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Friday, October 26, 2018

Memphis Actor/Comedian Harold Foxx Makes Off-Broadway Debut

Posted By on Fri, Oct 26, 2018 at 5:01 PM

Hanging with Harold Foxx - OUR AWESOME SERVER
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  • Hanging with Harold Foxx
The Old Testament character Job had his share of problems. He lost his home, his livelihood, his health, and his family. Craig Lucas' play I Was Most Alive With You, which recently took its last bows at Playwright's Horizons, may borrow heavily from the troubling Bible story, but none of that tragedy's rubbed off on Harold Foxx. The Memphis-born actor may have made his Off Broadway debut in Lucas' Job-inspired play, but he looks like a man on top of the world. Sitting in the Buffalo Wild Wings on Manhattan's W. 47th ("the one close to Playwright's Horizons"), Foxx' broad face practically glows with confidence.

"Did you see my New York Times spread," he asks by typing the words out on his phone and holding it up for me to see. I indicate that I have and tell him it looked great. He then types out a message saying he's waiting to see if the attention results in more work. If it does, he'll get excited about it.

Foxx is realistic about life as a working actor. He grew up in Orange Mound and graduated from White Station where he played football and made citywide headlines. Foxx is completely deaf. He's mostly silent. He's currently a professional actor, who lives in Los Angeles where he studies improv comedy with the Groundlings and auditions as often as possible. He doesn't think a Netflix special is out of the question. There's no reason to believe he won't get a shot at being in the next Black Panther movie. Nothing's for sure, but Foxx believes. He points to his personal inspiration, the deaf actor C.J. Jones who recently made his film debut in Edgar Wright's Baby Driver.

"My agent's good," he types.

Harold Foxx and Craig Lucas - COURTESY OF HAROLD FOXX
  • Courtesy of Harold Foxx
  • Harold Foxx and Craig Lucas
Foxx is as expressive as any silent film star. Every wrinkled brow or nostril flare writes a whole new story on his face. He describes this expressiveness as an artifact — something that just happens when you're in the deaf community. But there's precision to every eye-roll or pursing of the lips. There's timing, and it's good. You don't always need to read ASL to get the gist of his messaging. Critics noted his skills in I Was Most Alive With You, where the play's main speaking characters are mirrored by a shadow cast who perform a somewhat modified version of the show in ASL.

I caught up with Foxx in Manhattan, during the last week of his run at Playwright's Horizons. We "talked" about many things over wings, but did our official Q&A in a typed format. Here's a lightly edited version of that conversation.

Memphis Flyer: Wondering about life in Memphis. Did you know you wanted to act and do comedy when you were still living there?

Harold Foxx: Born and raised in Memphis. Native of Orange Mound. It’s funny how my comedy starts. Every morning the school bus picked me up. It was sorta of long ride. Then one day all of us kids on the bus just start to making jokes. From there I started doing comedy storytelling. That was in elementary school. And everybody laughs. Then, after school, when the bus takes us back home, everybody asked me for another comedy storytelling. And I start doing it again. Then somehow it became daily on the school bus, on the way to school and after school. Only difference is that I didn’t get paid that time. Since then, everybody sees my talents. Not only in comedy, but in acting too. Even my teachers in elementary school got me in school talent shows for dance and sign music. Plus, when I was in elementary school, the national theatre for the deaf came to my school and performed for us and I really looked up to them. Not only that. My former theater teacher Rita Grivich, who runs Deaf Drama & Theatre at White Station, always had a show. And when I was young, I'd always go there and watch the older kids perform. And I knew it would happen for me someday and glad that I was part of it.

MF: Memphis only has limited opportunities for actors, and the comedy scene has only begun to mature in the last few years. Guessing Paulette Reagan was a theater teacher at White Station? Were there many opportunities to experience and participate in comedy or theater?

Yes, Paulette Reagan and Rita Grivich were my theater teachers at White Station. Honest with you, I’m thankful to have had them as my teachers at White Station. When I was there, I was heavily involved in theater and it actually helps. It applies to what I’m doing today as an actor.

MF: When did you decide on comedy and acting as a career? And was there an obvious path for deaf performers or did you have to make your own?

