JIMPRESSIONS ENDS SUCCESSFUL 2011 RUN!

Last weekend, November 4 & 5, was the last of my scheduled shows at The Acting Center, and it was really terrific; great audiences, great response and a lot of laughs!

I began the run of this show in March of this year, and performed about one weekend a month; we knew December was going to be crazy with other demands, so we decided not to have shows after the November dates.

JIMPRESSIONS was an experiment.  When I wrote it and put it on its feet with director Tait Ruppert, we really weren’t sure if audiences would find it worth their while.  It’s a work in progress, and one which we will continue to develop, but so far the results are more positive than we ever expected.

There were ancillary wins, too.  On a whim, I decided to post a video of me doing my Shakespeare Impressions, and it went viral, thanks to the Tweets of Craig Ferguson, Stephen Fry, the Facebook sharings of many of my friends and mysterious others; the tally now is over 700,000 views and a lot of very nice comments.

My other follow up videos have been warmly received too.

As a result, I’ve been in high demand, which is really gratifying, and which I am hustling to honor every day.

My intention was to create a funny, inspiring, very entertaining family-friendly show, based around celebrity impressions and storytelling.  Here’s what a few of you had to say:

“I was able to see your show Saturday, you are amazing! Besides being captivated by your craft, I can’t remember when I laughed so much and so freely. I had a delightful and truly heartfelt experience, thank you for a terrific evening. I can’t wait until next year!”  –Susan Kohler

“I was AMAZED!  The way he artfully wove comedy and a heartfelt, personal story around each of his characters was not only hilarious, but also nothing short of masterful!  I never expected to be so moved by a comedy show, but I really was, and I thank Jim for these gifts he gave us!”  – Jierra Clark

“Jim captures the essence of the celebrities he impersonates — from the tightening of the face for former President Bush, to Garrison Keillor’s odd octave changes and looong inhales, to Woody Allen’s patented phrasing and asides — and he slides from one to the other maddeningly effortlessly.  –John Rabe, KPCC

“Not only did I feel like I was in the hands of a major pro, but my face hurt from all the laughing and smiling! The world needs to see this! It is clever and touching and inspirational and just downright GENIUS!” – Keli Landry

“Jim Meskimen is a giant among impressionists. But beyond that he is an amazing actor. These two skills come together in a truly wonderful performance. I’d recommend seeing it now before he only does sold out amphitheaters.”  – Eric Matheny

So, what’s next for JIMPRESSIONS?

Well, a trip to Australia to perform at a business conference, an appearance on the Australian TODAY SHOW, and a few live shows in Sydney and Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef.

That’s the immediate future.  Next year?  I look forward to returning to The Acting Center, which treated me so well and is such a great home for this show.  And I hope YOU will be in the audience sometime in 2012!

And you can keep your eye out for more YouTube videos, too.  (In fact, I hope you will subscribe!  It’s free.  Like this Blog.)

And when the Letterman show schedules their “Impressionist’s Week”, I hope to be there.

Big thanks and kisses to everybody who came and saw the show and shared the dream with me, my director Tait Ruppert, producer (and incredible soul-mate) Tamra Meskimen this year, and I promise to keep improving the show so that it is even more entertaining for you.

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ACCEPT IMITATIONS: A Beginner’s Guide to Performing Impressions, Chapter Four: VIEWPOINT

If a useful definition of acting is “Knowingly taking on another viewpoint”, then the subject of doing impressions is just another facet of acting, because more than anything else, your performance will live or die on this one point.

No one views the world from exactly the same position in space as anyone else, at the same time.  Even the famous Bunker brothers Chang & Eng, the so-called “Siamese Twins” who were co-joined at the chest, had to turn to one another and ask, “Is my tie on straight?”

The thing that makes Bogart, Johnny Carson, Barack Obama, or for that matter Bart Simpson unique and recognizable as voices has as much to do with how they view the world as the frequency of the sound waves they produce in our ears.

Indeed, some child performers or women, whose voices are much higher than those of most adult males, can do a great job of creating impressions of famous men even though their tone is completely inaccurate and would never be mistaken for the real thing.

They do this by sufficiently embodying the character and presenting it to us with whatever sonic ability they have.  You are aware they are a young person or a female, but mainly that they are also BEING the person imitated.

It’s still quite entertaining.

It might be wise to observe at this point that “Voice” has several meanings, and that one of them could be said to be, the expression of personality.  Part of that is how they sound, but that also includes WHAT they would say, based on their own unique viewpoint.

We sometimes hear about the “voice” of an author, for instance, whom we perhaps have never actually heard aloud, but whose opinion and style is nevertheless well known.

This is very valuable information: HOW the celebrity sees the world.

How do we find this out?  By study and observation.  These days that is rather easy to do by making use of the web and the limitless collection of recorded performances of actors and public figures.

Of course, direct and personal contact is the very best and most reliable method.  The best mimics of celebrities are, naturally, their former personal assistants, which is precisely why so many famous people require their assistants to have their tongues removed once they leave their employ, and rightly so.

What is done with the tongues of former personal assistants?  I have no idea.  But I make it a habit never to eat at any deli in Beverly Hills, or if I do, I order the tuna melt.

