Category Archives: Entertainment

Anja Ellam is truly awesome with AwesomenessTV

Growing up in Toronto, Canada, Anja Ellam always wanted to entertain people. Although she had loved being on stage, making people truly feel the emotions of a character, it wasn’t until later when she realized her passion for writing. That was a fateful decision, as she is now not only an internationally recognized actress and successful influencer, but a celebrated writer.

Ellam now has shown the world why she is one of the best. Her film The Woods that she wrote went on to receive praise at many international film festivals. She worked with Verizon’s Go90 app and has written and hosted several of their top videos. The viral video What Girls Do in Cars on DangMattSmith’s YouTube channel that she co-wrote has over 1.4 million views. Working with ArsenicTV as a writer and host for their Snapchat story gets over 500,000 views a day. There is nothing this versatile writer, actress, and influencer cannot achieve.

“I’ve had a very successful career for someone my age but I like to think that this is only the very beginning. I’m very lucky to be in the place that I am, but it’s because I work incredibly hard,” said Ellam.

Ellam’s continued work with AwesomenessTV has helped make the channel what it is. As a writer for the Hollywood department, she writes for their many segments that come out on their channel daily. Her job as a host and influencer allows her to work on a wider variety of shows for the network.

“Me being an influencer helps me connect more to our audience and see what they’re interested in at the moment, which lets me write scripts that relate to them. My online presence helps me to stay connected and stay relevant on topics that relate to AwesomenessTV and entertainment news,” she said.

Without almost twenty-thousand followers on Instagram, Ellam has an impact all over the world. While promoting AwesomenessTV using social media, she has helped the videos viewership, ranging from 100,000 to over a million views.

“Anja and I worked together on AwesomenessTV’s Hollywood team where Anja wrote scripts and pitched ideas for daily episodes. She would always come prepared and would always be willing to step up when needed. I always enjoyed working with Anja and loved that she expressed her ideas and contributed to a team atmosphere. She definitely takes direction and has a good eye for what is trending and in the news. She knows what is relatable to our audience. She is super creative and always had input for stories to write and pitch ideas for stories,” said writer, host, and producer Hunter March.

Ellam writes a lot of AwesomenessTV’s daily entertainment news segments, which are targeted at teens and young adults. She says from the moment she first started working there, she fell in love, and quickly moved up due to her talent and commitment.

“Everyone was so welcoming and the company was so rapidly growing I knew that’s where I wanted to be. They’re definitely leading the way in digital media,” said Ellam. “I like that I can be open with my ideas and that even though we’re a big company, we’re still a small company where everyone knows each other. I like that my job allows me to be creative and that we reach such a large audience.”

Ellam does a lot of test shoots, but she also often appears as the main talent for the videos, hosting shows like Third Wheel and Dream Date with Brent Rivera. Their audience is drawn in by social media followers which is why having influencers on the channel are so important.

“The first time I hosted was very nerve racking because you’re in the office with everyone around you and you don’t want to mess up or take too long. But it always runs smoothly and the crew is amazing and very reassuring,” said Ellam. “It’s a good feeling because everything we put out is positive and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m especially proud when a topic that I pick ends up with very high views because it’s something I was trusted to do and I was successful at it.”

Ellam’s followers are always eager to view her videos that she hosts or writes for Awesomeness, and she says it allows her to truly be connected with her audience.

“When I host or I’m a talent on the show I think it helps a lot because I can promote it on my social media platforms. I’m closer to our demographic and my followers are also the same demographic,” she concluded.

You can check out the Awesomeness TV channel here.

BRIAR NOLET HAS TAKEN “THE NEXT STEP”

While the entertainment industry is for the most part based around youth, it’s rare that we see someone truly grow up on camera. Ron Howard, Drew Barrymore, and a select few have come into their own and lasted in the business. In what would appear to be the most recent individual to fill this template is Canadian Briar Nolet. An artist of impressive dance and acting skills, Nolet appears on Temple Street Productions “The Next Step” about a group of young dancers. The Canadian program is equal parts astounding dance and a (fictionalized) depiction of the lives of the characters. As the youngest cast member of this program, Briar began as a member of J Troupe (the in-training group) but was so skilled that she was quickly was moved up to A Troupe and cast on the show. Throughout the several seasons of “The Next Step”, fans from across the globe have seen Briar grow from a young girl into a woman, mirroring the evolution of her acting and dance abilities. As a fan favorite, Nolet has traversed the planet with the live performances that “The Next Step” has toured with including; the UK, Australia, Europe, Canada, and many other destinations.