Actually with all my experience and background as an actor from White Station High school under Paulette Reagan and Rita Grivich, they taught me a lot on what it takes to be an actor. When I graduated from White Station in 1999, I went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.,  where I graduated and also played college football there. Everybody expected me to join the theater at Gallaudet University but I didn’t get involved in theater productions. I focused on football. But I took a couple of theater courses at Gallaudet. So, when I graduated, I started to work as a football coach, personal trainer, and physical education teacher. Somehow my acting passion hits me again one day and I started doing some comedy sketches on Vine apps. It changed my whole life. Now I’m doing acting/comedy as a career, full time. Most of all I started this out on my own from looking up to my role model like CJ Jones, John Maucere, Redd Foxx, Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, etc..
Past show flyer
  • Past show flyer
MF: I love silent film, and your comedy reel was a joy to watch because it has the expressiveness of great silent comedy. Funny enough to transcend any biases hearing audiences might have. Curious as to which actors and comics might have inspired you?

I started on Vine Apps. Of course, as deaf person, I can’t hear a sound or music. Most of my sketches were based on body language and physical comedy so it can be accessible to both hearing and deaf audiences. It started similar to silent film — like my favorite comic who did all amazing in silent film, Charlie Chaplin. Then I started my internship at DPAN.TV (Deaf Professional Arts Network) where I learned to make better quality work — script, film, edit. Plus, they have a sound engineer who installs all sounds and music. My comedy video went to a whole different level. That’s when I started getting recognized for my work and getting opportunities in acting and comedy.

MF: How did you land the role in I Was Most Alive With You? And was working on it like anything you’ve done before? Looking at the behind-the-scenes videos, the process looks like it must have been unique and difficult.

Yes. It’s different from what everybody's already seen from my work as a comedian or doing sketches on the video. I was in a production of Our Town last year by Pasadena Playhouse and Deaf West Theatre. That’s where everybody recognized my work on stage in theater. I’m not only limited to comedy. I can do variety range of work as an actor. Actually how did I land the role? I was in Jamaica doing stand up comedy and then I got an email from my agent. They asked for my video audition, but at that time I wasn’t really interested because I didn’t want to move to NYC. I’m still new in LA. Then one friend convinced me. Said, "It’s Off Broadway." And that’s a good start for my career. So I decide to do the video audition and I got offered the job. So, I’m thankful for this opportunity because I got to work with amazing talented of actors and actresses plus Craig Lucas and Tyne Rafaeli.

MF: Do you think the show’s accurate in its depiction of hearing impaired people, and culture?

We do both as English spoken and ASL, it’s a very heavy play and powerful at the same time and it’s very accessible to both audience.

MF: Has the run been rewarding? And is it difficult to put away as closing night approaches?

We had a very successful run, but at the same time we wish it could be extend more.

MF: Has the run of this show resulted in more opportunities, or is it back to the audition grind?

I’m hoping this production will get me more opportunities. I mean, it’s not easy as deaf actors/actresses because we don’t get a same opportunity as hearing actors/actresses. They might get an audition daily when we, as deaf actors and actresses, are probably lucky to get 2 or maybe 3 auditions a month. But for me, it’s all about hustling. Show your work out there and create your own work. That’s why I created a bunch of short comedy sketches. Now I’m writing my new stand up comedy material and working on a film script. Who knows, I might produce a feature film and act in it someday instead waiting for someone to offer me the opportunity. Always have your own work ready to go.


MF: I know you’ve been training with The Groundlings — which is great! But wondering what’s next, and if you have a preference for sketch/standup over other kinds of performance?


Right now I’m still in training and taking classes at the Groundlings. Sometimes I put it on hold if I get an opportunity like Off Broadway in NYC. But now my agent and I are working on something. Be aren’t sure yet. But for the Groundings, my training continues. Who knows? Maybe one day I will end up on SNL or Comedy Central.

MF: Do you ever make it back to Memphis? What’s the best way for folks back home to experience what you do?

I finally made back to Memphis last summer after seven years. I did a homecoming standup show there and am hoping to do it again soon. Memphis is my hometown, roots, and where I started. One thing I would tell Memphis folks, if they are pursing what I’m doing, it starts with passion and hard work. Create your work and get some training with a top acting or improv class to develop some network.

