With a heavy heart…

Freshmen on campus

Freshmen on campus

Leila and I were floormates at our university, where all the international freshmen stayed in the same dormitory. It feels cliché to say that she always smiled but, she did! That’s actually what I remember about her the most. The quiet smile was her natural default setting. The French accent, the Arabic music blasting from her dorm… Always soft-spoken, never overwhelming. At least with me.

The academic years went by, and those “international freshman” bonds dissolved as we all started to go our own way. Never heard from or of her again after graduation. About 10 years later, I’m in ΝYC, heading into a building for an audition. I’m standing at the lobby as the elevator arrives. Elevator doors open, out comes Leila. We stare at each other, eyes wide open, shocked smiles. We start chatting away while elevators are coming and going. I’m not running late, but I’m thinking that I should get on the next elevator because I don’t want her to feel like she’s making me late… Stupid.

Instant reflex question: “So you live in New York?”

“I do now, yes,” always with a quiet smile.

Did we even hug? Or did we just keep back-stepping and smiling in disbelief at what the doors revealed when they parted? Too unexpected to remember. I get on the elevator, doors close. Surreal. Floormates again for a few seconds. Bitterish-sweet.

It’s so painfully sad that it’s come to this. Your art lives on and your spirit will shine bright and everlasting. I honestly don’t remember if I hugged you, Leila. I hope I did. Goodbye, my friend.

New York Times: Photographer Leila Alaoui Killed in Attacks

NY Vs CY

NY Vs CY

After growing up in the small Mediterranean island of Cyprus, moving to New York proved to be quite the culture shock. If Cyprus is the small intimate Cheers bar where everybody knows your name, New York is the vast wild jungle where nobody gives a f**k who you are, as long as you stay out of the way. As part of my constant travelling back and forth between my two homelands, here are 14 of the major differences between NYC and Cyprus along with authentic corresponding pictures taken by yours truly:

1. February weather forecast: New York has blizzards. Cyprus gets chilly.

1. February weather forecast2. Bank tellers: In New York the teller sits behind a double-paned bullet-resistant glass barrier window. In Cyprus the teller sits behind a counter. That is all. A counter.

2. Bank tellers3. Bus routes: New York buses go to the East Village and West Village. Cyprus buses go to actual villages.

3. Bus routes4. Not an art project: There are bus stop signs in Cyprus, upon which routes are written in with a sharpie. These routes are permanent.

4. Not an art project5. Convenience: Motivated by the need to move as little as possible, Cypriots can actually top up the parking meter wherever they are by sending a text.

5. Convenience6. Aesthetics: Whereas NBC looks like a vibrant media establishment, the reciprocal CyBC has the feel of a minimum security prison.

6. Aesthetics7. Bad movie title translations: In Cyprus, “The Shawshank Redemption” is officially titled: “Rita Hayworth: Final Exit.” NOT A JOKE.

7. Bad movie title translations8. Subtitles for everything: Except “Giggity”.

8. Subtitles for everything9. Food identity crisis: The difference is in the taste. More often than not, it is a “nice try.”

9. Food identity crisis10. The main squares: Times Square (patting Eleftheria Square on the head): “Awww, look at you! And who’s this little whittle guy?!”

10. Commotion11. Size over Practicality: Because “Screw it, it’s cuter,” that’s why.

11. Size over Practicality12. Consumer options: I mean, personally, one mall is enough for the whole island.

12. Consumer options13. Presidential homage: They don’t say which Kennedy (JFK) and they pointlessly phonetically translated “Avenue”. Oh, and misspelled “Kennedy”.

13. Presidential homage14. Signage: The fonts are a little different, otherwise it’s the same. The. F***ing. Same. Everywhere.

14. Signage

Χλιαρό Σουτ: Η Επιρροή του Σχολιαστή στην Κυπριακή Κουλτούρα

 

Σε Ευρωπαϊκούς Δρόμους, με Διπλοκάμπινο

Πριν λίες μέρες εθώρουν το ΑΠΟΕΛ-Μπαρτσελόνα σε έναν ελληνάδικο στην Νέα Υόρκη, όϊ μόνον σαν υποστηριχτής των πορτοκαλί, αλλά τζαι για να καμαρώσω. Όσον νάναι, ήταν ΑΠΟΕΛ-Μπαρτσελόνα ρε παιδίν μου! Όσον νάναι, τζείντην ημέραν του ματς, θα εμπορούσες να ήσουν οπουδήποτε στην Λευκωσία τζαι να ισχυριστείς ότι η Μπαρτσελόνα ήταν 20 λεπτά πιο κάτω τζαι έπαιζεν μάππα. Τζαι θα είσιες δίκιο.

Που τον τζαιρόν του Γκόκιτς, του Ιωάννου τζαι του Σάμπουριτς, οι περιγραφές των σχολιαστών μας περιορίζουνται ως επι το πλείστον σε μερικές βασικές τζαι γενικές ατάκες:

  • Να η ευκαιρία!
  • Γίνονται μάχες!
  • Για να δούμε τον [ __________ ]
  • Και οι ξέφρενοι πανηγυρισμοί από τον [_______]
  • Η μπάλα πάει σε ένα χώρο που κινείται μόνο ο [ _________ ]

Το επίπεδο μιας κουλτούρας, φαίνεται που την συμπεριφορά των μέσων μαζικής ενημέρωσης. Βέβαια, μακάρι να ‘ταν μόνο οι σχολιαστές το πρόβλημα της Κυπριακής τηλεόρασης, αλλά εν έναν κομμάτι του ευρύτερου προβλήματος, τζαι μάλιστα έναν πολλά σημαντικό κομμάτι. Εν μέσα που τούτην την βολεμάρα του «Αφού εμείς έτσι εμάθαμεν να τα λαλούμεν» που δημιουργούνται τα πιό μεγάλα εμπόδια προς το δρόμο για σωστή τζαι υπεύθυνη κάλυψη αθλητικών γεγονότων, ισάξια της παρουσίας μας στον διεθνή χώρο. Τούτη η ανάρτηση έσσιει να κάμει με την αρνητική επίδραση του «παραδοσιακού σχολιασμού» στον αθλητισμό, τζαι συνεπώς στην κουλτούρα μας.