“The Next Step” has won many awards (Canadian Cinema Editors Award, BAFTRA, Canadian Screen Award, etc.) and received numerous nominations, but that’s not what made the show an international success. Fans from different cultures connected with the young cast members, the stories, and their struggles to pursue their dream. Frank Van Keekan (Creator of “The Next Step”) confirms that Briar was a focal point of this reaction and the show’s success. He states, “Briar Nolet burst onto the scene of The Next Step as a member of J-Troupe. J-Troupe was the junior troupe in the dance studio. We specifically designed J-Troupe to be a training ground for new actors, getting them ready to move into A-Troupe once they were old enough and if they showed enough talent. Briar was one of the few actors that made it through the ‘system’. Her dancing and acro abilities were unparalleled. We were continually gob-smacked by her performances. After a couple of seasons, we quickly had plans to grow her into one of the main cast members. As soon as she arrived there, Briar excelled, becoming one of the show’s regular cast members. During that time, and with very little effort, she grew a massive fan base and quickly became one of the stars of The Next Step. She has gone on the live tours which travel the world over. Briar is easily one of the show’s most beloved cast members and one of the show’s most in-demand characters. It’s been amazing to see how she has gone from a young J-Troupe member, to being one of the show’s stars. It’s all due to her amazing work ethic, her immense talent, and her star quality.”

Briar’s role on “The Next Step” is Richelle, a feisty and talented dancer who is singularly focused to become the greatest dancer she can. Possessing more attitude than friends, she exemplifies determination. Nolet describes, “Playing Richelle on The Next Step, really grew my skills as an actress. I have similar characteristics to Richelle; however, she does have an edge that I don’t really share with her. In saying this, it’s fun to experiment and portray emotions that are different than how I [as Briar] would react to certain things.” It is notable that one of the reasons Richelle has become such a favorite to fans of the show is for this unique personality. Richelle doesn’t fit the mold of the status quo, which many of the show’s admirers appreciate in both the character and Briar’s portrayal.

Something that Nolet does share with her character is the sacrifices which a dancer must make to pursue this passion. The life of a dancer, whether real or fictional, is one of giving up time with family and friends to hone your craft. The same cause and effect applied to Briar’s work as an actress. Richelle was perhaps communicated so well by this actress because she could completely empathize with the character.

The immense talent of Briar’s dance abilities is well documented and displayed on “The Next Step.” Pushing the limits of where dance stops and acrobatics begin, her performances on screen were often unbelievable. Briar is more than amused to share as she states, “I would say something that sets me apart from everybody else is that I have no fear. As a dancer, I will always take risks and try different things that sometimes nobody could even think was possible. It’s a shock to everyone that such a little body can do that. I also have a crazy amount of energy and determination and I think that helps separate me from other people. I am one to of course be safe but at the same time just go for things. Sometimes I honestly throw my body somewhere and hope that I find my feet. Ha. A lot of my tricks that not many people can do come from just trying the impossible. These are moves I have been doing for a long time and am very comfortable with, to the point that sometimes I don’t even have to think about it. The difficulty level is the same no matter where I do them. Obviously, on camera they can edit if I mess up a trick they can make it look like I didn’t but,  on stage you can’t do that so you’ve just gotta go for it. I get super pumped up and excited when I am doing these things, I absolutely love it.”

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Briar’s fans will be happy to know that the upcoming season of “The Next Step” shows Nolet (as Richelle) to be one of most focused upon leads for the new storyline. As Briar Nolet’s star continues to rise, admirers of her acting and dancing can be certain that this talented young woman will be pushing herself to the surprise of all who watch.

