an actor that started out in theater and doing comedy in New York, to have this show and all the fun and buzz behind it, it’s been really awesome – really great.

TrunkSpace: What is the experience like when you’re doing a project of this size and scope, from that moment when you first slip into the character to when it premieres? Is the wait excruciating… to get to share it with the world?
Bartels: Yeah. It was a wonderful experience. The thing is, from the conception of this show to now, it’s been, I believe, almost five years. So even when I booked the pilot and then from what that pilot was, and what Diana and these characters were, to where they are now when you see the final product… it was a really rich experience. But it’s also timely, everything we’re discussing now. It’s really nice because it’s been a work-in-the-making for years. And we wrapped in July, so it’s been really nice to finally see it take off and get promoted and have really great viewership.

TrunkSpace: When working in this business, especially before something is formally released, is it important for you to temper expectation knowing that so much of it is out of your control?
Bartels: Yeah, I feel like that’s been my personal journey creatively, which is why to me, it’s so important to be creating your own projects because at least you have control. There are a lot of actors who are actors, but I think in this climate, with social media and just with where we are, it’s great to be writing and creating and producing your own thing because it’s such a crap shoot. There’s so many elements outside of your control. From me going on an audition, to having a series go on to air 12 episodes, to a billboard on Sunset… it’s wonderful, but it’s a rarity. And then to see who’s going to like it? It’s a lot of holding your breath and a lot of ups and downs. It never goes away.

TrunkSpace: There must be something creatively satisfying knowing that you have those 12 episodes to build an audience with and not having to wait week-to-week to see if you’ll be moving forward with a storyline or particular arc?
Bartels: Yeah, that’s what is exciting right now, and I think as an actor sometimes we’re hard on ourselves and we’re always like, “What else? What are we doing?” We’re hustlers, but I think giving yourself a moment to sit in the satisfaction that it’s a solid female-driven show that, each week, will air, and that these characters really develop in a really surprising way, especially Diana, my character, from where you see her in the pilot to where she goes… it’s very wonderful and layered, so it’s exciting. Yeah, I have to check myself and go, “Jen, calm down, take a deep breath.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: At what point can you let your guard down and just sort of say, “Okay, this is it. This is going to be my life for the next four or five years?”
Bartels: I think it’s always a struggle, if I’m being brutally honest. I think at this point everyone should be in therapy out here because it is a matter of what is enough and feeling that what you’re doing is enough creatively and professionally, because again, there’s so many cooks in the kitchen on any given project. So I’m trying to really celebrate and not let… sometimes you just have those voices in your head that… great, that’s going to make me sound totally insane… but you have those naysayers in your own head that try to get in your own way, and so it’s nice to remind yourself that if you hang with good family or friends, like, “Hey, you really accomplished something pretty rad.” So that’s what I’m trying to do.

TrunkSpace: In the current TV landscape where there is so much great television being produced, just finding an audience is a big accomplishment.
Bartels: Yeah, there really is so much competition because there’s so many avenues to watch programming, and solid programming, and so I think that’s what’s been really gratifying is, the fans, viewers. New fans, fans who love Kyle (Richards), fans who love John Wells, or Alicia and Mena… and then the ’70s. There’s just a lot of elements that different people can be drawn in by with this show, and so it’s really cool to see the first week, Twitter light up, and a lot of, especially women, but I think what’s been wonderful too is men and older folks too who really are taken back to the ’70s with this type of show… it’s been a nice array of viewership, so it is very cool.

TrunkSpace: For you personally, as a performer, was one of the draws in working on “American Woman” the fact that it was a little bit drama and a little bit comedy, and having the ability to sort of play with all of the emotions of a character?
Bartels: Yeah, I think that that’s always wonderful. I studied theater and Meisner technique in North Carolina and then I came to New York and I started doing comedy, and I think it’s a really nice thing when you have a project that allows you to flex different muscles. People are like, “So it’s a comedy?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s more of a dramedy.” There really is a lot of honest, serious social and personal issues and I think the comedy that you’re looking for when you’re like, “Oh, where’s that one liner?”, it’s more… there are funny, honest things, and to me, comedy is honesty. When you’re honest, that’s when it’s truth in comedy. So I feel like that’s what we play with, and that is finding the honesty and the comedy in real life situations and how they’ve changed to how they haven’t, then and now.

TrunkSpace: With traditional TV comedies, sitcoms, you don’t see a lot of growth and story arcs for characters, but that’s not the case with this show. You’re seeing them go through life and adjusting based on what they experience.
Bartels: Yeah, which I really actually enjoy, and like you said, it was a really nice thing to see as this story progressed and the writers were writing for us, that these characters did take very juicy steps in directions that we maybe didn’t foresee when we did the pilot. Because when you do the pilot, you think, “Oh, it’s a pilot…” You hope it gets picked up, and now I’m Episode 7 in and I’m like, “What am I about to do?” And it’s so rewarding and surprising and I think the viewers will like it as well.

TrunkSpace: You spoke about the chance to get to flex your acting muscles. Where do you feel you got to stretch the most by being a part of “American Woman?”
Bartels: I think it’s more on the serious side. I think a lot of my work in the past, my commercial work, has been… I had a sketch show and I booked “In Living Color,” so I was coming in hot with comedy. So to be given the trust with the writers and the producers to be seen as… not a serious actor, but I had more of a dramatic side to me… I think it was great and it came out in the writing as the show progressed. In Episode 3 there’s this pool scene where Diana kind of goes off the deep end, literally, and it allowed me to have some fun as I did this wonderful, rich monologue on a roof after partying a little too hard, and you start to see this different side of Diana. This not-so-buttoned-up side. And that reveals itself in like five different ways in the whole season, different ways that she starts to loosen those buttons. I think there was a lot that I was challenged with that I had never done before on-screen that was fun and wild and sexy and sad, and I’m really excited and proud of Diana. And it was so cool that people trusted me when they started seeing what I can do, and wrote more for me, so it was wonderful.

