creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

creative consulting for the art of life by Jason Jenn

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April Fooling: Profile on April Hava Shenkman

photo by Marilyn Shenkman
The month of April is coming to a close, but this week profiles another April, who spreads her Happy Happy celebrations all year round: April Hava Shenkman! It’s a wonderful way to introduce a subject matter Your Begin will continue to explore: the multitude of meanings and insights to be found in the archetype of the Fool! So if there is anyone familiar to being an April Fool - it's this leading lady of comedy!

Often seen in her take on white clown-face, April spins the charms of vaudeville, old Broadway, and classic Hollywood with a contemporary approach, that rather deconstructs and reassembles the way we typically view those iconic styles.  April has a very keen eye for visuals that she employs in all of her costumes and props. She’s known for the way she can talk quickly, like some kind of auctioneer gone wild, and speaking in a hilarious gibberish that mixes different languages together. Of course one of the first thing everyone notices, is her signature hair-style: the little bundles of spiky hair (see her comments about them below). All of these elements and more come together to spread the cause of happiness.

April with her cast of merrymakers on April 1, 2010 - photo by Trevor Eyster
April currently pours her talents into “The Happy Happy Show,” which began as a live theatre cabaret event around Los Angeles and has now transitioned into an online web series.  Comedy it seems, runs in the family: her parents are often seen in her work, especially  “Pappy” as a very funny sidekick in hobo clown make-up and a tutu on “The Happy Happy Show,” and her brother is an accomplished comic with his own series of productions. They inevitably help each other, creating an unusual family dynamic that enjoys clowning around for the good of all (more about that below)!

When I first met April in the workshops of Los Angeles’ Cultural Treasure, Rachel Rosenthal, she had already developed her own style that fit well with the performance techniques we were honing. She and I had a connection over the fact that we share the same birthdays - December 29th - Capricorns!  For several years we worked on group and collaborative pieces, where she employed her comic timing and skill to great affect. One of my favorites was an asburdly dark comic piece we did together called “Sunscreen & Tomatoes." It starts out as with a clownish couple arriving to a beach. I'm being a totally disgusting "dude" while April does this very manically wonderful thing with a bunch of tomatoes, poking and squishing them with her fingers as if taking out her frustrations on them. It was so bizarre, and had the audience in stitches. She has a remarkable ability to reach such intensity with her performance, it inspires those next to her to go for it too.

April and I in "Sunscreen & Tomatoes" - video still
I asked April to answer a few questions about her art & process:

1. How do you describe yourself as an artist?
I am a performance artist: creating & performing new avant-garde comedy performance works in stage & film.

2. What does “Happy, Happy” mean to you?
Happy Happy, is happiness, for the sake of happiness. Without needing a cause or reason to be happy, HAPPY HAPPY promotes the inner core being, at liberty in bliss. Happy Happy = celebrating the holiday of LIFE.
photo by Jason Jenn
3. How is clowning/fooling important to you in your life and society?
The clown, is ageless, timeless & completely universal. The make-up exposes the cracks, as well as the illustrious glow, held in the human heart. Becoming the "clown" is becoming the ultimate me - that is a mega version of who I am as a person, it gives me permission to be bigger then life & completely, "show-up." Showing-up promotes "waking-up." And sometimes, the smile needs a nudge to remember it's been there all the while. The clown / the fool, is the free spirit, the liberated human. The clown teaches me, how I want to live my life... Happy & Free.

4. What and who have been major influences and inspirations for your work?
Federico Fellini , Charlie Chaplin, Rachel Rosenthal, Richard Foreman, Old Hollywood, Old Broadway Musicals, Vaudeville, Surrealism, Japanese Theatre, European travels - travel in general, love, romance , My Family, Holidays & cultural celebrations around the world
displaying old Hollywood glamor - photo by Leslie Moon
5. You have some very strong visual themes (like cakes, pigs, Chinese elements, etc.), can you explain a bit about their meaning and use? 
Each performance has it's own visual significance.  I've always been into symbolism, signs & colors, choosing a particular pallet per piece. Usually when I become obsessed with visual, as I did once with cake, I can't help but use it... I'm still obsessed with cakes. The Pig, well, I like pigs, but the pig choose me. But really, it's what ever calls to me, as the stimuli of the piece. I think visually first.