PERUMAL BRINGS A NEW SLANT TO A LONG RUNNING HIT REALITY SHOW

We’ve all spent time (maybe too much time) surfing the internet and looking at random videos. While it is admittedly a time snatcher, compared to channel surfing it’s much more expeditious. This ubiquity of videos is often used by those of us who are looking for new entertainment or as an addition to our favorite programs. You can’t deny that you have found yourself on a social media platform or YouTube going down the rabbit hole which would eventually lead to you programming your DVR, downloading the season of a show, or heading to your local theater. These videos are promotion; we know it and the producers of these videos know it. There’s a science to making such a brief production interesting enough to capture and hold our attention. Editors like Vishnu Perumal are master of this. They have an algorithm in their genetic code which allows them to create a cut that will make us follow them right down the path. Vishnu was in charge of the social media operations for “COPS” where he edited numerous promos and interviews for the four time Emmy Award nominated series.

As a decades long production, “COPS” is a guilty pleasure for many, Perumal included. As a longtime fan of the show, he admits that it was a surreal experience to be working and seeing the iconic logo and the song (everyone knows it) on his computer screen. Vishnu was tasked to cut selected scenes from each week’s episodes. His audition for the production would be the template for his role. Karen Hori (Head of Production for Langley Productions, “COPS”) was impressed by his reel (specifically on “Sexcapades”), invited Perumal to meet and spontaneously asked him to cut a quick 3-minute interview of a Police Officer narrating and explaining his process as he arrived at a domestic disturbance call. She was immediately impressed with the spot and offered Vishnu the editing position.

One might assume that “COPS” producer and show runner (Zach Ragsdale) would want sensationalized content to capture the attention of viewers. Vishnu reveals that this was not the goal. He remarks, “I would approach the edits in the promos and interviews generally the same as I would for all my other projects in that I would first and foremost focus on the story and making it the most interesting piece of content that I could possibly create. The show is primarily focused on the police officers, so each web cut had to convey the entire story in a one to two-minute sequence. The focus was on telling the story in the way it always has; the way that audiences/fans have always watched it and enjoyed it. There was a sort of template, but a template that made sense. The show was all about the cops and it was important to focus on them and their duties. We didn’t want to stray away from that formula.”

As any fan of the TV series would expect, viewing countless episodes is both a shocking and oddly amusing experience. The program depicts both the sobering and ridiculous elements that occur day to day in the careers of these public servants. The temperament of the show is carefully crafted and is a major component of why “COPS” has been so successful. The news presents these types of stories but lacks the emotional quality that “COPS” so adeptly delivers. Editing these smaller productions, Perumal needed to assimilate to this tone while viewing the uncut and raw versions of them. Creating these presentations for social media platforms gave Vishnu deeper insight as to what the public finds so enticing about the program. “I think social media has had a huge impact on the entertainment industry, allowing fans and viewers a sense of community for their favorite shows. Managing the website, Facebook group and the YouTube channel, I discovered that there are many people out there who are huge fans of the show and will genuinely interact and show their support whenever they can. Social media provides the immediate feedback that there are genuine fans out there and it keeps a show relevant. Before social media, the only way to really figure out if a show is popular was through the ratings system. But now with social media, it vocalizes the popularity of a show directly through its fans, which is beneficial in having a show run for so long.” states Perumal.

 

DAHOV AND JEREMIH BRING MUSIC FANS TOGETHER

 

The Arts are often the key to a universal experience and language among all people of the planet. While the accent of different paintings, cinema, and music may reveal their point of origin, the ability of these mediums to convey emotion and a connection with others is often beyond the words and language they might contain. It has often been said that the work of an artist is that of bringing all peoples together by conveying the emotions we all share, regardless of our background. As technology brings the world closer, the assimilation of different cultures and their artistic contributions is clearly evident and results in a decrease of noticing the differences and an increase in the appreciation of what these differences offer to the collective global experience. The Canadian percussionist/drummer/entertainer knowns simply as Dahov performed at a concert with American artist Jeremih (Jeremih Felton) exciting the crowd at the Olympia Theatre in Montreal. Jeremih is a Chicago native whose multiple high charting hits like “Birthday Sex” and “All About You” broke into the top five on the Billboard charts. His legions of fans are based in the R&B/Hip Hop world while Dahov is a solo artist known for House, EDM, and various other musical forms with which he infuses Latin and Middle Eastern rhythmic ideas. While both artists share a love of percussion from their early teens, each of them has cultivated and evolved into their own style and brand of musical entertainment. Their performance together at the Olympia Theater shows how these artists brought their fan bases together for a night of thrilling entertainment, proving that we can appreciate the differences we have while recognizing a common thread.