TrunkSpace: As a creative person who also works as a writer and producer, is a long-term journey with a character on-screen – going four, five, or even six years with a character – something that appeals to you?
Bartels: Well, I feel like there’s the idea of getting work to get work, or having as much as possible and seeing what sticks on a wall, but creatively for me, I prefer if it’s something fulfilling. And if Diana’s story or whomever I’m working with, playing whatever character, has a rich, fun road to walk down, I would definitely have allegiance to playing that role, truth be told. And I also think there is a lot of intense work. You shoot for three months nonstop and then you do have time allocated to creating other roles or projects. A big thing I want to do is continue to pitch and produce projects that I’m on the backend of – that I’m behind the scenes with – just to give more females and more underrepresented people roles because I feel like that still needs to happen. I feel like we branch out, but we still kind of use the same few people. There are just so many talented people I know that need that opportunity, that was in a way given to me, and so I think if I could help create and give back, that’s kind of what I want to do. But I think they can both go together. I can still be on the journey with Diana, or whomever else, and keep creating on the side.

Catch Jennifer Bartels’ journey with Diana in “American Woman” every Thursday on Paramount Network.

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Listen Up

Sam Evian

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Photo By: Josh Goleman

Sam Owens puts every bit of himself into his songs, opening up his head in a way that enables the listener to swim around in the New York-based songwriter’s brain, backstroking to thought-proving lyrics while bobbing up and down to infectious grooves that stream from his viscous creativity. His latest work, “You, Forever,” falls under the name Sam Evian and features band members Brian Betancourt (bass), Austin Vaughn (drums), Adam Brisbin (guitar), and Hannah Cohen (backing vocals). The album is available now on Saddle Creek. (See our review here.)

We recently sat down with Owens to discuss spontaneous recording sessions, why he sometimes Jekyll and Hydes himself, and the feeling he gets when listening to a favorite record that he’d love to pass on through his own music.

TrunkSpace: Your latest album “You, Forever” dropped June 1st on Saddle Creek. What emotions do you juggle with as you gear up to release new material to the world and is it ever difficult to let go and allow the universe to take over?
Owens: Releasing music in 2018 is kind of an unhealthy process. I don’t have a problem letting go, but it’s tough not to compare myself to others. The internet is a strange place for anything, and it’s kind of the opposite of heart and soul, which is what I put into my music. Anyway, I feel lucky to be able to do this dance.

TrunkSpace: Did you feel any creative pressure with this album knowing it was a direct follow-up to your debut? Is there a sense of having to deliver on expectations now that may not have existed when you went into the studio for “Premium?”
Owens: Not necessarily. “Premium” was a relatively quiet release. It kind of has its own life out there. I love hearing from people who stumble into it. I knew I wanted to try for a different sound with LP2, and I wanted to keep it honest. Beyond that, the pressure was low.

TrunkSpace: “You, Forever” has a great feel/vibe to it as a whole that really ties everything together and makes it feel like a cohesive collection of tracks. How much creative thought was put into looking beyond just the songs themselves and into producing a sort of, for lack of a better word, classic record?
Owens: Thanks! Well, I spent a ton of time preparing for the recording on the technical side. I pieced together a van full of gear to truck upstate. I even made my own mic cables. I got to the house a day early and spent a long time getting it all ready… cleaning the tape machine, setting up the patch bay, hanging blankets on the walls. By the time the band got there, I had turned this little house in the woods into a fully-functional analog studio. On the music side of things, I held off from teaching the band any tunes until they arrived upstate. I think it made for a spontaneous atmosphere, where we banished insecurities in favor of instinct and first thought/best thought mentality.

TrunkSpace: While all music you create is no doubt personal to you, this album feels like it goes places emotionally that “Premium” didn’t. Is that a safe assessment and if so, does “You, Forever” feel like you’ve put more of yourself out there than with your previous work?
Owens: Well, definitely. For me, “Premium” has its moments. Tunes like “Cactus” and “Big Car” are special to me, but are more situational and remind me of a super particular place and time. Maybe the songs on “Premium” were more like small exercises, whereas the new record digs deeper.

TrunkSpace: Did the writing process itself change for you on this one? Did the time between “Premium” and kicking off the creative for “You, Forever” inspire you to take a different approach in how you pull things from your head?
Owens: “Premium” was definitely more off the cuff. The lyrics and music came together pretty quickly. This time around I spent a lot of time demo’ing by myself. I held off from recording vocals though, because I didn’t want to commit to lyrics without really working through them. I tend to stick with ideas once I commit them to tape. I was working on final lyrics well into the process, up until the week before I mixed the record.

TrunkSpace: You’re also a producer. Do you tend to wear the two hats simultaneously – songwriter/musician and producer – and do they ever butt heads? Is what musician Sam wants not necessarily always what producer Sam wants?
Owens: Sometimes I Jekyll and Hyde myself. Producer Sam usually says, “This vocal isn’t good enough. Do it again.” Musician Sam doesn’t always want to do that. Other times the two roles seem to merge. Writing/recording become one in the same.

Owens with Hannah Cohen. Photo By: Josh Goleman

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with “You, Forever” and why?
Owens: I’m not sure… I love how it all came together. It was a ton of work but it felt fun the whole time. I’m proud of my bandmates for their work. They really threw themselves into the process and trusted me/themselves/each other.