Πούλα το

Τι να πείς για τούντους Αμερικάνους; Αλλού εν εκατόν χρόνια μπροστά, αλλού εν εκατόν χρόνια πίσω. Αλλά η Αμερική εν η μάνα του μάρκετινγκ. Ξέρουν να το πουλούν. Με το που επήραν πρέφα ότι τούτον το «soccer» έσσιει πολλήν υπόθεση (ριάλια), οι Αμερικάνοι είπαν «Πρέπει να πορώσουμεν τις μάζες». Τζαι επιστρατεύσαν σχολιαστές/αναλυτές που την Αγγλία,  ο ρόλος των οποίων εν θα ήταν μόνο περιγραφικός αλλά τζαι διδακτικός. Έτσι εξελίχτηκεν τζαι το φίλαθλο κοινό της Αμερικής, τζαι αναπτυχθήκαν σαν ποδοσφαιρόφιλοι.

Eμείς είμαστε ένα περίεργο φαινόμενο, όπου οι σχολιαστές μας –εν το συζητώ- αγαπούν το ποδόσφαιρο, αλλά όταν πάσιν να σχολιάσουν μπαίνουν σε έναν «λάκκο συνήθειας» που τον οποίον εν δύσκολο να φκει κανείς. Στην Κύπρο του «if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it», εμάθαν να σχολιάζουν με τον τρόπο που τα εθωρούσαν τζαι τζείνοι όταν εμεγαλώναν, τζαι ακριβώς επειδή δεν υπήρξε καμμιά αξιοσημείωτη εξέλιξη στον χώρο του αθλητικού σχολιασμού (όπως τζαι σε πολλούς άλλους τομείς), εμείναμεν στα «Για να δούμε» τζαι στα «Γίνονται μάχες», η οποία εκατάντησεν να είναι η «break glass in case of emergency» ατάκα που λαλούν οι σχολιαστές άμαν έννεν «καθαρή» η φάση τζαι επικρατεί πολλύν μπέρδεμα/ενθουσιασμός/αδρεναλίνη για να γίνει η περιγραφή.

Βέβαια, αναπόφευκτα, τούτα πάντα θα υπάρχουν. Τζαι στα ξένα πρωταθλήματα συναντούμε χιλιοειπωμένες κλισέ ατάκες. Αλλά εμείς ως συνήθως εβολευτήκαμεν μαζί τους. Ανάμεσα στα αγριόχορτα των κλισέ, ας φυτέψουμε τζαι καμμιάν τριανταφυλλιά ρε παιδίν μου! Αλλοιώς, σαν φίλαθλος λαός, εννα καταντήσουμεν νάμστεν ένα κλισέ. Μήπως έχουμεν τίποτε να δείξουμε, κάτι που έστω να ακουμπά στο επίπεδο του Ray Hudson:

«Llorente has an absolutely impossible task to hit that first time. Well, he just threw a pint glass into a shot glass. Astonishing.» ~ Ray Hudson ύστερα που τέρμα του Llorente, Αθλέτικο Μπιλμπάο-Μάντσεστερ, Μάρτης 2012.

Οι δικοί μας ακόμα τζαι όταν πάσιν να ακουστούν conversational, πάλε κουμπωμένοι ακούνται. «Φίλε Σάββα, είμαι σίγουρος ότι…» -κανεί, κανεί, σταμάτα! Έχασες με στο «Φίλε Σάββα».

Nobody Said it Was Easy

Ο Phil Neville έκαμεν μεγάλη καριέρα στο Αγγλικό πρωτάθλημα. Αφού αφυπηρέτησεν επήεν να κάμει τζαι περιγραφή στο Μουντιάλ το ’14, στον αγώνα Αγγλία-Ιταλία. Ε, λοιπόν το BBC εδέχτηκεν πάνω που 400 παράπονα ότι η περιγραφή του ήταν μονότονη τζαι απαθής! Ο κόσμος εθίχτηκεν. Όχι για τα πράματα που ελαλούσεν, αλλά για τον τρόπο που τα ελαλούσεν! Τζαι ο άνθρωπος εδεσμεύτηκεν να βελτιωθεί.

Former England star Phil Neville has vowed to improve as a football commentator after his on-air performance was blasted as ‘boring’. Speaking on Radio 5, Neville said: “I think the biggest thing I learned is that commentary is harder than what I thought it was going to be.” ~Αγγλικός τύπος.