For his appearance in Montreal, Jeremih and his management were seeking out a Canadian artist who would both be familiar to the crowd as well as be exciting enough to create a feverish tone for the concert. Patrick Farah (owner of Sky Entertainz) was consulted and he immediately suggested Dahov. Patrick and Dahov have worked together on numerous large scale entertainment events in Canada. Farah declares, “Dahov’s unique style and looks are definitely a selling point. With such passion in what he does, he sets the bar at a complete different level from others in this business! He is also such a wonderful person and he reflects his personality in his work ethic. He is the type of musician and entertainer who creates a special bond with his audience. Rather than setting himself above the audience, Dahov has an amazing ability to pull everyone in and making them feel as if they are in an intimate party, relaxed and able to have fun.”

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(Photo courtesy of Ara Sassounian)

This event featuring Jeremih and Dahov is a template for how different artists can create an experience for an audience that is eclectic and yet relative. While Jeremih is a singer/rapper, Dahov is a percussionist who does not sing. Both artists perform with DJ’s and/or tracks and, at least in this situation, both had dancers joining them onstage. Very similar production styles but very different content. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Dahov’s ability is that he is able to entertain the audience by playing a hand percussion instrument know as a Darbuka. This middle eastern “goblet drum” is the core and essence of his one-man band (supplemented by tracks). It is truly amazing to see how this talented artist can drive a crowd (in this case, the 700-member audience that packed out the Olympia) to a literal feverish pitch. His technique and musicality is mesmerizing while his ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hand and create the excitement equal to any outdoor EDM festival is…well, jaw dropping. The synergy between the artists’ performance was a great success but was not necessarily intuitive. At a meeting prior to the performance that night, Jeremih and Dahov discussed how to approach the differences in their musical styles in order to insure a cohesive quality for the crowd. While much of Jermih’s music is more relaxed in tempo (sometimes even romantic), Dahov is known for his upbeat party vibe style. Dahov explains his approach to manifesting the appropriate vibe for the evening, “We wanted to do something different than the usual upbeat show, so I used Arabic oriental techniques. This style usually calls for you to play for belly dancers and, even though there are faster beats, we performed the slower beats using the derbake percussion because it allows for very intricate and interesting rhythmic ideas. It was a perfect match to afterwards fade with Jeremih’s first song.” Dahov readily admits that, just as the crowd was exposed to different musical influences at this performance, the percussionist/entertainer himself also gained an even greater appreciation for his fellow entertainer. He notes, “Jeremih is truly an amazing talent. It’s always educational for me to see how another artist relates to the crowd, how they design the rhythm of their show, and how the crowd reacts to what they do. Anyone who has seen Jeremih perform has seen the evidence first hand of how great he is. I knew his music but seeing him live gives me a deeper understanding of his talent. I like Hip Hop and Rap but I am more into a club house, EDM, Latin kind of music. I love the feel of the beat, the melodies, especially when I perform to these kinds of music it feels like I am actually inside the music…producing it! I like Bachata, in particular Romeo Santos. Bachata is such a relaxing type of music. I enjoy listening to it whenever and wherever. It makes me feel like I’m somewhere down south sitting on the beach and watching the ocean! Another type of Latin music that I like is reggaetón. Reggaetón is all about the party; the positive mood and tropical paradise! EDM and house artists like Calvin Harris and Tiesto are my favorites. I have seen them both perform in Las Vegas and their music is on another level! Their collaborations with other artists are perfect! The melodies and sound samples they integrate enter your ears and gets your emotions jumping. I’m hoping to come to the US and pursue my own version of the path that these artists have forged. I have proven to myself and the people of Canada that a drummer can perform by himself and command the attention of sold out crowds. Performing and communicating with American artists like Jeremih has only made my desire to become a part of the great American music and entertainment industry even more attractive…and seem more possible.”