TrunkSpace: Over the course of your songwriting career, have you written songs that you weren’t particularly happy with at the outset, only to end up learning to appreciate them more later down the road?
Owens: Sure… unfortunately I usually trash those songs. There were a couple songs that we recorded for “You, Forever” that I decided I couldn’t deal with. They made it all the way up to the final mix stage and I canned ‘em. Maybe I’ll come back around…

TrunkSpace: What does music give you as a participant that you are unable to achieve as a listener? What is the draw for you to be constantly creating?
Owens: I think I’m always chasing the experiences I have as a listener. My favorite records give me chills and make me weep. It’s rare and fleeting but when it happens it gives me such a positive feeling for life on earth. I’d love to be able to pass on that feeling.

TrunkSpace: What is the single greatest music-related moment of your career thus far and why?
Owens: Moving to New York City. It was the best thing I could have done for myself and my career. If you are out there in a small town somewhere, know this: it gets better.

You, Forever” is available now on Saddle Creek.

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Sit and Spin

Sam Evian’s You, Forever

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Artist: Sam Evian

Album: “You, Forever”

Label: Saddle Creek

Reason We’re Cranking It: With endless grooves that mingle in your mind like the crackling of static electricity, the album is aptly titled because the tracks stay with you, seemingly, forever.

What The Album Tells Us About Him: Some songwriters just get it. They have figured out the purpose of music, which is to take the listener out of their own existence and transport them to a place where every care is swept away and the world suddenly understands everything that they do. Whether Sam Owens (the brainchild behind Sam Evian) is aware of his own musical enlightenment or not doesn’t matter, because that mindfulness, conscious or not, is present in every song that he touches, and because of that, we win.

Track Stuck On Repeat: “Where Did You Go?” is every single beautiful day spent cruising around with the windows down – no particular destination in mind – all rolled into one song. It’s pop magic.

Coming To A City Near You: Sam Evian tour dates can be found here.

And that means…

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Laugh It Up

John Poveromo

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Name: John Poveromo

Socials: Twitter/Facebook/Instagram

Why We’re Laughing: Superb writing combined with the kind of relaxed presence behind the microphone that puts an audience at ease, Poveromo delivers on a brand of funny that builds within the set, transforming external laughter into internal contemplation that lasts well after you leave the club.

TrunkSpace: Was comedy always in the cards? Were you a funnykid, even at an early age?
Poveromo: The short answer is, yes. (Laughter) The slightly longer answer is, I grew up around funny people, who all had different kinds of funny. My dad was sort of ‘life of the party’ funny, while my mom and her side of the family were very clever funny. My great aunt and uncle were from Brooklyn and no one could tell a story better than they could. They knew exactly where to inject humor into a story, and could tell it the same way every time. So in a lot of ways I grew up trying to emulate all of them. I remember laughing a lot, and thinking it was something I should bring back to the classroom, much to my teachers’ chagrin.

TrunkSpace: When did you decide to pursue stand-up comedy as a career and did you make a plan for how you would attack things?
Poveromo: I decided to do it after my first semester of college was over. I had never wanted to go to college in the first place, but that’s what you did. Doing anything else seemed like it was a one way ticket to pumping gas for the rest of my life. At least that’s what my math teachers lead me to believe. I wound up giving stand-up a shot and was hooked right away. I dropped out of college, got a full time job at a bank (as you do), and did stand-up after work and on the weekends on any stage that would have me. My thought process was, I could spend four years at a place that was designed to hammer square pegs into round holes, or I could have 10 years as a comedian under my belt by the time I’m 30 and do something I love for the rest of my life.

TrunkSpace: How long did it take for you to discover your voice as a comic?
Poveromo: I think it changes over time just like everything else. I think I had a voice in my 20s and now it’s evolving more so as I’m in the beginning of my 30s. For me it was more of a struggle of chipping away at everything that wasn’t authentically me on stage as I was off. Not to say I’m on all the time, but if you meet me off stage I’m the same guy.

TrunkSpace: Is the approach you take now on stage different from the approach you took when you first started out? Is it one act that grew into itself or would you consider them two completely different acts?
Poveromo: The act is always evolving, but when I started I definitely would go on stage and wing it a lot. I had some ideas of where I wanted to go and what punchlines I wanted to hit, but I liked putting myself on the spot. I felt it was more important to be fast on my feet than it was to rehearse the same five minutes, club to club. As of right now my act is about justifying my own existence.

TrunkSpace: Is the neon “Open” sign in your brain always turned on, and by that we mean, are you always writing and on alert for new material?
Poveromo: I have that little notes app on my iPhone always primed and ready to go. I’ve got joke ideas and notes stored in there from 2011. Actually, I just recently sat down with a friend of mine who has a knack for organizing and he put everything into this crazy excel spreadsheet catalog thing for me. It’s really incredible. I’m not an organized person so this helped a lot.

TrunkSpace: How much work goes into a joke before its ready to be tested out in front of a live audience?
Poveromo: Wait, wait hold up… there’s supposed to be work involved? Hoo-boy, am I in trouble.

Usually I’ll have an idea for a joke, find out where I can squeeze it into the act and see where it takes me on stage. I’m constantly trying new stuff, if I don’t I get really bored up there.

TrunkSpace: If a joke doesnt seem to be working, how many chances do you give it in a live setting before you decide to rework it or move on from it altogether?
Poveromo: Every comic has a joke they love that’s never worked on stage. Or works like once every three months. I think jokes can be reworked all the time and there’s some that have taken me years to perfect. At this point I know what will and won’t work on stage, but if I had to give it a time limit before you toss a joke, I’d say three times with three different audiences. If it’s still not getting the response you need, you gotta sideline it for the time being.

