Art is a Battle

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Writing, painting, choreographing a dance, making a YouTube video in the back room… it’s a savage battle. 

The TIME to create has to come out of something, dug out of the schedule like a vein of gold ore chipped out of granite.  Time extracted out of the myriad pointless activities of the day, the mundane chores, the necessary rituals, the acceptable, the understood, the predictable.  The things one does because one has always done them.

Translating “important” tasks into art is a battle of wills– the will of the artist against the robotic “will” of the upholders of the status quo, a will that exerts itself against the artist with a dreadful and remorseless automaticity.

How many times have you been interrupted from your daily job with a command to hurry up and get that song written, that painting started or that poem finished?  Unless you are a professional with a deadline, it’s possible that it never has happened to you. 

And even if you are a professional, a cascade of other “needful” little activities will land on you whenever you try to focus on something artistic that exists in your mind only, and just outside boundaries of the physical universe.The battle to keep you from creating something unique, something wonderful, something divinely YOU is a bloody one, even if nary a shot is fired.

And then of course, there’s the blog you started that needs regular contributions, and in which, to your embarrassment, your own attention is hopelessly diverted, away from the gentle and invisible impulse to create something artistic that only YOU can do… if you could only break away.

Uh… Like this.  The End.  There, I did it!

Published in: on August 22, 2013 at 4:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY!

Jim Meskimen by Ray Kachatorian

I had to check my iCal calendar, but I was right- this last weekend marked the one year anniversary of live performances of JIMPRESSIONS, my one-man journey through my obsession with celebrity voices.

(Actually, it’s more a strong professional interest, but “Obsession” is much more compelling, don’t you agree? Who would watch a movie called “Strong Professional Interest”?)

I have performed JIMPRESSIONS at least twice a month, sometimes as many as eight times a month since it premiered on March 25, 2011, and as I have noted elsewhere, in cities all over the U.S., as well as Sydney, Australia, Toronto, Canada and London, England.

As you might imagine, I’ve learned a lot along the way.
The best thing about being in a one-man show, particularly one that you have also written, is that you can make ceaseless changes and updates, which with luck are improvements. I haven’t felt the need to ask anyone’s permission, and every show was a learning experience for me, as all live theatre is.

I owe a lot to my friend and director, Tait Ruppert, who has made many invaluable suggestions along the way and knows the show backwards and forwards.

It has also been rewarding to listen first hand to what people have to say about the show, which is always gratifying, particularly when it had some special resonance for them.

One woman thanked me very warmly for directing her attention to the fact that one can always draw forth in memory the sound of a loved one’s laughter; she had recently lost her mother and found a lot of relief by doing that.

Others have remarked that they had no knowledge of particular actors that now they felt interested to seek out in films and enjoy first hand. That’s cool.

Quite a lot of people remark that they think it it entertaining to observe the transitions I go through to rapidly become another person… this seems to be one of the favorite parts of the performance, and that has made me think about what it is that people find so fascinating about this style of entertainment.

I think there is something very helpful to audiences, even perhaps mildly therapeutic, with watching someone adopt different personas and identities. Of course, it’s a sort of magic trick, but it also speaks to a basic ability that anybody has, however un-exercised, to BE someone else on one’s own whim.

It’s akin to watching a dancer and realizing that one has the same physical parts, and that expressing oneself with arms, legs, hands and feet, instead of just thru the voice or the keyboard, is an unexploited possibility.

Of course, actors know how satisfying and pleasant it can be to shuffle off our own personalities and become someone great or stylish or interesting… in many cases it’s that sensation that got us interested in acting in the first place.

In the case of impersonating celebrities, our desires for a better, more fulfilling life come into play I think, in that these individuals symbolize not only the characters they portray, but also, as movie stars or leaders in some walk of life, they come to represent an advance into a state that is closer to immortality. If somebody can BE a movie star, even only for a few seconds, that person seemingly is sipping from some fountain that a lot of us wish we could drink deeply from.

I realize of course that I’m speaking in a very formal way about something which, after all, owes more to the Las Vegas Strip than the Veda, but still…

It just amazes me, having done this kind of entertaining now on and off for almost thirty years, that people are dazzled by the art of impersonation as much as they are.