Αλλά ο κόσμος εθίχτηκεν επειδή έσσιει κάποιον επίπεδο, επειδή έσσιει κάποιες προσδοκίες ως προς το ήνταλως εννα παρακολουθήσει την μάππα του. Το ότι εμείς ανεχούμαστε ξανά τζαι ξανά, χρόνο με το χρόνο τις ίδιες προϊστορικές ανακυκλωμένες ατάκες (όχι μόνο στον αθλητισμό αλλά γενικά), δείχνει ότι εν έχουμεν τζαι κανένα ιδιαίτερο επίπεδο, ή καμμιάν ιδιαίτερη προσδοκία. Βολευκούμαστε με τον τρόπο που τα εσυνηθήσαμεν, τζαι ας είναι τζαι μαζοχισμός, με αποτέλεσμα η άγνοια να καταντά να είναι το «νορμάλ». Σε 15 χρόνια εννα παίζει ο Ερμής την Μπάγιερν (λέμεν…) τζαι ο δικός μας ακόμα εννάν κολλημένος στις «μάχες» τζαι τα «υποδειγματικά πλασέ» επειδή έτσι τα άκουεν όταν εμεγάλωνεν τζαι κανένας ποττέ εν τον έκατσεν χαμέ να του πει: «Ρε, αν θέλεις να διακριθείς στον τομέα σου, πρέπει να ξεχωρίσεις τον εαυτό σου που την αγέλη».

Τα Στάνταρ Μας

Αλλά ώσπου οι σχολιαστές μας βλέπουν ότι ο κόσμος δεν έσσιει τζαι καμμιά ιδιαίτερη απαίτηση, παραμένουν με τον αέραν του «Εν μάππα τα ευλοημένα! Δεν χρειάζεται να κάμουμεν effort, τον κόσμο δεν τον κόφτει ο σχολιασμός». Τζαι όπως ήταν αναμενόμενο, ο κόσμος αποδέχτηκεν τον ρόλο του Κύπριου σχολιαστή όπως ένει, τζαι όταν ακούει σχολιαστές του Αγγλικού τζαι Ισπανικού πρωταθλήματος λαλεί: «Ε, καλάν τωρά, οι Εγγλέζοι τζαι οι Σπανιόλοι σε τούτα δεν παίζουνται. Εν έχουμεν υπόθεση». Τι;! Εγινήκαμεν ο λαός του «Ίσως μπόρω να τους φτάσω αλλά βαρκούμαι να δοκιμάσω», τζαι υποσυνείδητα επαναπαυόμαστε στο ύπουλο μαξιλαράκι του «Έτσι είμαστεν οι Κυπραίοι», με αποτέλεσμα το επίπεδο του επαγγέλματος, της γλώσσας στην οποία εκτίθεται ο φίλαθλος κόσμος, τζαι συνεπώς το επίπεδο της κουλτούρας, να παραμένει τσιμεντοποιημένο στις πλέον φθαρμένες βάσεις του «Για να δούμε» τζαι του «Να η ευκαιρία», καθιστώντας ακόμα πιό μάταιη την προσδοκία να φτάσουμε μια μέρα στα επίπεδα του John Motson.

VIDEO – Cypriot commentators Vs John Motson:

Που Σκωτσέζικο Μικρόφωνο…

Θυμούμαι μια φορά εθώρουν το ΑΠΟΕΛ-Ομόνοια, τζαι είσσιεν έναν κανάλι μέσω της CYTA που το έδειχνε με Σκωτσέζο σχολιαστή ο οποίος είσιεν πολλύ σεβασμό για το Κυπριακό ποδόσφαιρο, τζαι έκαμεν αναφορά τζαι στον Ευφραίμ, για το πώς κάποιοι αγαπούν τον τζαι άλλοι μισούν τον στον συγκεκριμένο αγώνα, επειδή έβαλε τέρμα εναντίον της παλιάς του ομάδας. Ο σχολιασμός του ήταν καταπληκτικός, χαρακτηρίζοντας την όλη προσπάθεια σαν καλλιτεχνικό επίτευγμα τζαι παρομοιάζοντας το τέρμα με γλυπτό του Μπερνίνι, τζαι στο τέλος εζήτησεν τζαι φιάλη οξυγόνου:

VIDEO – Hudson on APOEL:

 

Eντάξει, οι πιο έμπειροι (ουκ ολίγοι…) εκαταλάβαν το πιλέ ότι το βίτεο εν «πειραγμένο». Ο θρύλος ο σχολιαστής Ray Hudson δεν έσσιει ιδέα ποιός εν ο Ευφραίμ τζαι ανάθθεμαν τα αν ηξέρει τίποτε για το Κυπριακό ποδόσφαιρο. Ο παίχτης στον οποίο αναφερόταν ήταν ο Riquelme της Αργεντινής μετά που ετράβησεν ένα πολλά φοβερό φάουλ. Αλλά έστω για τζείντα λία δευτερόλεπτα, τζείνον το διαφορετικό, εν ήταν αναζωογονητικό; Πιο ψυχαγωγικό; Έστω για λία δευτερόλεπτα, το βίτεο εν ήταν υποδειγματικό; Όπως το πλασέ…

Born in 2010

Being a children’s acting instructor continues to be a humbling, world-realizing and self-realizing experience. I love ‘em to bits. You get the darling angels that you wish were yours, and you get the caffeine-infused energizer bunnies where everything goes in one ear and out the other, who make you grateful for your own solitude. But here’s the realization that both the angels and the brats make you come to: You ain’t a kid no more. When I first started out teaching the 6 and 7-year-olds, I was in an ‘I got this’ frame of mind. Just think like a kid, listen to them, don’t talk down to them, treat them like adults, they are much smarter than we think, and you’ll be fine. While these principles may be true, there is a difference in energy and perspective, all stemming from the fact that while they were learning to walk for the first time and say their first words, I was on a Metro North train to White Plains for my first job interview. The fact of the matter is, each generation gap is bridged by two different realities…

Your childhood heroes are exactly that: Yours.