TrunkSpace: Is it possible to kill one night and bomb the next with essentially the same set, and if so, what do you chalk that up as?
Poveromo: Yup. Did it the other night actually. It was a showcase show and I was closing it out. The audience was only there to see their friend and they were tired by the time I got up. The set was the same jokes that killed opening for Gilbert Gottfried a couple weekends before but I was getting nothing from the audience. There’s one joke in particular that I was thinking of posting on my Instagram as an example of how a joke can crush one night and get crickets the next.

TrunkSpace: Does a receptive and willing audience fuel your fire of funny and help to put you on your game for the rest of your set?
Poveromo: Absolutely. The audience is a far bigger part of the show than they think sometimes. I had a weekend of shows mother’s day weekend, which is notoriously slow. The first night there were only 12 people in the audience but they were 12 people who really loved comedy and came for a good show and we had an absolute blast together. The next night we had about 40 people who you would have thought were taken hostage and forced to watch the show. Those are the nights when it feels like work.

TrunkSpace: What is your most memorable performance experience (good or bad!) that will stick with you for the rest of your career and why?
Poveromo: Hands down, opening up for Jimmy Fallon when I was still a baby comic. It was my first time opening for a national headliner. He was on tour prepping to take over “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and he had come back to his home club, Bananas in Poughkeepsie, NY. We did five sold out shows together and he couldn’t have been nicer, or funnier. I met his family and they praised my set, which was amazing because I really got a sense that they understood what it’s like for the new guy coming up since Jimmy was so young when he started. Something like that will keep you going for a while.

TrunkSpace: How do you handle hecklers? What approach do you take?
Poveromo: I don’t get a ton of hecklers. Not the hecklers you see comics “battling” it out with on YouTube. I perform all over the country and honestly it doesn’t happen that often. I do engage with the crowd a lot though and when that happens they tend to get overly drunk and chatty but I just handle them in a very playful way. It’s fun watching them dig their own graves.

TrunkSpace: What are your thoughts on the stand-up landscape in 2018? Are you optimistic for the future of live comedy?
Poveromo: Stand-up comedy is more important now than it’s ever been. We need comedians who are willing to push limits, cross lines, and take us to places that make us uncomfortable and laugh at the same time. We’re in Trump’s America right now, and in that America it really does seem like comics are the only ones able to cut through all the bullshit and get to what’s really going on in the world. He seems to have forced both sides of the isle into their corners to the point where liberals can no longer tell the difference between jokes and statements, while conservatives have cornered the market on the victim game. It’s kind of a weird time for comedy, though I’m staying optimistic. There’s that whole Samantha Bee thing going on right now and she’s brilliant and funny, but I really wish she hadn’t apologized for the joke about Ivanka. She apologized and called it inappropriate. Comedians are supposed to be inappropriate. Racist? No. Inappropriate? Yes. In her case, it’s her job to be inappropriate while making a point. If there’s people who can’t comprehend that, fuck’em. You know? There’s a reason why entertainers, especially comedians, don’t work at the Gap. If we wanted to let the cul-de-sac culture dictate what we do and say the rest of our lives, that’s where we’d be.

TrunkSpace: Finally, who do YOU find funny?
Poveromo: I could list a bunch of famous comics who I and everyone else I know admire here, but they get enough press. I’ve got a lot of close friends in comedy and because we’re always working the clubs and the road we don’t get to see each other a lot, but when we do it’s a blast. Just recently I got to hang out with one of my closest friends and big brothers in comedy, Joe Starr, who came to watch me at Governor’s and wound up doing two guest sets – showing us all how the fuck it’s done. Another close friend of mine, Carole Montgomery, is in Los Angeles right now touring her stand-up show, “Women Of A Certain Age,” which is incredibly funny so if you get the chance, go see it! I just got to meet and work with Taylor Tomlinson for the first time who is fucking hysterical. Then there’s my friends Joanne Filan, Ryan Metzger, Vinnie Nardiello, Ty Raney, Jess Alaimo – who are all great comics from Jersey.

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The Featured Presentation

Allen Maldonado

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Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

Although acting is at the core of Allen Maldonado’s entertainment industry ambitions, he’s quickly climbing each branch of the overall tree. With his own record company, a writing career, a growing digital presence thanks to the app he launched in 2017 that came to fruition from wanting to start a small business website, Everybody Digital, and a production arm with multiple projects in development, “The Last O.G.” star is on the verge of being the first name on everybody’s call list. Starting today he can be seen in the new film “SuperFly,” based on the 1972 classic.

We recently sat down with Maldonado to discuss his workhorse mentality, what fans can expect from Season 2 of the hottest comedy on television, and why he goes into “Inception” mode when he’s creating.

TrunkSpace: This must be a crazy exciting time for you with everything that has been popping the last few years. Have you been able to sit back and enjoy it or is it all coming at you fast and furious?
Maldonado: I mean, I’m a workhorse, man. I really find joy in the deal of it all, like closing the deal and the excitement of getting a new project. I don’t dwell on it as much. It’s ongoing, what is happening – it’s always the pursuit is what is exciting to me. So that is what I guess keeps me going at a rate that I’m going in the last couple of years. The excitement of going from one project to the next and continuing to build and continuing to grow my career, that’s what, really, I’ve been tracking. Everything else… I always get a bit surprised with people when they recognize me for my work because I keep my head down at work. I don’t really pay attention to all that.