There is a secret about taking on the viewpoint of the character you are playing, and that is this: it’s much easier to do it that way than to simply “imitate”.  Being the character is a quick and direct way to present the person, and is the only way you can be assured of really achieving a convincing and effective portrayal.  This not only applies to celebrity impressions, but doing Shakespeare, Ibsen, Molnar, or a guest spot on “The Suite Life with Zach & Cody.”

Try this: walk around your home with the viewpoint of someone you would like to imitate.  DON’T say anything, just walk around and look at your surroundings from their point of view.

How would they regard your bedroom?  What might they think of your furniture?  What would draw their interest on your shelves?  Would they be bored or interested in your home and possessions?

This is actually the bedrock of your impressions; the sound vibrations they make when they talk are built on THIS fundamental element.

It’s also a lot of fun to do and nobody has to even know you are doing it.  You can do it in a crowded place, like a party or a concert, or at your job at the Pizza Hut.  Just practice looking at the world from the eyes of your subject.

Like I said earlier, it’s the most important element of the whole skill, so it’s worthwhile spending some time on and will help you develop the raw materiel of your act, when you decide to create one.

The other important point about becoming familiar with the point of view of your subject is that once you know it very well, you can depart from it for comic effect, simply by doing something intentionally that that person would never do or say.  That is, I believe, part of the strength of my now famous “Shakespeare in Celebrity Voices” video, which features 25 celebrities doing that speech from Richard III that most of them would never, EVER be heard reciting.

Especially not George W. Bush.  I mean, come on.

So, it cuts both ways.  The key is KNOWING the viewpoint so that you can do what you like with it, either by honoring it exactly as to intention, or departing from it entirely for laughs, or some other brilliant use that I haven’t stumbled on yet.

JIMPRESSIONS: review of the new show in Hollywood

Jim Meskimen: A Man for All Voices

By Bonnie Priever The Tolucan Times
May 12th, 2011

Jim Meskimen opens his show, Jimpressions, at the Acting Center in Hollywood, with a pithy, profound statement: “It’s all about the voice!” This enjoyable evening of impersonations and clever humor takes me back in time to Las Vegas showrooms, featuring headliners like Rich Little and Fred Travalena, and their visceral performances of celebrities past and present. As Meskimen succinctly states, “there is an infinity of voices — we have stumbled upon in our lifetimes, and clearly recognize — yet each one is unique and special.” The audience is in for quite a treat, as they get to once again hear the distinct voices of Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jack Nicholson, and President Barack Obama, and many more, as if these larger than life personalities were right on stage themselves!

It’s a true art to impersonate the famous (and infamous!), from JFK to Truman Capote….it’s not an easy process to learn a specific voice, its tone, inflections and accent, yet Jim Meskimen makes it look easy and effortless, while enjoying every moment. His impressions take us into a world of ‘in the moment’ theatre, created by Lee Strasberg, fully immersing himself in the character portrayed. The show covers a range of territories, geographically, from Southern politicians to New York actors. He does a segment, honoring the “New York Greats,” such as Pacino, DeNiro, and Woody Allen; followed by a Presidential walk through memory lane. The audience is transported to another place and time… it’s like fingering the pages of history, and makes one proud and patriotic. In times like today, with the recent death of Bin Laden, we know that we have been graced with the presence of greats, and their voices of hope and courage linger on.

In Act Two, Meskimen portrays a professor of Ancient Art History, with improvised Q&A from audience members. Jim, both passionate about arts, performing and visual, decided to opt for the performing arts. With his strikingly good looks, amazing voice and talent, along with a chance encounter with Harvey Keitel, his professional venue and crowd-pleasing is the perfect choice.

Jimpressions plays one weekend every month through the rest of the year at the Acting Center located at 5514 Hollywood Blvd. For ticket information, call (323) 962-2100 or visit www.theactingcenterla.com/on-the-stage-2.

“Thunder, Thunder, THUNDER…”

If you happen to know the next couple of utterances that follow that repetitive call, then you may not know it, but I had a big effect on your childhood.

It’s generally not well known that in the 1980’s, when I lived in New York, I had a job at Rankin/Bass productions. (Yes, the same Rankin/Bass of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” fame; his cute little articulated figure was in a special case at the office.)

I was the chief character designer of their hit animated show, Thundercats.

I was not only the chief character designer, I was the ONLY illustrator on the premises.

The main heroes, Lion-O, Snarf, Tygra, Cheetara, Panthro and the main antagonists, the “Mutants”, and the villainous Mumm Ra were all designed by another artist before I got my job. My job became designing all the new characters that populated “Third Earth”, and a lot of weapons, devices, vehicles, and strange plants and animals.

Originally, I had been hired to do storyboards, based on my experience, much inflated by me, of working at Hanna Barbera studios in Hollywood, which I did in 1978. I was totally undeserving of the job of storyboard artist, as I was entirely untrained, really had mostly just darkened with #2 pencils the blue-pencilled storyboards of my senior, Don Rico.

I knew about as much about telling a story visually with a storyboard as I did about whaling.