Maybe the kids will vaguely know Van Damme, and Ahnould, and Stallone, but they will never be appreciated as heroes. One day during the tweens class we were having a lesson about focus and composure, during which I proceeded to tell a story about Bruce Lee. At one point I paused and said: “You guys know who Bruce Lee is, right?” And silence. Tweens (9-13 years old)… Not a single word. In their eyes I saw an empty stare, their lips slightly parted, a couple shrugging off the question as they continued to gaze into the nothingness between us, while with my peripheral vision I caught Joshua turning to Ethan and whispering “Who?” To me, that’s the definition of a generation gap. The nothingness [gap] into which a child stares when you ask a question about Bruce Lee. There you go, that is a generation gap. As if refusing to accept their silence as a nail in the coffin of my childhood, I proceeded to ask once more. “Come on guys! Bruce Lee! Anyone?” I had lost this round. And it was no use insisting otherwise I would have completely lost them as well. At that moment, all I could think was: “F**k me…”

They know every word. And it’s scary.

Let’s keep it real: back in the day (I use this expression now…), Vanilla Ice was the shit. So I wanted to learn the lyrics to ‘Ice Ice Baby’ (yes, spellcheck, the second ‘Ice’ is necessary). And who didn’t?! Anyone can sing the chorus; but only the cool kids could ‘collaborate and listen’! So how did we learn the lyrics to our favorite tunes? You either buy the song (as in, the cassette, with a bunch of other Vanilla Ice songs that you don’t know and don’t care about) or stand by the radio station that would play it so you could hit the record button. Then all I needed was a paper and a pencil and… Play. Pause [scribble scribble]. Play. Pause [scribble scribble]. Play. Pause [scribble scribble]. Wait, what did he…? Ugh. Rewind. Stop. Play. Pause [scribble scribble]… You know what I’m talkin’ about! Ok, so maybe some liberties were taken during the documentation for bits that were hard to make out and interpret (‘to the extreme I look at Mike and a vandal, line up the stage and watch the champ light a candle’), but goddammit as long as it had a flow and was “sing-along-able”, I was happy! And you know that that piece of paper wasn’t going anywhere! That was 2 hours of hard labor! Straight in the drawer, safe and sound! I didn’t always know where I had stuffed the review sheet for that math test, but the lyrics to ‘Ice Ice Baby’ were in the vault! And what do the kids do now if they want to know the lyrics to a song? Any song. Google ‘ice ice baby lyrics.’ In fact I’m sorry, is your instant gratification not instant enough? Don’t exert yourselves. Just type ‘ice i’ and Google will take care of the rest. There you go… Google loves you, sweet dreams.

One summer’s day we were heading out to acting camp. I’m sitting in a bus with a few other instructors and an army of hyper chatty kid-campers. Great energy. I’m not being sarcastic, I like seeing them loud and happy, calling out to each other from across their seats, forming mini “chat groups” in different parts of the bus, the nerves of leaving home gradually giving way to the excitement of hanging out with your best friends for a week. Who are we kidding, been there… So anyway, at one point one of the girl campers walks up to the bus driver and asks if she can play a song from her iPod on the bus’ speakers. And she puts Iggy Azalea. It was barely 3 seconds in and the elated screams of acknowledgment were near window-shattering levels. Now I don’t particularly care much for Iggy; she’s what my uncle Das would refer to as “a flippin’ tart.” But a part of me was thrilled to see the collective hysteria, and how one song can have the power to bring an entire busload of kids to joyfully concur that this moment right here right now is something that we all instinctively want and should be a part of. Then Iggz starts rapping and, guess what, so did the whole bus. Let me clarify something: the lyrics to “Fancy” are fast; the kind of ‘fast’ that 10-year-old Alex Malaos would have to sit with his piece of paper and work on it a few hours a day before he’s ready to sing it on a bus; the kind of ‘fast’ that he would have to pretend to cough or look away at points where he didn’t scribble anything down because he wasn’t sure what the exact lyrics were because it was very inaudible on his Casio Walkman. These minions knew every word. Every. Word. They knew the pauses, the breaks, the background vocals. This one girl, I don’t remember her name, but every time I thought “She’s gonna lose it now, she’s gonna fumble her words, she’s gonna have to look away to recover…” she just brought it! Full of confidence, full of ‘I got this’, she knowingly (but probably ignorantly) sang about how the intended auditor of the piece “should want a bad bitch like this” and calling her crew to “trash the hotel and get drunk on the mini bar.” And as I observed the hoopla, I couldn’t help but feel confused. Is this impressive? Or is it sad?

Turn it off!

There once was a time when the teacher had to clap his/her hands twice, say “Quiet!” and the class would resume. I know; I was there. Today there’s more. After the two claps, I find myself constantly calling out: “Turn your phones off please! Put them on ‘Silent’ please! Put your phones away please!” Which begs the question: Why does an 8-year-old have a cell phone? Is it live-tweeting its classroom experience? Is it setting a reminder in its Outlook calendar about getting ice cream after ballet class? I get it. The parents want to be able to find their children, they want to be able to communicate with their children in case of emergency, they want access. Again, I get it. I’m not going to get preachy in the form of “These kids today and their phones…” Truth is, I would also feel like I would breathe much easier if my kid had a phone handy to call if needed. But in the days of two-claps-and-“Quiet!”, our relationship with our parents was based on trust. Our parents trusted us to be responsible enough to let them know where we were; to be resourceful and forthcoming and find a way to get to a telephone and call them to come pick us up or to just “report back to base.” We didn’t have the convenience of technology, and I’m not saying that the convenience of technology is bad. It’s actually great! But don’t allow it to compromise who you are. Convenience makes you lazy. And if you’re lazy, you’re unreliable. And if you’re unreliable, you can’t be trusted. I just hate to see a child feeling helpless without a cell phone. I already see that in adults. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry I didn’t contact you, my battery died, I’m so sorry, I’m lost without it!” No you’re not! We got in touch with our parents just fine, and we were 8 years old! It’s a shame to have your integrity and your credibility being dependent on a device.