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CLOAKED IN CONTRADICTION WITH JANE JOHNSTON

As time passes, the natural evolution of things can bring previously separated entities into close proximity and result in direct interaction. For example, in the past television was often looked upon as the less able and qualified sibling of feature films. Modern technology (streaming services, downloads, etc.) has brought about a modern golden age of TV. The shows available from the deluge of networks has given birth to productions that rival and sometimes exceed those of the silver screen. The ever increasing visibility of Hollywood A-listers on TV proves that these individuals recognize the quality of work being presented on the small screen these days. While not as obvious to the viewers, the talented men and women behind the screens are also found vacillating between feature film and television productions. Producers, directors, cinematographers, and others have embraced both mediums with respect to their quality work.  Costume designer Jane Johnston is one such respected professional. With a long list of film credits that includes: The Ghost and The Whale, Mission Impossible II, Last Cab To Darwin, and Macbeth (for which she won and AFI Award for Best Costume Design), Johnston has been vetted many times over. Like the marquee names she has worked with on feature films, Jane has lent her talents to a number of TV films as well. Whether adding to the authenticity and emotion of the story or assisting the actors to play against type and find the essence of their character, Johnston’s thumbprint is always there in every production.

Jane signed on as costume designer for 2015’s “A Deadly Adoption” without any information about the cast; she simply wanted to work with Emmy award-winning director and producer Rachel Lee Goldenberg. Having worked with Rachel before, she was certain only the most talented would be involved. “A Deadly Adoption” would afford Johnston the opportunity to work with two of Hollywood’s biggest names, Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. In contrast to what one would presume, the film is a drama. With the two leads playing against type and public expectation, Jane would need to create a look for both of them that trepidatiously went down the path of seriousness. Always approaching the character first rather than the actor, Jane notes, “I just needed to get my head into the character and not think about the actors comedic past. I dressed them as if it were any two actors playing these roles. Both of them were so great to work with. They took their roles and their jobs seriously so it was the same approach I’ve had on other films. In this case the characters that were being played by Will Ferrell and Kristin Wiig were reasonably conservative and as they were playing it ‘straight’, there wasn’t meant to be anything that alluded to the humor they are known for. This also helped to contrast to the latter part of the film where things start to go awry and the craziness begins.”

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Johnston’s process is to read the script (often multiple times) to discover who the character truly is…in much the same manner as the actors approach it. Preparing looks for the characters based on her own interpretation and conversations with the director, producer, and cinematographer, Jane finds that the fitting process with the actors often aids them in connecting to and discovering the characters. Many subtleties are taken into consideration. Jane explains, “Robert Benson (played by Ferrell) is a conservative man and it seemed to me that he came from the Midwest. He had been through some challenging times in his life and was ‘back on track’. I dressed him in classic clothing such as chinos and long sleeve button through shirts. His look didn’t change much until the later part of the film but it always remained true to his character. I think it was important to have the character look ‘straight’ particularly as it was being played by Will Ferrell and his fans will automatically have projected humor onto him. Kristen Wiig’s [role as] Sarah Benson was a little more ‘quirky’. She ran a stall at the markets and sold fresh breads and produce so I wanted her look to have that quality about it. She was also a busy mother and wife. I dressed Kristen in a few pairs of overalls and t-shirts and sneakers. She still looked cute but in a practical way. Again her look didn’t change much so it was a matter of giving the character depth and having them look believable.” Much like a game of ‘spot the difference’ anything that did not perfectly match the lifestyle and feel of these characters would take viewers immediately out of the scene and remind them that they were watching two of comedy’s biggest stars. This all meant that Johnston’s choices were highly important and ever so slight in their leanings. The film’s director, Goldenberg, proclaims, “Since both Mr. Ferrell and Ms. Wiig are arguably two of the biggest actors to star in a Marvista film, it was absolutely necessary that we have only the most talented and skilled costumer such as Jane on set. Needless to say, Jane was absolutely crucial to Marvista Entertainment as evidenced by the way that she perfectly captured the company’s brand of their films’ multi-dimensional but relatable characters. Through her impeccable costume design prowess, she became one of Marvista’s go-to department heads.”