April wrangles her pigs in "Orange" - photo by Mark
6. You have strong family connections and involvement in your work. How does family factor in to your work?
My family has always been a great source of inspiration for me. I've always gotten a "kick" out of my own family. I've always been very close friends with my family, and have really allowed myself to be in awe of where I come from. My family has always been top supporters & fans of my work, and it organically evolved into collaborations, and working together.
My father, Chickster Shenkman, was the first entertainer I was awe inspired by. Since childhood, he's impressed me with his impersonations & voices - he's a creative genius. When I started creating my own shows, it only seemed natural to put him in. "April Fools Pig!" was the first show of mine, that I wrote my father in as, "Pappy." Which has evolved into him being my co-star in my webisode, The Happy Happy Show. I've also been blessed with Adam, my brother who is a comedy performance artist, who I collaborate with often. We've grown-up together as artists, living together & sharing pursuits, we've been able to act as great supporters to each other's worlds. And now, I'm happy to have my mother, the "shy one," in some of my webisodes, who is no longer shy. She's been exposed to the theatre for  so many years, that it's only natural for her too, to come & play. We've been noted as The modern Vaudevillian family of Hollywood; which is somewhat of a rarity in modern times. A great gift it is, to work with my family.

April and "Pappy" - photo by Paul Zollo
7. So, just what is with the hair? ;-)
I call it the "tree-swan-kewpie."
I like funny hair. I let my hair be funny.

8. What’s next for you?
My current project & focus, is THE HAPPY HAPPY SHOW. I have 7 episodes released, and more to come.
My theatre has metamorphosed into film, by this show. And I am excited to create more HAPPY HAPPY - making the world happy again, one smile at a time.
I hope to bring The Happy Happy Show to TV soon!

And so does Your ReBegin!
Check out more of April's work at these links:

photo by Marilyn Shenkman

A graphic design we collaborated on for one of her past shows
April in a masked versions of herself - photo by Leslie Moon

Friday, April 22, 2011

Color Restriction: An Ode to Spring Yellows

Nothing heralds the arrival of Spring to me quite like the color yellow! It comes like a daring shock after months of winter’s muted tones, as if Nature wants to grab our attention and give us a much needed shot of hope that warmer days are coming. Daffodils/Narcissus flowers, tulips, and little blossoming buds on trees paint the canvas of a spring that hasn’t popped complete, but holds promise. They are the early signals for the multitude of colors that are on their way — and we can look forward to a full spectrum of bright colors that will thrive in the weather to come.

Because of it’s brightness (like our yellow sun), we’ve adopted yellow into our society to convey a sense of urgency - utilizing it for warnings signs, alerts, and hazards. It draws our attention. In spite of it’s cheerful dominance, it’s also become associated with cowardice. Interestingly, this most likely has to do with how yellow is a color associated with illness ( like yellow jaundice) or fear (like peeing your pants from fright*). Again, it’s a sort of natural sign to pay attention, to be careful and cautious, which is part of what being a coward is all about. But the boldness of the color yellow itself, is hardly cowardly, merely the associations we attach to it.

Oh - and let’s not forget about bees, wasps, and other animals who use yellow as a strong statement to would-be predators; watch out!

Whatever the use, yellow definitely makes a striking statement. As I mentioned in February’s Ode to Winter Whites, I enjoy how much variety can still be enjoyed in the restriction of the color palette. And so, I present to you a few recent photos that celebrate and emphasize the color yellow while we anxiously await for Spring to bloom fully.

