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.