Click here for more on Harold Foxx

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

For Your Consideration: Tell the 2018 Ostrander Judges Who to Nominate

Posted By on Thu, Jul 26, 2018 at 2:39 PM

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The Ostrander Awards are scheduled to go off Sunday, August 26th. The judges have not yet convened, and it's only a matter of days now before the haggling begins over who gets nominated for one of Memphis' coveted theater awards, and who goes home with the plaque. In other words, if there was ever a time to make your feelings known as to who you think they should choose, now would be the time to make some noise. I'm suggesting not that any of our upstanding judges could ever be swayed by outside influence. But it sure can't hurt and might even be fun to try.

What I'm proposing is that theater fans post their own "for your consideration" suggestions in comments here, or on the social media platform of your choosing. You can make it text only, or — if you're feeling creative — make Academy Awards-style "for your consideration" ads and share them around. My only request is, if you make ads, either email a copy to me or tag me when you post it. If we get enough I'll create a second post with the best homemade ads out there.

For my sample I picked John Maness because that guy could easily be nominated in a couple of categories, and absolutely deserves a play prize this year.

Have fun and stay tuned to Intermission Impossible for Ostrander updates including nominees, interviews with honorees, and this year's installment of WHO GOT ROBBED?!?!

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Prime Cuts: A Pulitzer finalist, and an Orwell fable

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 9:52 AM

Looking for something interesting this weekend? Whoever you are, the Memphis theater community's probably got something for you. 
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Cloud9's a relatively new company still getting its legs. That sets up Jordan Harrison's Marjorie Prime — a significant regional premiere — as a probable coming of age story. This Pulitzer finalist is near-future science fiction about a time when artificial intelligences can be programmed to serve as companions for the elderly, even taking on the look and characteristics of lost loved ones. It would easily be the most smartly-written thing on stage this week if Voices of the South hadn't staged a narrative adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm, or if Theatre Memphis' wonderful production of Falsettos had been produced at some other time. As it happens, there's a lot of smart work to choose from. Choose well!

And there's always the ballet.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Rapid Response: Resisting with the Up in Arms Dance Collective

Posted By on Thu, Mar 2, 2017 at 2:35 PM

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"Resist." It's a word we're hearing a lot these days. Many people are resisting. Many things are being resisted. This weekend members of the Up in Arms Collective are taking their, "broken, angry, hopeful, confused, empathetic,truthful, playful, and devilish hearts... and making art." So says dancer, choreographer Louisa  Koeppel, inviting Memphis to join the, "MOVEment." And also to help raise funds for Planned Parenthood, the Mid South Peace and Justice, and the ACLU. RESPONSE at Crosstown Arts March 3-5 at 7PM

Dancer Rebecca Rose Cochran takes it further, describing the RESPONSE show as, "A reaction to our current political landscape. This show was born out of grief. Out of shock. Out of anger. Out of an urge to 'get to work.'

"We had a desire to respond," she says. "And RESPOND we shall."

20 Memphis dance artists are performing in rotation at Crosstown Arts this weekend. There's a different lineup every night.

Here are some rehearsal shots.



The lineup
Sheri Bancroft, Jennifer Hall, Erin D.H. Williams - Fri/Sat
Bethany Bak - Fri/Sat
Travis Bradley - Sat/Sun
Burton Bridges - Sat/Sun
Rebecca Cochran - Fri/Sun
Emily Hefley - Fri/Sat
Louisa Koeppel - Fri/Sat
Sarah Ledbetter - Fri/Sat
Kristen Lucas - Sat/Sun
Jill Guyton Nee - Fri/Sun
Wayne Smith - Fri/Sun
Lauren Stallings - Fri/Sun

Films by N'seeka Macpherson and Robin Sanders will be shown all evenings. For additional information, here's the Facebook invite.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Opera Memphis Stages a Pop Culture Classic

How many times has the "Modern Major General" song been sung on TV and the Silver Screen? A zillion?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 15, 2017 at 4:44 PM

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Opera Memphis’ general director/nerd-in-chief Ned Canty compares Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance to Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch. “It’s a direct descendent from the pirates," he says. "You take this very fearsome group of people and make them kind of ineffectual and cuddly. These pirates never attack anybody weaker than they are, and they never attack an orphan. So everybody says they’re an orphan and the pirates never make any money."