Now I could go on a rant about how it’s also a two-way street. About how parents monitoring and GPSing their kids is wrong because it builds up a subconscious lack of trust, and it doesn’t allow the kids to experience exploring and discovering “secret hiding places” and to have a sense of their own social world where their parents don’t need to constantly be butting into. But I’m not a parent… Looking back, I’m actually amazed by how much trust my parents showed me as a child, especially during the summer. Sure, there were the few days of drama where they would drive around the neighborhood frantically looking for me and giving me a good earful while I sulked at the back of the car. But for the most part, I was gone all day, coming back home to eat and then setting out again on my bicycle; arriving back later in the evening, sweaty, filthy, maybe with the odd scrape and bruise. And as she would hear me come in, my mom would just call out to me from the living room: “Shower!”

So would I want to know where my kid is every moment it’s gone from the house? Would I want to “tag it”, as it were? I must admit, I would. I would like to know. Maybe not what it’s doing, but I would like to know where. Then again, I guess that’s how it starts… Alas, I digress.

In retrospect, she wasn’t the sturdiest/safest of swings. But she was a true and iconic childhood companion.

Deal with it

When I asked darling little Carly what year was she born, she responded: “2010.” Instinctively, or rather, a force of habit combined with lack of experience in this sort of dialogue exchange, a part of me wondered if she didn’t understand the question. Or maybe I didn’t pose the question clear enough and I should break it down to her more coherently. Many times children don’t have the social maturity to say “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, could you repeat the question please?” and they just tend to blurt out any response that pops in their head. 2010… Awww, bless her, she didn’t get it… I paused for a quick moment to rephrase the question, and at the same time, a part of me was doing the math and was trying to make me realize that the response does actually make sense. I took a breath to repeat the question, and I suddenly caught myself and halted at the realization: The question was clear. She understood it. Her response was correct. All this happened within barely two seconds. Carly is 4 years old and therefore she was, in fact, born in 2010. Let’s just let that settle for a moment. 2010…We good? Ok, moving on. I was born in 1980. If you start to do the mathematical comparisons (and we all have at some point), you can just go on forever. Carly is 4, and I’m 30 years older than her. To put it into perspective for myself, that’s like me being 4 years old, and meeting someone who was born in 1950. No more math. The 80s aren’t around the corner anymore. Neither are the 90s. There used to be a time when people were either around the same age as you, or much older than you. That has shifted. And the kids remind you of that every day. You have to start getting used to the fact that 2010 is actually a year of birth. For millions! As is every year. And you just shake that off and keep walking.

Represent!

At the end of the day, what I think about the younger generation probably doesn’t differ too much from what adults thought of my generation back when it was still “the younger” one. These are facts of social evolution. There will always be something to grunt over about “these kids” in any era. And I suppose “our times” were always the best, so we feel sorry for the generation which is not of our time because we think that they don’t know what they’re missing. But we’re all born into a norm, so I guess this is the norm that Carly has been born into. Being born in a world of internet, google, cellphones, Facebook, instant information, instant messaging, instant downloading, instant everything; this is normal to her. She hasn’t lived in a world without these things. As much as the knowledge of this hurts us a little and causes an internal sigh of nostalgia, these are Carly’s times. Hopefully she’ll make the best of them. Meanwhile, through the kids I teach, I learn to stand proud for my 80s; to start appreciating more the things that they missed out on. Not just values and principles. Everything.

I like to think that each 80s child proudly carries a fanny pack full of memories, as beautiful as Patricia McPherson when she was on Knight Rider (yeah I said it!), and as common as that one kid in every class whose dad drove a car with electric windows (sweet!). I mean playing ball in the street and having to pause every 5 minutes to let a car pass through… By the power of Greyskull, that was fun! Until the ball would go flying onto someone’s roof, in which case, ker-plank!, game over. Today’s kids may argue that the simplicity of it all sounds as plain and boring as an Alex P. Keaton sweater vest, but there’s two sides to every cassette. We knew where to get an adrenalin rush. I think we must have knocked on at least a hundred doors and scrammed without getting caught. I love it when a plan comes together! And while we’re on the subject of pranking, slide that rotary phone over and strategically place your hand over the handset to make your voice sound deeper, because the shit’s about to get real. I admit, I’ve lost my marbles. Specifically, the yellow ones, the blue ones, the yellow-blue-red ones, and two solid monochrome white ones; you know, the rare ones. I remember rolling those china boulders between my fingers… A hobby and an intense competition; two times the fun, wrapped up and rolled into one! I mean what is this, the Wuzzles??! Yeap, those were the days. We can share fraggle rockin’ memories forever, but it gets to a point where, in the words of Johnny Logan: “What do you say when words are not enough?” You don’t. You own it, you cherish it, and you hope Carly’s generation has as much fun as you did.

[MacGuyver theme music]

Coping With Premature Celebration

 

Alcohol commercials can always be very fun and creative. It’s interesting to see the advertising restrictions that exist within each commercial culture, and taking on the challenge to creatively navigate around them.

Cyprus has very limited restrictions. I remember a Carlsberg beer ad in the early 90’s, which showed a blonde model consuming the beverage, with the tagline “The blonde in your life” recited smoothly by a deep Barry White-esque voice, implying that the beer is a hot blonde due to its light-colored hue (‘beer’ is a female word in the Greek language). It probably sounded classier than “Grab a blonde”, so they went with it. Or rather, they got away with it.