Johnston was also brought aboard by Goldenberg for Marvista’s “Escape from Polygamy.” While this production may not have had all the instantly recognizable names of “A Deadly Adoption” the performances and the look of it resulted in overwhelming ratings. “Escape From Polygamy” was rated first in its premiere, which brought Marvista to global renown. As a result, Marvista garnered outstanding profit and saw an increase in revenue. This is the story of two young people in love who persevere in a romance in the midst of their Mormon community. The challenge for Jane was to create a look for the characters that was set in a modern polygamous compound. Sharon Bordas, EVP (Production & Development) of Marvista remarks, “I was so impressed with Jane’s professional and creative presence on set. She is resourceful and inventive. She possesses and exhibits the qualities that Marvista looks for in a costume designer: an artistic eye and the ability to find intelligent solutions, especially when working with a limited budget.”

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Utilizing high collared conservative blouses and overalls and then offsetting them with slim fitting/modern clothes and even Chuck Taylor shoes, Jane blended the traditional and contemporary to inject the struggle of the characters and their actions. When asked about the incredible ratings response to “Escape from Polygamy” and her work on this production, she reveals, “It’s definitely has a self-esteem boost to it for sure! I was very proud of my work and I received some fantastic feedback and acknowledgement from many of the actors, the producer Sharon Bordas and Rachel the director. It was my privilege to take care of the actors and their characters and to fulfill my role as costume designer.”

THE LONG JOURNEY OF TSURIA DIAZ BEGAN WITH ONE SINGLE PLAY

There are so many possible means of gaining notoriety these days. All too often there are short cuts to getting attention for your work or talent. Like a match that ignites quickly and burns out just as fast, the individuals who take this approach rarely experience an enduring career. A firm foundation provides for several levels of building. Actress Tsuria Diaz subscribes completely to this premise. Diaz has a long list of television productions to her famed career in Mexico (Rosa Diamante, Como Dice el Dicho, El Octavo Mandiamento, Me Mueves, etc.), which would not have been possible without her training in theater acting. While television and theater have distinct differences, the pressure and immediate nature of the later instills a confidence in actors from which TV and film productions benefit. One of Ms. Diaz’s most noted and acclaimed live performance roles is that of Marimar in the play Perras. The tale is as malevolent as any great Shakespearean tragedy but set in the world of an all girl’s school. Via her character, Tsuria is given the opportunity to play someone in a difficult situation that could happen in any time period but with a very present day woman’s mindset. The range with which Marimar could be presented is wide; critics, the play’s director, and her costar all agree that Diaz presented her character as both vulnerable and tough…portraying a young woman who was at times both endearing and off-putting. This was all part of the actress’s grand design to prepare for any production that would come her way…as a true professional.