The Pythons aren't the only comics to crib from G&S. Is there any musical theater song more frequently referenced than Pirates' "Modern Major General?" I've linked to clips from a handful of times it's bubbled up in pop culture — this list can't even scratch the surface.

What notable versions of the Major General's song have been left out? Gotta be a lot.

• "You blew it my child": The great Gilda Radner gets comically tripped up on The Muppet Show. Also — a giant snooty carrot.


• "With the eggs on top": Poor Peter doesn't do much better on Family Guy.



• "Very unattractive flannel.": Pranks take an operatic turn on Home Improvement.


• Babylon 5. Wait for the credits.


•Things get dreamy in the "Peggy & the Pirates" episode of Married... with Children.


• Barney's diction gets better on The Simpsons. In space nobody can hear you burp.


• Searching for that last episode of The Simpsons made me aware of this rendition on Veggie Tales. So, that happened.


• And now for something not completely different, The Pirate Movie: "Not now darling, I'm on!"




Wednesday, October 5, 2016

New Editions: Ibsen, Naughty Shakespeare

Posted By on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 4:56 PM

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This post is so going viral. I mean, who among us doesn't get crazy excited about new editions of classic plays by authors like William Shakespeare and Henrik Ibsen? 

I've already written a bit about Pelican's new Shakespeare collection. But I feel compelled to jot a few words about Othello and The Taming of the Shrew. Both include the usual essays, with nice, lightly rendered introductions. Breaking a willful wife and training her up right was a popular plot back in Willie's day and Shrew, we're instructed, is part of that mysoginist genre, forever popular, but at odds with modern sensibilities. Othello's intro builds from the Shavian barb inspired by Verdi's Opera Otello. In a spot on analysis George Bernard said Otello wasn't Verdi's most Shakespearian adaptation, so much as Othello was Shakespeare's best Italian Opera. But honestly, I'm not here to type about what's in the books, so much as what's on them. I mean, it's one thing to be bawdy, and quite another to be so on the nose. Or on the... something.

Nice berries Othello. 
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I'm not sure what it means to reduce the Moor of Venice to nothing but a head with a stylized penis, but here we are. Now here's Kate the cursed on the cover of Shrew. 
 What are all those little things around her her heartgina? Beads of sweat? Bugs? Just... Ew. 
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The scripts are fine, the essays are swell, but from the teeny tiny titles on, I'm just not loving this design.

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Is it fair to call Ibsen Norway's Shakespeare? Maybe not. Okay, no. But he was practically as inventive as the Bard when it came to word coinage and that can be a problem for translators. The new Penguin Ibsen collection isn't just a new edition, it's a new set of translations. That's great news because we're talking about an author who worked in a small language and is known primarily by way of translations, not all of which are historically sensitive.

It's probably not so strange, given translation goals, that the publishers continue to use the title A Doll's House even though that's not quite right. In Norway "Doll House" is a distinct word, and one that Ibsen specifically rejected in favor of something closer to "A Home for Dolls," which is less catchy, but bends the title's meaning in a slightly different direction. Beyond this example where the title is too well known to alter, this is exactly the kind of thing the new editions aim to correct. 

In addition to A Doll's House the new collection includes GhostsAn Enemy of the People, and an underrated early work The Pillars of Society. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Munchkin Mayor Justin G. Nelson, Candidate for Most Adorable Duckmaster

Posted By on Wed, Jun 29, 2016 at 5:03 PM

Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy. - DANIEL A. SWALEC
  • Daniel A. Swalec
  • Justin G. Nelson welcomes Dorothy.
If you didn't get to see Memphis actor Justin G. Nelson's star turn as a Peabody Duckmaster, good news — there's video. Nelson played the mayor of Munchkinland in the Wizard of Oz national tour that docked at the Orpheum earlier in June. 

The bad news: The show's picked up and moved on. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Don't Be Afraid of Hecklers: Another side of Memphis Comedy

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 2:34 PM

Don't be afraid of Josh McLane. Or do. Your call.
  • Don't be afraid of Josh McLane. Or do. Your call.