In the U.S., several broadcast networks continue to stick to a long-expired portion of the Television Code that prohibited showing alcohol being consumed. Thus you will hardly ever see a U.S. beer commercial where someone is actually drinking the advertised beverage.

Australia also has its own idiosyncrasies when it comes to advertising alcohol and I learned that the hard way. Back in 2011, I had auditioned for a commercial for an Australian rum named Bundaberg. Considered one of Australia’s most popular beverage brands, Bundaberg was a crowd favorite and this ad campaign was geared to be something really special. They went big! They brought in Director of the Year Tom Kuntz to direct the spot, fresh out of his successful run with the ever-popular Old Spice campaign (“Hello ladies. Look at your man. Now back at me!”). They were holding auditions for the lead character in the U.S. as well as Australia, with Paramount Studios in Hollywood set as the shooting location. Well guess what… I booked it. It was the first TV gig I had ever booked in my life. I called up a couple of my closest friends, tearing up in disbelief, not fully realizing what was going on.

Long segment short, it was a blast! Great crew, fun shoot, there were cranes, and green screens, and water fountains, and music… A week later I was on the plane back to New York, missing the streets of Manhattan on one hand, but feeling like I was in a dream that I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up from yet on the other. In fact (and I kid you not!), a small part of me was thinking “This is too good to be true; there’s no way this is happening. It’s just too good. Something’s gonna happen to me before this commercial comes out and I’m never gonna see it. I’m gonna die before this commercial comes out.” Well, lo and behold, I lived to see the day! Three months after coming back from LA, I see a post on my Facebook timeline saying that the ad is out, with “Alex Malaos” tagged alongside it. And it looked super!

I was getting calls and messages left and right telling me how “effin’ awesome” this video was. Coincidentally, my mother was in New York visiting me from Cyprus, so she was right in the middle of all the hoopla, and it was a great feeling having her around to see me catching a break and to witness first-hand that “things” can actually happen!

The YouTube hits were (again, I kid you not!) literally growing by the hundreds of thousands every day. It was at a hundred thousand when it was first posted, and by the end of the week it was on its way to a million. And the next day, it just… stopped. The view counter just halted at around the 700K mark, and it just wouldn’t move. I thought nothing of it. The next day nothing had really changed. The buzz had sort of “given up.” Before I knew it, the video was removed from Bundaberg’s YouTube channel. Guess what: They pulled it off the air!

There was a controversy surrounding the content of the ad, and it went all the way up to Australia’s Advertising Review Board. According to the archives (http://www.alcoholadreview.com.au/key-concerns/alcohol-advertising-ten-shockers/bundaberg-five/) the ad depicted the environment changing dramatically in the presence of the drink, from a boring bar to a glamorous, luxurious world filled with gold, fountains, and women. This constituted a breach of Australia’s Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code provisions which state that (and I kid you not!): alcohol advertisements must not link alcohol beverages to a significant change in mood or environment. The review board determined that the advertisement contained the message that the presence of the product was a cause of the significant change in mood or environment, and Bundaberg removed the advertisement from its website and television (though it was –and is- still accessible through other online channels).

Somehow I knew; I had a feeling. It was too good to be true. It’s a harsh ending, but you learn from it, and get over it. Thus we have, the learning points:

Much like in all aspects of life, you can’t dwell on the “what ifs”

You have no idea how many people have said to me “Oh man, if that rum commercial was in America, you would have been golden!!!!” or “Was that only for Australia? Can’t they play it anywhere else? What a shame!” Yes, it’s only for Australia, and yes it would have been “pretty sweet” if it aired in America. I don’t know what kind of an impact it would have had on my career if the character’s mood in the commercial had changed just enough for it not to be deemed “significant,” and so everybody could get on with their lives. It’s ok to occasionally wonder, but don’t get hung up on it. Ironically, in a profession where it’s normal to hear a lot of ‘No’s,’ you kinda learn to suck it up and move on, even after you’ve heard a ‘Yes.’ On that note…

Even once the fat lady sings, you just never know…

I’ve been in commercials where my scene was cut out from the final cut. I’ve been in commercials where I showed up on set but they ended up revising the script and deciding not to use me at all. I’ve been in commercials that were shot and just never aired (does that count as “being in a commercial”? If a tree falls in an empty forest..?). And I’ve been in commercials that were shot, aired, I’m in the final cut, aaaaaand pulled! Commercials are unpredictable. You don’t really know when to celebrate because, in a way, you’re not really sure if you should. You celebrate in doses, like a video game where you move step by step, unlocking an achievement every time. In commercials, assurance comes in installments, and once you’ve been in the industry for a while, you become accustomed to keeping it modest with the celebrations until you’ve unlocked the next achievement. And on that note…

Enjoy the moment

My buddy Charles was trying to convince me to start watching the series Lost. When I explained to him that it sounded intriguing but not really my thing, in addition to the fact that I had heard many disappointing things about the seemingly-inconclusive finale, he frustratingly closed his eyes and said “Alex! Don’t let the destination ruin the journey!” Most fitting. If you get the chance to work on a commercial, to work with a professional crew, to prove to a director that he was right to hire you… If you get the chance to “do your thing”… Take it! Enjoy it. Much like life itself, who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, who knows what kind of plans “the execs upstairs” have in store for you? What you have is now. And oh how sweet it is to be on set; to earn that! Don’t just act with the mentality of “I hope this turns out to be a cool commercial.” This commercial may not even air! Or it may be cool without you! How about “I hope this turns out to be a productive experience”? Be professional with yourself and with people around you, lay the groundwork for the next time you get to audition for the same director or get to be in a scene with those same actors. Make it a fun journey. And then on to the next one.