Perras (Spanish for “bitches”) is the story of two young women who are expelled from their “nice” all girl school. The vastly different economic and social backgrounds of students at this school is a microcosm for overall society. The two main characters, Sofia and Marimar, are best friends. What Sofia doesn´t know is that Marimar is pregnant and the baby’s father is actually Sofia’s father. Desperate, Marimar performs an abortion by herself. Unaware of the potential risk of doing this, she pays with her own life. Perras presents the idea of unintentional betrayal by those closest to you. While searching for comfort from a society that has treated one with malice, we can sometimes make decisions that steer us towards even greater harm… and to those we care about. The subject matter of Perras might be difficult to watch but the convincing and heartfelt performances of Diaz and Jimena Sanchez (Mairmar’s best friend Sofia in Perras) is transfixing. To communicate such a dire situation in a way that connects with the audience and endears them to tough characters takes great talent and subtlety. Jimena professes, “Tsuria and I spent so much time preparing the most complicated scenes of the play but each time was as if it was the first time. She has an impressive ability to seem honest and spontaneous every single time. It’s very easy for an actor to simply learn one way that works and always deliver lines in this manner but Tsuria is always searching for something that is in the moment. When you work with her, you pay attention because just like the audience, you want to see how she is going to perform each time. Her professional way is simple, she enjoys the entire process. What for I really admire about her is how she always kept a good vibe and positive energy, even in stressful situations. In live theater there are no retakes, you must perform and persevere. When you learn to do that with such artistry, as Tsuria does, I’d have to imagine that acting on a set which gives you the opportunity to do several takes with different approaches…it gives her even more chances to impress those she works with as she did during our time together.” The bond between the two lead characters and actresses was palpable during the performances of Perras. Cultivated in over a year of work, the cast often rehearsed without any props to focus solely on the emotional content and interaction of the characters. The direction that Guillermo Rios instilled in her is something which Diaz credits to this day for her professional work on stage and TV. She notes, “Guillermo was rough on us at times to be honest but he helped me to learn and understand how to own the truth onstage. He never allowed us to ‘lie’ and this is the foundation of my acting skills. I feel very thankful to him, even though it was a hard at rehearsals. It’s as if he built this chip in my head; this inner voice that in every single audition, project, or class I’m taking tells me, ‘Slow down and see the world as she (the character) would see it.’ That fact alone was well worth all of the hard work.”

There’s not a lot that Tsuria Diaz has in common with her character Marimar but…it is acting. A fifteen-year old pregnant teenage girl who unwittingly kills herself and conceals the reasons from her best friend is a dark persona to inhabit. Diaz finds it necessary to leave the character’s emotional journey on the stage and not carry it into her everyday life. While onstage she is clear about her process stating, “The scene where Marimar explains how she did the abortion by herself and the last scene in which she is seated and singing the national anthem (because she used to sing it happy and proud but now she is dead) are particularly difficult emotionally. You literally breathe through the pain, guilt, and fear in these scenes. This is why I love acting, because you understand human nature. Without judging, just deep empathy for another human being is what you feel. Marimar died because the son she was expecting was from her best friend’s dad. She inserted a hook inside her thinking it would work, but it was despair and guilt that drove her to death. Acting allows me to inhabit the lives of these characters and learn from them. In honesty, it makes me better as a person.” An avid lover of dogs (she has rescued seven) gives a glimpse into the warmth that is underneath the surface of Tsuria Diaz in every role. Even her darker characters have an endearing vibe about them. She concedes that it is essential to every role to find that tenderness stating, “I want to achieve the best version of me as a woman, I can possibly be. To be honest, the best way of living my role as a successful actress would be helping as much as possible, indirectly or in a direct way. I have met many successful actors and business men and they all have something in common more than fame or money, they are humble. It’s a trait that is important to me. I want to achieve real empathy.

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I want to touch someone’s heart and move love or hate, hope or fear, but I always want to move them. It has to be sincere though; I hate when someone is fake, I want to keep it real, in my personal life and as my characters.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMEDY GODS APPEASED, JORDAN ROTH MOVES FORWARD

Sometimes rules aren’t fair. For example, in the world of music it is commonly accepted that songwriters actively pursue performing but in comedy it is the presumption that writers never (or rarely) participate in live comedy. The truth is that most writers take part in performing in some manner. It’s virtually impossible in comedy to write successfully without having been on the front lines and getting that immediate feedback of what plays well with a crowd and what does not. Canadian writer Jordan Roth has long been a live performer who has channeled his experiences into his writing. In addition to performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Jordan has been a highly recognizable part of the Chicago comedy community. Experience at theatres like iO (formerly the Improv Olympic), The Playground Theater, and The Annoyance, where he wrote and directed his show Live From a Studio Apartment It’s the Pathetic Loser Show, gave him the opportunity to develop his personal comedy perspective through performance, writing, and directing. While he has spent time in New York and LA, the romance of Chicago with its history of Second City and SNL alumni was the environment that allowed for Jordan’s discovery of his comic self without the omnipresence of the TV and movie industry. These days, major networks call on Roth for his talent. Taking his writing to new places, Roth has also become involved in the documentary film community with his own C-Rock as well as the documentary film anthology True New York. At heart, Jordan is a storyteller, whether it’s in front of the camera displaying his own ideas, writing them for others, or filming real life characters. Regardless of the method, he has a lot to say.