TrunkSpace: They say that work begets work in this industry, but in a lot of ways, it kind of plays out like a video game. When you’re new, you start on the easiest level, and then work your way up to more and more difficult levels. Basically, as an actor, you work your way up in a very similar way.
Maldonado: Yes! I think it also adds equity in this business, being that we’re doing multimillion dollar projects where these investors have to have confidence to be investing millions in their particular talents that they have in their films or their TV shows. So I think a lot of it is that you build equity in their game, being able to show that you’re consistent with not just great work but good behavior, being on time, and just having good habits. All of these things equals to success in this business if you’re able to maintain that type of consistency.

TrunkSpace: Which is important when you’re spending 14 hour days together, all working towards the same end goal.
Maldonado: Yeah, the people who you know on set, you’re spending more time with these individuals than your family, or your wife, or your kids. So going back to what I said earlier, just having a good position on how to treat people and good energy, it all has an affect on those long hours and being able to work as a group towards one goal. We’re gearing up for the second season of “The Last O.G.” and we’re gonna be doing it for three and a half months, so to maintain that type of level of patience, consistency and good energy, it’s definitely work but it’s something that as a group we’re excited to do and we’re excited for the next season.

TrunkSpace: You said you enjoy the process of going out and finding the next project, but is it exciting when you get the second season order like you did with “The Last O.G.?” From an outside perspective it would seem more exciting because it validates that united “one goal” we were just talking about.
Maldonado: Of course! That’s growth. Definitely the evolution of the show is exciting. Knowing that we’re going into the second season – I’m also a writer for the show now – so just elevating on all fronts, being that now that we have our first season done and it’s aired, we kind of have all of the voices to the characters now. We’ve built a foundation. We’re now going into the second season and we could elaborate more. We can dig deeper because we’ve already introduced these characters and people are familiar with them so we can just dive a little deeper and explore and actually write towards our actors. When I signed on, the scripts were already done, so they didn’t write in my… they didn’t know they were going to cast me, nor Tiffany (Haddish), nor Cedric (the Entertainer). Going into this second season, we’re able to write towards the character and really hear their voices, and really be able to build on the foundation in Season 1. So that’s what’s exciting, just the evolution. Hopefully, God willing, we get our Season 3, Season 4, Season 5 – all those things – and we can continue to be excited.

TrunkSpace: And because of how successful the show was in its first season, it must be nice to have an extra layer of trust from the folks upstairs at the network?
Maldonado: Yes! I think us being the number one comedy on cable definitely gives us a great position in going forward with production is Season 2, and we’re already done with the writers room. So we start shooting in July, so the scripts are all turned in. They loved everything that we’re doing. I’m very excited. I feel that we’ve definitely stepped it up and tried to top ourselves for Season 2.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that you’re a writer, but in addition to that, you’re also an entrepreneur and businessman. In this day and age, within this industry in particular, how important is it for someone to diversify themselves in as many different avenues as possible?
Maldonado: I think it’s very important to have multiple streams of income. Stemming from what your talent is or natural gift is, like acting is mine, everything kind of revolves around that. From my music company, Get It Done Records, where we do music for TV and film placements, where that music is incorporated in film and television shows such as “Ray Donovan,” “House of Lies,” and “Acts of Violence” with Bruce Willis. To my kids foundation (Demo Nerds) where I teach acting and film to foster kids. Then there is my production company (Only Son Productions) where we’re producing, creating projects, and developing different shows for networks. And also, lastly, my app, Everybody Digital, where we’re creating short films and short-form platforms, and we’re creating original content, but also helping and adding more exposure to new filmmakers. All of these businesses and all of these things that I’m doing all revolve around acting, because acting is the sun and it energizes from there. Being able to diversify in the things that can bring in income for an actor… there’s seasons to all of this stuff… it gives you a little more room, a little more freedom, to be able to do the things you want rather than doing things you have to do to survive and pay your bills.

Maldonado with Tracy Morgan in “The Last O.G.”

TrunkSpace: And when you’re focused on just acting, you really hand over a big portion of your control because so much of your career fate winds up in the hands of casting directors, producers and executives.
Maldonado: Yes! I think that my biggest tip for all the actors that I run across that will ask the question is that you have to really look at yourself as a small business rather than a career. Acting is not a career, acting is a small business, being that you must invest in yourself, you must self-market and self-promote. You must work extra hours. That sounds closer to a small business rather than a career. In most careers you go work the eight hours and then you go home. You can leave it in the office. But in the small business, you’re working 20 hours out of the day and you’re constantly thinking how to elevate. As you continue to grow your small business, these studios or corporations begin to invest in you, so it’s your job as a small business to build your company up and build your brand enough that it can add the attention of these corporations and they feel confident in that art. “I request your services.” And that’s how I like to attack things and it just feels a little more direct and I have a clear target, rather than, I find a lot of actors just kind of throw a bunch stuff against the wall and hope it sticks.

TrunkSpace: So within those various creative and entrepreneurial avenues, does each one give you something different? Does your creative brain get something out of writing that it doesn’t from acting alone?
Maldonado: It’s all creative. I think my true gift is being able to create. My true love is that. It’s all different parts of the brain – in acting, in creating something that was on some paper or somebody’s idea, creating the actual person, and then there’s creating an entire world when it comes to writing. And then on the director’s side, being able to take those elements from the acting and the writing and be able to actually create a world visually. All these things stem from creating, and I find joy in that. And that’s the common denominator to everything that I do. So it all depends. It’s kind of like eating. It all depends if I feel like having a hamburger or a taco or Chinese. That’s how I feel about when it comes to being an artist with all the things that I do.

Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios/Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter/Groomer: Bethany Garita

TrunkSpace: Do the parts of the brain ever crossover? When you’re writing, do you find yourself acting out a scene to see if it’s going to work?
Maldonado: Of course. Every time that I write I always envision the scene. I kind of see and I kind of act it out inside of my head. I play it out as clear as possible. That’s usually how I write. I write from a place of me really seeing it. I think that’s something that I really key in on when I’m writing, is that I really see everything. When I’m writing, I see the world, and that’s the best way for me to really execute it on paper, is that I really paint and kind of feel it. It’s just like in acting when it comes to auditioning. When you’re fully in the role, you have to create the world to really get the essence of what you’re feeling because the same thing you may say in a library may not have the same type of texture as it would as you’re saying it in an alley at two o’clock in the morning. So if you create these worlds, you can get that same type of feeling. And that’s what I do for writing. I kind of create the worlds, put myself in it, and then all of the words of the dialogue and the descriptions just fall right out.

TrunkSpace: Sounds like you have a director’s eye with everything you work on.
Maldonado: I call it “Inception.” That’s how I like to describe it, where I really put myself into this world and once I’m in there I can really dive in, whether it’s on the acting side, or it’s on the writing side, or it’s on the directing side – all those things. I like to try to put myself in “Inception” mode and see and really be in it.

TrunkSpace: We saw you refer to your new movie “SuperFly” as a remix rather than a remake. The original film has left such an impact, did you think it was important that this new version not be a straight remake and that it attempt to say something that the original did not?
Maldonado: I definitely think it was better for a remix because the original has had such a lasting affect on the culture of black cinema. I think if we tried to do it beat by beat, we couldn’t do it justice. And respecting, rather, the legend that “SuperFly” is, and being able to just branch off of it more than stand on the shoulders of the giant that “SuperFly” was and is, I think that was the best way and best angle to attack this particular project.

TrunkSpace: And what it could do is create it’s own audience, but then inspire those same people to go back and watch the original.
Maldonado: Exactly. It’s not in competition with the original. A lot of times remakes come in competition with the original and sometimes that can be difficult for all of the original fans of that particular project to kind of get over. But if you take it to another level, and again, just put a remix on it and make it inspired by, rather than beat by beat, I think you have a better shot at really satisfying both audiences – your new viewers and the people from the original.

“SuperFly” opens in theaters today.

Season 2 of “The Last O.G.” is currently in production.

For more information on Everybody Digital and to download the app, visit here.

Featured Image Credits
Photographer: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios
Wardrobe Stylist: Daralyn Carter
Groomer: Bethany Garita

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Sit and Spin

The Young Mothers’ Jazz Oppression

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Song Title: “Jazz Oppression”

From The Album: Morose (art pictured left)

Single Sentence Singles Review: With a beginning that feels as if it started out as a jam session that went off the rails, “Jazz Oppression” stuffs as many genres into a two minute span as possible, playing out like a Rage Against the Machine/Mr. Bungle stew with plenty of original flavor packed into each bite.

Beyond The Track: The Young Mothers will drop Morose on June 22 via Self Sabotage Records. For upcoming tour dates click here.

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Deep Focus

The Spear Sisters

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with the writing/directing duo – and twin sisters – Kailey and Sam Spear about their new short film “CC,” whether or not they have super powers, and why one of them is haunted by a “Supernatural” curse.

TrunkSpace: You both shared writing and directorial duties on your new short film. When you go into a project, do you have a clear understanding of who will be focused on what or is it more fluid? How do you ensure that you don’t veer into each other’s creative lane?
The Spear Sisters: It is definitely more of a fluid process. We don’t have specific jobs to stick to that we assign to each of us. Rather, we will float back and forth between covering different pieces of what needs to be done. For example, when we are writing we don’t start by saying, “Okay, you take structure, I’ll take dialogue.” Nor do we sit side by side and write everything together line by line. We talk about what we want to do with the script, the ideas for the characters, plot, tone, etc, and then go off and write scenes separately – sometimes in a different room, sometimes across the table from each other. We send the script back and forth, writing new material and revising the pieces we have received from the other. We discuss new ideas or characters that arise as we go so that we are always on the same page with what is being added to the story. When we come to the time where we have a script that we are both happy reading all the way through without feeling any bumps or irks, then we know it is good to go.

It is similar for directing. We float back and forth between being in different places; one behind the monitor giving notes to the camera and one closer to the actors. If there are a few actors in a scene, we might divide and conquer so that each actor will be talking about the scene with us separately, but at the same time. If we see an adjustment that could be made, there are many times where we don’t have to talk to each other about it, we just give each other a look to see which one of us is going to go and deliver the adjustment.

We are lucky that we always have a unified idea of where we want to go with the project. We can use our two different minds to get us there. We trust that even if we’re trying out different ways to get there, the desired outcome will be the same. We have differences of opinion, absolutely. We bring different ideas to the table. But we have always been good at talking them through and determining which direction is best for the project. This can be in any part of the process: writing, directing, editing, etc. Think of it like this: When traveling, we both decide on the town we would like to visit. We decide that we would like the trip there to be fun. We both go out and find different roads of how to get there. Then we take a look at the roads that each of us has found and decide which one is the best one to take. We might choose to take Kailey’s road because, although Sam’s may take us down a nice winding road by the ocean, Kailey’s takes us past the world’s biggest squirrels. So far we have been cruising down the same creative lane. We just make sure that the lane is big enough to fit the two of us.

TrunkSpace: Would you say that you both share a similar creative POV? And if you don’t, where do you venture away from each other?
The Spear Sisters: We do share similar sensibilities, yes. That might come from growing up together and having many of the same influences.