Cypriot and Greek Community Theater in NYC

 

I’ve been doing Greek community theater in NYC for many years. Much like any other workplace (artistic or not), it has its highs and lows. Great memories, fun shows, awkward shows, a slew of anecdotes from “that one time when…”, friendships, rows, gossip, politics… All these put together in a made-in-Greece melting pot, comprise the theatrical equivalent of the indomitable Gaulish village where Asterix, Obelix and the gang thrived and lived merrily. The Greek theater community in NYC is, in fact, comprised of many different memorable characters.

This is what my years with Greek and Cypriot theater organizations in NYC have taught me: Community theater has as much potential, as it has disorganization. And believe me, there is a loooooot of potential.

Grass Roots

The community is relatively small, and therefore, people tend to think small on the administrative side. Marketing efforts are very basic. If you’re putting up a show, don’t expect a well-thought-out strategic promotional campaign. The strategy is: talk (and the Greeks are born strategists). Talk about it, tell your friends, tell your co-workers. Push, hustle, pound the sidewalk! Beyond printing postcards and sending an unimaginative email blast to a feebly-updated 40-year-old contact list… you’re on your own.

Willingness is a usually unfair credential…

…but it’s enough to appoint people in certain positions. The person who is in charge of the press releases isn’t always the most gifted writer but, he/she is “the one that handles that.” The person who is in charge of online promotions isn’t the most tech savvy or digitally creative person but hey, “I’ve seen my 13-year-old niece do it, so it can’t be that difficult. Now, how do I ‘paste’ something..?”

If you want to buy a spotlight to set it by the stage, you have to look for the theater’s electrician. He’s never around because he doesn’t need to be. He just happens to know more about wires and equipment than everybody else, so you have to check with him. Then ask the treasurer if there’s money in the budget for a new spotlight. In some cases, the electrician is also the treasurer.

The quality of the show itself is dependent on the artists. Which is why the shows are normally top-notch and well-presented. But for the most part, administrative positions are volunteer-based. There is no interview process or assessment of skills. Step 1, you get involved; step 2, you fall into a position.

The “Cheers” effect

You wanna go where everybody knows your name… That’s community theater. At the end of the day, there are no strangers. When you swing the door open, you’re not greeted with a “Hello! Can I help you?” You’re greeted with a “Ωωωω!! Καλώς τον ψηλό!! Πασ’ στην ώρα, μόλις έβαλα πάνω τον καφέ!” You don’t have to know what it means, that’s what makes it special…

They are not the best at running an organization, but they like having company. They value groups of people collectively getting together in good spirit, no stress, no hassle. And who doesn’t? After a long anxiety-filled day in the City, who doesn’t want to go somewhere where they can be treated like a friend, like someone with a name? The Greek laissez-faire mentality interferes with many things, and that is both great and frustrating. They will do the required minimum and set the bar at “This’ll do.” No stress, no hassle. But it makes you wonder if they’re curious to know what’s on the other side of the fence, if they pushed themselves just a little to go that extra mile.

Alex Malaos on Cypriot and Greek community theater

The English supertitles above the stage seldom do justice to the Greek wordplay spoken on the stage.

It keeps the flame burning

When I was going through some relationship issues, my cousin told me: “Well, maybe you guys are forgetting those feelings that you once had for each other. You can’t expect that flame to burn on forever on its own. You have to work at it! Go back to those times when you first started going out with her and everything was fresh and new. Remember how you felt back then? Refresh that! You have to remind yourselves why you love each other.”

The struggle to survive in NYC, can make you lose sight of your dreams. Breaking through in acting is tough, it’s tiring, it’s full of disappointment and it makes you question if you were ever any good in the first place (I could post separately on this topic, but sadly, there have already been one too many such blogs/articles). Essentially, the struggle makes you forget those feelings of why you love [insert artistic profession] so much.

Greek community theater is a blessing in disguise. Sure, I didn’t come all the way from Cyprus to do Greek shows. But on my way to pursuing the dream towards bigger and better, Greek theater gave me the opportunity to hone my craft, it allowed me to keep on being creative, to experiment, to try different things, new things! I’ve had the good fortune of participating in community shows whose quality and production value was even better than many off-Broadway plays.

Thousands of other actors with limited resources and a not yet strong enough résumé who don’t speak a foreign language don’t have this opportunity. They can’t try out for city-funded performances which give them the freedom to create and develop their work extensively. They may have to settle for low (or non)-paying experimental projects with limited runs in small spaces, shoestring budgets and two-drink minimums. I suppose that is the hardened gritty New York way to rise to the top. But then again, consider that the Hellenic Cultural Center of the Archdiocese in Astoria has two conference rooms, a fully equipped 200-seat theater, full dressing rooms and a kitchen! The truth is, I wouldn’t have creative access to this, if I didn’t speak Greek.

Community theater has helped me remind myself of why I love doing this so much. It has, in fact helped “keep the flame burning.” At a time when the rejection of the city had started to become unbearable, I step on the stage, and I feel the energy from the parquet floor, the warmth of the spotlights, the breath of the audience, and I think to myself “Oh yeah. That’s why I do this.”