Consider this as an addendum to this week's cover story about the Memphis Comedy Festival, and the indie comedy scene that birthed it. It's hard to address everything in 3000 words, and I thought it might be fun to include a few sentences about Memphis audiences. I also wanted to share an annotated version of Mitchell Dunnam's fantastic cover for this week's Memphis Flyer. Mitchell plugged a lot of local comedians into a parody of the movie poster for National Lampoon's Animal House, and this is the key to figuring out who they all are.  

Comedian Tommy Oler had barely started his set at RockHouse Live when the heckler started yelling at him. An older gentleman, later identified as one of Elvis' former attorneys, yelled, "You suck!" He wasn't a very good heckler. That and, "You still suck!" was pretty much all the material he had. Oler took it all in stride, suggesting that his comedy might improve while his critic wasn't getting any younger. 

RockHouse Live is cave-like, and committed to darkness. The Wednesday night open mic, hosted by Amanda Walker can sometimes leave audiences wondering if they should laugh or call 9-1-1. "Even the bartenders heckle you," MaryBeth Poppins says. "Like, if you tell a joke about daiting and you aren’t telling it bad enough, they'll correct you. Or jump in with their stories. It can be obnoxious." But, if you're a comedian born, insults can also be inspiring.

Poppins is a very serious (and seriously funny) stand-up hobbyist literally created by the Memphis Comedy Festival. A comedian insulted her, as comedians will, and she thought, "I can be funnier than that guy." Bada-bing, bada-boom. And open mic nights — an important part of the comedy ecosystem — are like a box of chocolates in the wild west. You never know what you're going to get. And what you get can be rowdy. Open mics are places where you can see experienced comics like Rob Love or Harold King working out the kinks in their freshest material back-to-back with newbies, schmucks, and punchbowl turds. It's like Blacksmith Comedy's Benny Elbows says, "At open mics you really start to see how much craft goes into this. When you see somebody out there being funny it's easy to assume they've always been funny. But most of the time that's just not the case." 

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Even at open mics, where anything can go down (and often does), heckling's not the worst thing that can happen. Neither is soul-crushing silence, which means people are listening, at least. Memphis audiences seem to enjoy one another's company, and if they think you're no good they'll just talk to the person next to them. Loudly. Unless, that is, Josh McLane's performing.

McLane's a badass drummer who's played in too many bands to mention. He's a part time wrestling announcer who got his loudmouth start as a strip club DJ. He says he doesn't really think of himself as a comedian, but it's not hard to draw straight lines between McLane, Mouth-of-the-South wrestling luminary Jimmy Hart, and the angry, screamier side of Bill Hicks. So punchlines do find their way into his firey political rants. He's also the host of Don't Be Afraid of... Memphis' longest continuously-running stand-up comedy showcase. If there's a ground zero for Memphis comedy's increasingly unified hype strategies, it's probably Don't Be Afraid...".
Paying your dues: Aspiring comic MaryBeth Poppins takes door for the You Look Like a Comedy Show show.
  • Paying your dues: Aspiring comic MaryBeth Poppins takes door for the You Look Like a Comedy Show show.

Like many local comics McLane got his start doing open mic, and has been regular at the P&H since the days when he worked at the bar doing whatever needed to be done. He knows what it's like to come off stage, change out of his comedy suit, and empty ashtrays for customers who were very recently threatening to kick his ass. "That's humbling," he says. But wrestling's in McLane's blood. He knows how to generate heat, and when audiences turn, he's been known to make some risky choices.

One night McLane was performing on stage at the P&H and two women sitting front and center wouldn't stop talking. So he flicked a switchblade: "I haven't been to prison in a long time," he said, brandishing his weapon at a safe distance. "And right now I'm really missing the taste of a dick." The talkers were shocked into silence.

"But they came back every week for a long time and became big friends of Memphis comedy," McLane says. Don't be afraid indeed.

This month's installment of "Don't Be Afraid"  is produced at the Hi-Tone Cafe in conjunction with the Memphis Comedy Festival. 

And now for something completely different...

While working on this package I was smitten by Mitchell Dunnam's comedy posters for showcases like Tuesday Show Comedy and the Black Nerd Power Comedy Hour. They were pop culture parodies with the faces of local, and visiting comics plugged in. So I asked him if he'd create a parody of the Animal House movie poster for this week's cover, and he really outdid himself. Here it is again with a guide to all the comics represented on the cover. 
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