Of course, yellow awaits us in the Autumn... the changing leaves being used by nature to herald the arrival of Winter...but let's not dwell on that, and enjoy the glorious season we're in right now!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Man of Many Colors - meet Bill Thierfelder

Photo by CLIFF SATRIANO, "Photo Stories, New York"
This week I continue profiling artist friends with a man whose philosophy and approach to life I admire as a fine example of a Jack of All Trades/Renaissance Man. His passion for contributing to the social good while pursuing a wide spectrum of interests sets a wonderful example for others, so I’m pleased to introduce Bill Thierfelder of Long Island, New York. This week some of Bill’s artwork will be featured at The Gallery at 40 South in Patchogue, NY - opening this Saturday, April 16. 

Bill has a long list of credits, but when I first met him I knew him more as the Professor of English at Dowling College and as a friend of a friend of a friend! Since that time I’ve discovered his many talents and gathered a respect for his philosophy and approach towards life, which finds it equally important to enjoy his artistic pursuits while giving back to the well-being of the community. He does this while maintaining a zest and curiosity for life. Over the years I’ve enjoyed gazing upon his colorful artistic pursuits, read some of his clever science fiction novels, heard him give well-researched lectures on historical figures, and cheered him on as he’s raised money and awareness for local organizations. Bill has continued to utilize his experience in new ways and continually develop himself through time, a key element for all Renaissance Men to embrace.

"Opus 5B" by Bill Thierfelder - January 2011
I put forth a few questions for Bill to answer to give a greater glimpse into this knowledgeable and well-rounded man:

1. How do you describe yourself as an artist?
Eclectic. Art, writing, and motivational speaking form the core of who I am as an artist--with occasional forays into music composition. These are the ways I “speak” to the world around me. (I also listen that way, too. Exploring art, reading, attending lectures, and listening to music all fill up the spiritual well.)

2. What are the main genres you explore as a Jack of All Trades?
Writing, Drawing, and Motivational Speaking.

3. What is your favorite medium to work and why?
In my writing, I love to experiment with narrative possibilities and multiple perspectives--viewing the same set of characters or incidents from multiple angles. Why? Because I feel connected to the idea of perceiving things in multifaceted ways. All this rooted in my study of phenomenology and existentialism. In my art, I enjoy using some of the basic “childhood” tools--crayons, markers, ink pens, and colored pencils. Art was one of my first loves and I continue to use the media I used back then.

4.  How do you organize your time to complete work? Any trade secrets to successfully being a Jack of All Trades?
I work on something when it feels right. Sometimes that’s in the morning, but most times it’s afternoons or evenings. When I create, I need to step away frequently and do other things and then come back, so I might end up working on a lecture for a library, a piece of art, and a short story all on the same day, switching off from one to the other with other things in between. So I guess you could say that I work in “sound bites” of fifteen minutes up to an hour or so before I switch off to something else. Fortunately, I switch gears easily because even though I may stop working on a drawing to head off to work on a story, the piece of art is still percolating in my head. Maybe a good comparison or metaphor might be choral singing. The complete work is really made up of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses working together to create harmony. So art might be the sopranos, writing the altos, lecturing the tenors, and my other creative “stuff” (like cooking and gardening) the basses. I am the “complete work.” When you ask who I am, I’m those four separate voices working together to make a whole.

"Beethoven Piano Concerto 5" by Bill Thierfelder 2008
5. What and who have been major influences and inspirations for your work?
 I love William Blake who meshed his writing and his art into a unified whole. One worked with the other. My list of favorite writers is endless, depending on the mood. Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman, the English Romantic poets, Emerson, Thoreau, existential writers, and all those grand Canadian ladies: Shields, Atwood, Munro. As for art, my “temple” is the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I can wander the galleries for hours, absorbing everything I see. The American Museum of Natural History and The Metropolitan Opera have also been and remain favorite, important “watering holes.”

6. Do you have a story you would like to share about the circumstances behind any particular work?
 I think all my work--the drawings and the stories--are very much informed by my day-to-day feelings and ideas. I really don’t write or draw anything “autobiographical” in the sense that I re-tell specific incidents. But I use my feelings and ideas as a launching point. A lot of my sense of isolation over the years (some of it self-imposed for self-protection) can be found in the kinds of characters and plot lines I create. My need to organize and synthesize (which is rooted in the emotionally unstable life I endured as a child) can be found in all my art. On the surface, it’s an abstract, seemingly spontaneous and colorful explosion of vivid colors. But if you look carefully, you’ll see that each drawing is really constructed from intricate layers of geometric shapes and or repeated, intricate design “bytes.”