We have many twin friends, and it is not always that case that those creative sensibilities are shared. We remember growing up and having people urge us to take different paths, to try aiming for different careers. “You both want to take the film class in high school? Why don’t one of you take dance?” But we both wanted to take film, so we did. We didn’t choose to go into film because one of us wanted to and the other followed. We both happened to be drawn to the same thing. We did not want to give up our dream just because we had a twin sister who happened to want to do it too. It is a similar case with the types of stories we are drawn to and the vision we have to bring them to screen. We happen to be drawn to similar stories and come at them with similar ideas of how we would like them handled.

Unless we are actively trying to throw wild ideas into the pot as a creative exercise, there are not many times when we dramatically venture away from a similar creative POV. Of course, we bring different ideas of how to tackle the project (we need a new character here, this needs to be darker, this line is too cheesy, this would be better in a lower angle, we should leave more breathing space in this edit, etc), but we are playing in the same realm.

TrunkSpace: What do you hope “CC” says about who you are as directors, not only to a general audience, but to those people within the industry looking for the next generation of writer/directors to spearhead future projects?
The Spear Sisters: “Spearhead.” (Laughter) Love how perfect that word in context!

We hope that this film will show that, no matter how much time and money we are given, we are dedicated to giving it our all in order to bring a story to screen that delivers dynamic characters, engaging visuals and thought provoking questions that carry beyond the film itself. We want people going to see a Spear Sisters film to know and expect that the film they will be watching has been crafted with intention and care. There will never be a Spear Sisters film made where every aspect from casting, to lighting, to shots, to sound, to color, etc, has not been meticulously thought out in order to better serve the story.

We are also hoping that this film helps communicate our interest in, and our ability to do, genre films. Often women are pigeonholed into drama. Now, don’t get us wrong, there are many dramas that we are interested in doing! But where we really have the most fun is telling a story that has something extra to play with in terms of story world and tone: a supernatural murder mystery set in a 1920 asylum, a dramatic thriller involving a ghost of a murdered king, a swashbuckling steampunk action/adventure, an AI nanny robot mystery. Genre films give such a great opportunity to explore important questions about the human experience from different angles. They have the ability to not only let us have fun being creative as storytellers, but to push the audience to expand their creative minds as well. We would love “CC” to remind people that there are many female directors like ourselves out here who would love to, let’s say, take on a “Black Mirror” episode or a “Star Wars” film. The Spear Sisters would love to spearhead a “Star Wars” film. Young Leia film, we’re lookin’ at you.

TrunkSpace: Is there a concern that you will be pigeonholed as a creative duo as opposed to individual creators? Do you see a day when you’re directing projects separate from each other?
The Spear Sisters: We are not worried about being established as a creative duo. We plan to continue co-writing and co-directing. We realized a long time ago that we can take advantage of the fact that we happen to share similar creative sensibilities and are both passionate about making films. We want to do the same types of projects and joining forces just makes us stronger when it comes to making them happen. Right now, as we begin our careers, it is beneficial for people get to know us as a creative duo as that is what we foresee continuing into the future.

Now, we don’t know what the future holds. There may be a time where we both have projects we want to do that the other has no interest in. If that happens, we will go ahead and do our separate films. If people get thrown by that, well, it means The Spear Sisters are established enough for people to get thrown when we do something different. So I think we’ll manage! Right now though, we can’t see the day where we would be directing projects separately from each other. We have too many shared projects we still want to get on screen!

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
The Spear Sisters: Honestly? That we got it made!

Every film has its challenges in getting onto the screen and this one had some unique ones for sure. “CC” was made through the Crazy8s film competition in Vancouver. The winners of the competition are given eight days and $1000 to make a film. But there were several competitive phases to get through before even getting to the challenge of making the film. First, we sent a video pitch for “CC” alongside over 200 pitches from other filmmakers wishing to make a Crazy8s film. We were narrowed down to a group of 42 to come in and pitch our films to a panel of industry professionals. We did our pitch and were narrowed down to a group of 12. These 12 wrote and submitted their scripts. Of those 12, six were selected as winners of the competition. “CC” was one of the six! So, as winners, we had eight days to start and finish our film! That’s from the start of shooting to handing in the edited film complete with sound, visual effects and color. Yep, it was tight for sure!

Which brings us to what we are second most proud of (a very close second): our freaking fantastic cast and crew! They not only worked hard to get it done in the time we were given, they made sure that every aspect was executed with intention and care. We feel incredibly lucky to have had each one of them on this film.

TrunkSpace: Time always seems like the one commodity that is lacking on a set, but did having a fixed deadline help you to stay organized and shoot exactly what you needed?
The Spear Sisters: Yes, the timeline really did make hone in and become super aware of what exactly we needed to tell this story. There was no time for anything extra. We had every shot planned out very specifically, and we used every one of them. When it came to editing (which we had an incredibly short amount of time to do), our choices were already narrowed down for us as we didn’t have any extraneous shots. We knew when a moment was going to be covered in a close-up, and that is the only way we shot that moment. We had a futuristic phone that required visual effects anytime the device was seen while it was on. We determined when exactly the phone was needed to be seen on screen, and hid it from camera anytime it was not giving us new information. That made the epic task of finishing VFX in time a little easier.