It’s whatever you want it to be

Again, I didn’t come all the way from Cyprus to do Greek shows. For me, community theater was just a stepping stone (and a solid one at that), a way of staying involved and “keeping my head in the game” while I pursued bigger opportunities in NYC. That’s not right or wrong. It’s just a personal choice; it’s what felt right to Alex Malaos. Others might find themselves immersed in the scripts written in their mother tongue, enthralled by the revival of the ancient greats or just conveniently snug in the now familiar troubles-are-all-the-same environment, and decide that community theater is the way to go. And that’s great too!

So whatever you decide to make of it, make sure you give it your all. When you’re part of something that’s culturally unique, you’re part of a family. Community theater is a huge learning experience. And much like any other family, it’s by no means the best, it can be great one time and fully dysfunctional the next; but it’s what you got. Work with it.

Kids: Natural improvisers.

The great comedian W.C. Fields once said “Never work with animals or children.” I strongly agree!

The 6-12 year-olds are theatrically immature. They don’t treat their scripts with sacred reverence; they underestimate stage chemistry; they lack comedic timing, they lack dramatic timing; they lack timing… They have minimal spatial awareness, they make eye-contact with the floor, the ceiling, the wall, a moth… anything but their scene partner. Giving them a direction to follow is like playing the lottery – you know you won’t hit the jackpot, but deep down you’re hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Alex Malaos directing a children's theater play

“Mr. Alex, I forgot my script. Do I need it?”

They may forget their lines, the blocking may be –to say the least- “off” at times, many meaningful words may be directed toward the thin air, but at the end of the day, they are being themselves; they are being their quirky, nervous, sweet selves. It’s funny how one of the most important lessons in acting is be comfortable with yourself. The children aren’t self-conscious about delivering their lines with conviction, they aren’t worried if their “good side” is facing the audience, they aren’t concerned about diction and projection…

And that’s what I like the most about teaching improvisation to the kids. My objective is to not let their fears develop into insecurities. Nip it in the bud, drama-style, as it were.

I always tell them: “Don’t try to be funny, as long as you’re truthful. Truth is entertaining. Concentrate! Wherever you are, be there!” And they’re there, in the moment, exposed to the energy of the audience and heat of the spotlights. They react organically; every spontaneous move and adorable awkwardness is clear in their eyes and body language.

And sometimes, just sometimes, within all the nervousness and childlike innocence, the stars will be aligned and a truly sincere and heartfelt moment -which is worth every bit of tremble in their voice and look of loss in their eyes- will emerge on stage for everyone to admire and marvel at. Jackpot.

Improv Vs Standup: The differences that make them alike.

 

I learned many of the most valuable life lessons and acting lessons through studying improvisation. The way you “choose your comedy” is very indicative of your character. During my fledgling improv days at the Upright Citizens Brigade, I remember feeding off my teammates. There’s a huge comfort factor in knowing that you’re not the only one on that stage who isn’t sure about “where this is going.” There’s something very innocent and very pure about it; something that can almost be traced back to one’s childhood (well, to Alex Malaos’ childhood anyway), in the form of the age-old compromise: “You go first. I don’t wanna go first! Ok we both go! I’ll go if you come with me.” A good improv team is like a solid siblinghood (oh thank you spellcheck, I thought I was gonna have to fight you on that one).

A few years ago at a get-together, I met a standup comedian. Very nice guy, if I remembered his name I would give him a shout-out. I professed my sincere admiration for what he did. “Man, I have so much respect for you guys! The fact that you can be on a stage, all alone, with nothing else but what you’ve prepared. I mean at least in improv I have my teammates to fall back on, we can switch it up on the spot. But you… You are brave, my friend.” In a manner that was as much complimentary as it was complementary, he replied: “Dude! I admire what you guys do!!! I mean being on stage with no plan, no set, no strategy, leaving it all to chance! Yeah, I’m alone on stage but at least I have my material to fall back on! But you…!”

Touché sir, touché… In a strange way, we acknowledged the risk level in each other’s crafts without actually experiencing it. Fast forward a couple years later, I was able to muster the courage to perform standup for the first time and just get it out of my system. I had to find out for myself. It went great, so I just kept on doing it. And I keep on doing it today.

Alex Malaos performing standup comedy.

“You got 6 minutes. Good luck.”

So what’s the verdict?! What’s harder, improv or standup? Experiencing both has strengthened my sense of respect. For both. The truth is, they both have their challenges, it’s not about which do you find more easy or more difficult; it’s about where do you feel more comfortable. Whether you’re relying on your crew or on your material, at the end of the day, in both cases, you’re performing. And when performing, it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Standup can be as unpredictable as improv; a joke that killed one evening, can suck dead air the next evening. And improv requires as much strategy in timing and beats as standup.

So whichever path you decide to follow, whether you’re delivering a pre-written joke or you’re spontaneously reacting to an audience suggestion… Say it like you mean it. Have fun! Learn from what worked and what didn’t work. No regrets. Stand by a joke that bombed, and don’t feel bad about “that scene that didn’t go anywhere.” They’re both lessons. In the one case you have to go back and revise the joke, and in the other you work on some improv exercises with your teammates to strengthen group-mind development (or just tell Kevin that his attitude lately has been affecting the dynamic of the group). Succeeding and failing in either of the two will inevitably make you stronger, because they both test you.

The most beautiful similarity I have found is in the unpredictability of both mediums. Right before an improv show or a standup show, I pace back and forth nervously. Can’t eat, can’t relax. I get the jitters. I start to wish this was a “proper” show, with a “proper” audience. Something with some scripted dialogue to ease the control freak inside me. And then I step on stage, do my bit, it goes great, I return backstage, take a breather and say to myself: “I wanna go again. I can do better. I wanna go again.”

As unpredictability goes, improv and standup are both, in fact, a great rush.