7. What is next for you?
 My work as an artist is getting increasing recognition--I’ve been shown in Manhattan and at two different Long Island galleries in just the first four months of this year. I hope to see that trajectory bloom. I also continue to write stories and keep submitting them; someday “the break” will come. I don’t write for myself; I want to share with others and create a conversation. And I love my motivational work shops called MAKING WINGS: LIVING DELIBERATELY--what better thing to do than to help people see that they are treasure, that they can live meaning-filled lives, and that within them are all the tools they need for spiritual, emotional, and physical contentment.

You can discover more about Bill Thierfelder on his website:

And for more of the  photographer Cliff Satriano's "Photo Stories NY":

"Final Exam: Question Three" by Bill Thierfelder 2009
"Final Exam: Answer Three" by Bill Thierfelder 2009

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lost & Found In Translation

So last weekend I presented the production of Cavafy's Caress at the Affinity Gallery, and could not have asked for better audiences or reaction to the piece. I'm thrilled with the outcome and am now considering where to go next with it: I had no idea I would enjoy the process of getting to know Cavafy and his poetry so well. His words have really grown inside me over the past month of reworking the original draft of the play I wrote last year. The biggest challenge of this process was actually trying to figure out how to best present his material in the English language when it was originally written in Greek and many of the translations seem to lack the vibrancy of his original language.

So in honor of Cavafy and April's National poetry month, I present to you some of his works, and a few samples of how things get lost in translation and how I sought to re-discover some of that essence by reworking the poetry to present original translations for the production. I also thank another performer in the show, Larry Levi, for his input. As an outside eye he had many suggestions and we conferred over several word choices. I know that we risked putting much of our own sensibility into the works, but I really wanted a contemporary audience, who likely had never heard his words before, to really understand the poem's meaning and get a good sense of his work.

Here's an example: I present to you 3 different translations of the first verse of the poem "Candles"

1. Days to come stand in front of us
like a row of small lighted candles—
golden, warm, and vivid candles.

2. Days future stretch out before us
like a row of candles, burning brightly ―
vivacious candles, golden and warm. 

3. The days that are to come, they stand before us
like to a row of lighted little candles, —
brilliant, and warm, and lively little candles.

Hopefully that gives a good glimpse into the challenge; how to keep the poetry of the original language alive. Here is the final version I presented:


The days of our future stand before us
Like a row of little lighted candles –
Golden, warm, and lively little candles.

The days of our past fall  behind us,
A mournful line of snuffed-out candles
Still smoking are the closest ones,
Cold candles, melted and drooping.

I don’t want to look at them, their aspect saddens me,
And it saddens me to remember their original golden light.
I look ahead to my still lighted candles.

I don’t want to look back, lest I see and shudder --
How quickly the dark line lengthens,
How quickly the snuffed-out candles multiply.

Here are 2 more examples of the poem "Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto" The title comes from Dante - "Colui Che fece per viltate il gran rifiuto!" The refusal to life that is worthy of eternal damnation:

1. For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,
he goes forward in honor and self-assurance.


2. For some among us there comes up a day
when either the great Yea or the great Nay
must needs be spoken. He who has the Yea
ready within him, straightway stands revealed
and, giving it utterance, passes to his field
of self-expression.

Here is my final presented version - one of my favorite Cavafy poems:

Che Fece...Il Gran Rifiuto
To certain people there comes a day
When they must pronounce the great Yes or the great No.
It is instantly clear who possesses the Yes within,
Ready; and by speaking it, he crosses over 

To a path of honor and his own conviction.
The one who refuses has no remorse. If asked again,
He would say no again. And yet that No –
Such a proper No – weighs him down to his life’s end.

I'll keep you posted about upcoming Cavafy's Caress performances! 
In the meantime, BLISSINGS!