TrunkSpace: You’re also both working actresses. Do you think understanding how both sides of the camera works makes you stronger directors, particularly in getting what you need from actors through their performance?
The Spear Sisters: Yes. We came from a theatre background originally, then moved into film and TV. Coming from an acting background helps us do our work as directors for sure. We approach a project character first. Knowing what the character is going through helps inform our other choices for the film. How the camera is moving, what the color timing is, what the sound choices are, etc. They are all chosen specifically to support and enhance the character’s journey. When we are writing, reading a script, or editing, there is always a part of us that is playing the characters through as well. Making sure that we know what is important to focus on. We feel like directing is, in a way, playing all the characters at the same time.

When it comes to getting what we need from the actors, having been on their side of the camera helps us know what they are going through, what they need to help them, and what could prevent them from doing their job to the best of their ability. We know what it is like to get a confusing piece of direction, to get a page of new dialogue right before we are supposed to start shooting, or to try to settle into an emotional state when the set is loud. The more that you know about what the other person’s job requires, the more you will know on your side what you can do to help that process and get what you need.

Having worked as actors, and among fellow actors, we also understand that everyone responds to different types of direction in different ways. What might work for one might throw someone else off entirely. Some actors want you to tell them their character’s entire backstory, some just want to know where to stand and when to move. Different actors need different things from us. It is part of our job to get an understanding of what works best for each actor in order to get what we need. We like having conversations with our actors before we start shooting to get a better sense of how they like to work and how we will best work together. This can be rehearsal (we love rehearsal!) or just chatting over coffee.

Jewel Staite and Sharon Taylor in “CC”

TrunkSpace: We have an unnatural obsession with “Supernatural” around here and we couldn’t help notice that both of you have appeared on the series. Is it a bit of a rite of passage for actors from Canada to appear on that show at some point in their careers and what was that experience like for you?
The Spear Sisters: Yeah, “Supernatural” to Vancouver must be what “Dr. Who” is to London. At one point or another, if you are an actor in the city, you’ll be on the show. And what a great show to be on! We both have had so much fun working on “Supernatural.” We have both worked as actors, background performers, and in the casting room as videographers for “Supernatural.” There is such a wonderful team of fantastic folks on that production! We’d love to work on it again.

Kailey has had a fun string of characters on the show. First she played an attendee of a chastity group meeting. That was a funny scene. Then she played Beth, a research assistant who gets her throat slit by a demon. Not such a funny scene. But it involved some awesome practical effects to get that blood going. Kailey wore a prosthetic neck so that a tube of blood could be pumped up through it to pour out after the slice.

Then we both got cast as twin demons sent by Lucifer to deal with Crowley. That was great! One part involved dropping huge knives out of our sleeves in unison before going to attack Crowley. It was the first time that we were cast as twins on TV and it was a really fun scene to do.

Now, funny story about Sam’s appearances on “Supernatural.” Funny… is that the right word? You can decide. The first TV role Sam ever booked was a role for “Supernatural.” It was the role of a waitress at a diner. It was two lines, but you know, first role on TV – big deal! The scene was cut for time. The character of “waitress” was never seen. The casting director said, “Don’t worry this just means Sam can work on the show again.” So, when we booked the demon roles, there it was: the time Sam was going to make it to screen on “Supernatural.” And the scene was cut out of the final edit. Those twin demons were never seen. Sam has still never had one of her “Supernatural” characters make it to screen. (Unless you keep your eyes super sharp, you might spot her as a nun in the background of the episode “Mother’s Little Helper.”) But that means Sam still could show up as another character on the show! So, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that Sam’s “Supernatural” curse will be broken this season. Come on Season 14! Maybe they could bring back those demon twins, eh. Wouldn’t that be fun?

TrunkSpace: What is your best case scenario when it comes to your careers moving forward? Do you hope to find a balance between acting and directing? If you could write your own professional future, what would it look like?
The Spear Sisters: Absolutely. We would love to move forward keeping both acting and directing in our lives. We can’t imagine giving one of them up or doing only one of them.

We have our own projects that we would like to direct, but are also very interested in taking on adaptations or working with someone else’s existing script. Our current dream project to direct is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. This is a film that we have been wanting to do for years. Our version will keep Shakespeare’s original dialogue but set the story in our modern media-crazed world with a female Hamlet as the young royal.

We would love to see some great dynamic roles for us in the future. We love that acting gives us the opportunity to work on projects separate from each other, but we would also LOVE to join a project together playing twins. Now, not as a gimmick (as is painfully common to see when adult female twins appear on screen), but as fully developed characters that just happen to be twins. It is not something that we have seen much of and we would love to be part of bringing those characters to screen. And, while we are writing our dream future, let’s make them pirate twins!

TrunkSpace: We’ve all heard stories about the connections that twins have, but can you give us some insight into how being twins impacts your creativity? Does the one of your creative outputs inspire the other? Does having a creative twin make you a stronger creative person?
The Spear Sisters: Oh yeah, well, we come with the regular set of twin powers: we can read each other’s minds, feel what the other one feels, have our own secret language, etc. So that is useful.

(Laughter) Nah, we lie! No superpowers here, sadly.

We do think that we are lucky though. We don’t take for granted the unique situation that being twins who happen to have similar interests has put us in. We are wonderfully primed to join forces to get things done. We do think that it makes us stronger. We always have that person there to bounce ideas off of. Someone to tell those weird story ideas that pop to mind. We can bring our own ideas to the table, and build on what the other has brought. Having someone else there beside you who is equally as dedicated to making things happen is a great motivation. We give each other energy to keep going. Choosing to work together means that we are both accountable to the other, and supported by them. Having someone there who both supports you while pushing you to do the best, sometimes in that brutally honest way that only family can get away with, keeps us creating. It keeps us motivated to keep moving forward, to keep trucking ahead, even when the path ahead may be a treacherous uphill climb.

For more information on “CC” and Crazy8s, visit here.

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