But then, I’m being hypocritical, too, because I am equally dazzled by brilliant impressionists when I see them. And I’m lucky to know quite a few that are much more talented than I.

But as JIMPRESSIONS is about MY journey, I guess nobody would be able to do a better job of this particular angle of the story as I can, even if some of my renditions leave something to be desired.

Anyway, that’s all very sober and psuedo-academic, but the point is, it’s been a year, I have had a blast doing JIMPRESSIONS, and, as people seem to enjoy watching me doing my “Infinity of Celebrity Voices,… I have no intention of stopping.

See you at a performace soon, I hope!

If you are interested in the DVD of my live JIMPRESSIONS show at the historic Capitol Theatre in Clearwater, Florida, visit this site: http://appliedsilliness.com/jimpressionsdvd.html

Celebrity Shakespeare Challenge!

In an attempt to engage you, my audience of friends, sympathizers and co-conspirators, I recently made a video of me reciting a famous Shakespeare speech in the style of nine of the angriest actors I could think of (and imitate) and offer the following challenge:

Visit my YouTube channel, watch the video, and enter your guesses as comments on the YouTube page as to the nine identities I’m attempting to portray. Get those correct (or a majority, if this turns out to be an impossible task) plus the bonus question (WHICH character from Shakespeare, plus Act and Scene of which play) and you will win a FREE copy of the JIMPRESSIONS live show on DVD!

It’s a win-win! Hear Shakespeare! Play a game! Possibly, win a DVD with almost two hours of hilarious impressions, music and improvisation… and it costs you nothing but your spare moments of attention.

Play now, why don’t you- and help me spread the word.
http://www.youtube.com/jimmeskimen

Good luck, fellow Shakespeare lovers!

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.

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.

On Comedy and Contemporary Rhythms

I was thinking a little about humor and creating laughter and so forth, and had some new thoughts about it that might possibly be of interest.

So much of good comedy has to do with expectancy, and then an artful switching out of what is expected with that which is not.  “Misdirection” is another word of it that you hear a lot in professional circles.

Laughter is the rejection of the unexpected thing that comes AFTER an initial acceptance, then a recognition that–Hey, wait a MINUTE… it doesn’t fit.

I’m in the position of having dabbled in a lot of various forms of comedy, from live stand up, comedy movies, sitcom TV shows, funny Internet voiceovers, to improv and improvised commercials, so I am very sensitive to the way humor is used, and how long the shelf life is of certain types of comedy.

We can all see how certain comedic styles are immortal; Chaplin is a classic example because we can actually decipher, with some help, the Roman numerals MCMXXIV on the credits and recognize that the humor made by Chaplin in 1924 is still quite hilarious in 2010.  That’s a pretty long shelf life; almost as long as a Twinkie.  (See what I did there?  I waited four paragraphs for the Twinkie reference.  Patience!)

So, selfishly, I get interested in seeing how timeless I can make my comedic efforts, so that A) I can continue to make people laugh, regardless of passage of time, and B) I don’t look like a out-of-date bonehead after a few months or years.

I realized just a little while ago that just as expectancy has a lot to do with comedy, (what we call comedic timing) so, too, do patterns of comedy have a certain predictability which works to the performers favor or disfavor.

As an example, when I was a boy, the great comedian Bob Hope was still alive and on television with comedy specials every month or so, but was also definitely beyond his prime.  I imagine he had the same stable of writers, and the same tried and true viewpoints and rhythms were as ingrained in them as they were in his aging fan base.

To me, none of it was funny.

To me, the very transparent, “One line set-up-gag-dead pan to camera” was robotic and totally predictable.  The robotic part was not the flaw; see the career of the very funny Steven Wright.  The predictable part was the nail in the coffin.

That same predictability had been a strength for Hope in decades prior, a specific structure and rhythm he and other vaudeville comics had lovingly honed (for their own survival and protection) as a way of instilling confidence in their audience that a professional had the floor; all the crowd had to do was tolerate the sensation of momentary misdirection or lapsed expectations, and all would be jolly.