Anyone involved in comedy will tell you that it is a difficult road. The pull was undeniable for Roth. While the premise of “The Producers” might have been complex for most ten-year-olds, Jordan took to it immediately when his grandfather introduced him to it. Later it would be Conan O’Brien’s version of Late Night, Letterman, Seinfeld, Larry David, Woody Allen, and Mel Brooks who would inspire him. All of these unique voices carry a common thread of intelligence and humor tinged with absurdity, a trait also found in Roth’s style. The Chicago improv comedy scene enabled Jordan to channel his ideas into quick expression. Understanding what works and doing so quickly is a major asset to any writer and performer.

Comedy writer and actor Thomas Whittington experienced Roth’s talent up close and next to him onstage. Thomas comments, “Jordan is an ideal comedy writing partner because he can find the funny in pretty much anything. Many times I’ve watched him take a half-baked, ‘nothing’ premise and turn it into a sharp, surprising scene that makes me laugh hysterically. His sense of humor is a weird mix of cynicism and sweetness. He’s just a very gifted, very original voice. His ability to weave mistakes into the fabric of a show is amazing. So many times in improv, something unintentional happens; an actor misspeaks, or forgets something that had been established previously. If those things aren’t acknowledged by the performers, the audience starts to check out. Jordan not only acknowledges the mistakes, but he justifies them brilliantly, making his teammates look like they actually had this great idea all along. Performing with him, you feel taken care of in a way that’s rare.”

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After Chicago, Jordan spent a great deal of his time in Los Angeles and New York City. These hubs of the comedy scene gave him numerous opportunities to exhibit his talent and gain notoriety as both a performer and a writer. Shows like ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS’s Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson provided Roth with face time but may have appeared more glamorous to the viewer than to performer. Jordan recalls, “On Ferguson, I performed in a number of sketches in front of the audience. For some reason, Craig often had myself and Bridger (Winegar), who’s now a writer on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, do bits where we were scantily clad. One time we were bees. We wore black speedos and the makeup people painted our torsos and arms in black and yellow stripes. After the show the body paint wouldn’t come off…It was bad. We were in the showers at CBS very late, long after the taping, trying to remove the paint from our bodies. I think eventually we just gave up and went home, still striped.” These late night talk show appearances gave Jordan the opportunity to be on camera as well as put his well-honed improv chops to good use. He explains, “There was a lot of movement to play around. At Kimmel, there wasn’t much time to prepare for a pre-taped bit. You’d find out about your casting in these kind of bits the day before or even the day of. It’s a mix of your own instincts and the director’s. Generally, a director will let you go and then they’ll give you direction and guidance from there.” Jen Spyra, who came up with Jordan in Chicago’s comedy scene and has written for The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and The Wall Street Journal, declares, “As writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, I’m lucky enough to work with some of the sharpest minds in comedy. I can confidently say that Jordan Roth still stands out as one of the most talented writers that I know. Jordan is that rare breed of writer; he’s as brilliantly funny as he is hardworking. Jordan’s original voice and dedication have separated him from the pack in every iteration of his career: from when we were starting out together doing improv and sketch in Chicago, to when we were graduate students in screenwriting at Northwestern and then working as post grads in LA. Jordan has always done exceptional work and everyone who gets to work with him turns into a superfan. I’ve always looked to his discipline with his writing as something to emulate. He’s the whole package.”

As with so many of his heroes, Jordan Roth is the somewhat cerebral, non pandering type of comedy writer and performer; somewhat self-conscious, emotional in his own way, and always in search of a unique perspective. Canada has given the world countless purveyors of comedy: writers, performers, producers. All of these creative types prove that there is something special that comes from our neighbors to the North. We are the recipients of the minds like Roth, the ones who can’t help but find a way to guide us into a laugh reveals as much about them as it does about us.

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