Perhaps that became apparent in my first weeks at Rankin/Bass. In any case, for some reason that was intensely satisfying to me, I was taken off storyboards, and told to design CHARACTERS, starting with a character named “Pumm Ra”, a half man, half puma.

Now THIS I could do.

Every Thundercats script contained new “guest characters.” I got to envision them, and once approved, they were sent along the assembly line. The schedule for some reason was not very intense, or if it was, I didn’t notice it, because most of the characters were approved very quickly with minimal changes if at all.

I would draw them, sitting at my lone artist’s desk next to the accountant and the head writer, and then use a new piece of technology called a “Fax machine” to transmit the designs to the animators and artist in the Pacific Rim studios that were producing the finished animation.

In New York (at 53rd and Fifth Avenue, above the old Museum of Broadcasting) the scripts were written, the recordings were organized, and the character designs were done. Overseas, the actual animation was done, the in-betweens, the layout, the camerawork… and all long before digital anything.

I worked with a pencil on paper, and some watercolor pens. Oh, and white-out.

My mother had given me a little stone “Chop” with my name in Chinese, so I would put that stamp on my drawings before faxing them. That the recipients were not Chinese didn’t ever occur to me.

The Thundercats recording sessions were where the fun happened.

The voices of the actors playing the principal characters were recorded down near Grand Central Station in the Graybar building, at Howard Schwartz recording.

I visited a Thundercats session one day and watched the series regulars Larry Kenney, Bob McFadden, Earl Hyman, Earl Hammond, Peter Newman and Lynn Lipton run thru the script and goof around on mic.

“THIS is the job!” I epiphanized.

I worked at Rankin/Bass about a year, then continued to work for them as a freelancer, on a new series they followed up with called “Silverhawks” . I think my greatest contribution as chief character designer was to bring on as my successor the great cartoonist Bob Camp, who cut his animation teeth on Silverhawks before going on to put his indelible mark on shows like the hilariously subversive “Ren & Stimpy”.

In about 1985, I moved on from my life as a professional illustrator/cartoonist/designer to enter the world of acting fulltime. One of my first big jobs was doing voices for a Rankin/Bass cartoon series called “The Comic Strip”.

I never pursued character design ever again, and Thundercats left my mind utterly.

But, just a few short weeks ago I received a call from my voiceover agent. The excellent animation director Andrea Romano requested that I provide some character voices for the latest version of the Thundercats series, now being produced at Warner Brothers by a young artist and producer named Dan Norton, who was a big, BIG fan of the show.

I don’t know if Andrea knew of my early relationship to the show when she hired me, but I know she sure does now! I’m telling EVERYBODY.

So now at this point I have worked twice as a voice actor on the brand new Thundercats, some 25 plus years since I started working for Rankin/Bass on the original Thundercats…

Pretty cool.

And the funny part?

I’m actually allergic to cats.

Here are some of the designs I did for the show:

Meskimen creature design

Creature Tabbut by Meskimen

 

Creature design Capt. Shiner by Meskimen

Goodbye to Area 51

Jim Meskimen in a mysterious vein

Today marks my 51st birthday, or the end of my yearlong excursion into “Area 51”.

I find I have a lot to admire and be thankful for. First of all, being alive and still a part of this incredible experience called living. I enjoy life very much, even when it is more or less insufferable. How is that even possible? Only in a world like this, where irony seems to be the underlying glue holding everything together.

I have a magnificent family. My wife Tamra is simply a goddess. My daughter Taylor brings me so much joy, and I have been thrilled to watch her truly come into her own this last year, as she left the house and began her career, with all the enthusiasm and earnestness that such great beginnings require.

My incredible mother, now 82 (!), is just now wrapping up a record-breaking five week run of a play with her husband, the magnificent actor Paul Michael, down in San Diego at the Old Globe Theater. We’ve gone to see it twice. (Knestor Jackdaws did, too.) Starring in a wonderfully funny two act play written expressly for her and her mate by Tony-winning playwright Joe DiPietro, Marion continues to pull off the impossible, setting a marvelous example for performers everywhere.

I even have a brand new niece, my brilliant sister and brother in law’s daughter Roxanne, just a few weeks old today.

I have so many friends who delight and inspire me, they are far too many to list.

I have all my teeth, even the wisdom ones that I was supposed to have gotten rid of decades ago.  (And I even have Knestor’s teeth!  Two sets!)

I enjoy my many creative outlets and have many plans for future shows, paintings, films and on and on.

Life is a tremendous challenge and I strive to play the game better and better. That is going to be the theme of my 52nd year.

Right now I’m just very cognizant of the fact that life is easy to take for granted, that the thin gloss on existence that makes it all seem orderly and assured can wear away in a breath, and that people and their endless abilities to share and enjoy one another’s company is the single redeeming thing in a cold universe.

Yikes!

As Professor Knestor Jackdaws once said (five minutes ago), “The more I look at art, the more I recognize that the boundary between all life and what we commonly view as works of art, is practically nonexistent. When one leaves the gallery or the museum, one simply enters the larger gallery of Life itself, with it’s rotating collections, its special exhibitions, and its permanent installations.”

I am very happy to share my time in this splendid gallery with you.