For me, in 1970, that “Predictable” part of Hope’s stand up was the part that I found so unappetizing.  I felt like I was being forced to act scandalized by something totally de rigueur; like it must feel to open the door to a surprise party that you already knew all about, over and over again all evening long.

When one uses the specific rhythms of one’s time and society, it can cut both ways, just as Bob Hope’s hoary pattern was both a source of satisfaction to older viewers and the object of complete rejection by a kid like me.

If one composes humorous offerings for others and establishes a pattern that is satisfying, once the pattern is set, it becomes easier and easier for the “Transaction” of comedy to take place.  Witness any episode of “Friends”, where the laughs, so expertly crafted over seasons, roll with the regularity of the tides.  It becomes more easy for an audience to accept and digest even less than brilliant jokes if there has been a solid establishment of the rate, the quality, and the predictability of the sequence itself, regardless of specific content.

Conversely, if you mess about and fail to deliver, and struggle to establish a pattern when no actual benefit is being delivered to an audience, that failed pattern, repeated, will tend to brand one as “Unfunny” and soon afterward, ignored.  That’s what I hear “Bombing” is.  Of course, I wouldn’t know…

In trying to come to grips with today’s sense of humor, I find, as a lot of guys my age do, that there is a sort of antipathy towards a lot of it.  And there could be many ways of justifying that antipathy.

Performers my age look at comedy today and go, “Whoa.  That is GROSS, that is IMPOLITE, that is… just DISGUSTING.  No WAY am I going to embrace THAT sort of humor.  If THAT is the way young people are going to get their laughs, FINE– they can do it without me.”

Even the great Arte Johnson of Laugh-In fame, whom I had the good fortune of directing in the year before he passed on, told me about modern comedy shows that “There’s nothing for me there.”

So, one could give up and feel that there was no entry into this new discussion, in this new way of speaking to one another about life’s adventures and peculiarities.

But that is missing the point.  The newer generation is always going to be able to score by knocking down the shibboleths of prior generations.  Those sacred cows and established conventions provide the raw materials of a lot of comedy, and would be foolish to ignore.  And indeed, it is part of the duty of the next generation to point at the foibles and rotten spots in the stone idols of their forefathers, so as to clear away the less worthy for the good of all.  (I don’t know if a stone idol can be said to have a foible, but you follow.)

So, the young develop their own acceptable rhythms of relating funny things to one another, and it perforce becomes a kind of coded shorthand, just as certain beats in the music of the day tells aficionados what to feel.  And just as old music styles no longer excite the imagination but become iconic or static styles, so do the methods of communicating humor, irony, and other comedic forms.

So, what ABOUT this new style of comedy?

To me, the “contemporary”  YouTube/FunnyOrDie comedic style has a sort of “Random” quality.  The old Bob Hope, set-up/gag/deadpan form is completely absent, and in its place is something that looks like an artistic free-for-all, a pastiche of very random viewpoints and delivery styles, mirroring in some way the disorderly nature of our whole society.

It’s as if the thing we latch onto as a common element to which everyone can relate is CHAOS.

Chaos and randomness has become the style most in tune with the zeitgeist, (which is a German word meaning “spirit of the times” that is still cool, for some reason.  Maybe that is just me being totally out of touch.  Anyway, now you can calibrate your reaction to my remarks by how cool you feel/don’t feel using the word “Zeitgeist” is.)

However, in case you feel, as I do, that there is quite enough chaos in the world, thank you very much, and that perhaps you like to laugh at things in a traditional way, I draw your attention to the fact that Sid Ceasar is still funny, the Marx Brothers are (most of the time) still funny,  that Chaplin is still funny, that P.G. Wodehouse and Mark Twain and even Shakespeare (once you break out your Shakespeare Concordance and clear up all those crazy old timey words) is still funny, and show every sign of staying funny for the next century at least.

So even guys like me can, still, on occasion, be very funny, even if we aren’t as random as some of our– WHOA!  What was that?  AhhAAAHHHH!  Okay– this is gonna sound insane but a GOPHER just bit me on the ankle and I think he was RABID, because there was a lot of foam on his

Jim Meskimen

http://www.youtube.com/jimmeskimen