Monday, November 24, 2014

The Inevitable Magic

Contributed by Montserrat Mendez co-founder of

October 10, 20149:36AM

Shay Gines sends me an email.

“I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog. In November, we are dedicating our blog to diversifying artistic outlets (in other words, artists & companies that produce theatre as well as films or an online series or other mediums.) I wanted to know if you would be interested in contributing a post to our blog.”


I reply.

"Sign me up."


Inner Monologue: "What the fuck did I just agree to do?!!!!  How does Shay Gines know who I am?  Let’s face it in this community of incredible writers, actors and directors my output has been rather small. And while I do run a company with my incredible business partner Armistead Johnson. Everything we’ve done so far was still in the middle of just getting started. Two film scripts that managed to get optioned, a short film, a web series and lots and lots of dreams is not what I call the recipe for the casserole of success. More like a side dish, we’re the salad that comes with the success."   

Noel Joseph Allain (NYIT Award recipient 2014 Featured Actor), Lowell Byers and Eyal Sherf in Luft Gangster. 
One of the best times of my life.

I’m also coming off the worst year of my life. A year that included a noise so loud in my brain (and it wasn’t the noise of constant failure) that it derailed my year almost completely. The last project I was 100% dedicated to before the noise took over was the NYIT nominated Luft Gangster; a production of the Nylon Fusion Collective. And congratulations to one of my favorite actors Noel Joseph Allain for claiming one of those awards for that masterful production, which was spear headed by its amazing artistic director Ivette Dumeng.

In the year that followed Luft; I hit rock bottom with my health, my writing, my career, my friendships and my passion. My 2014 included a ton of squirming on the floor begging for the pain to stop.  Oh, wait a minute, this is just like all actors at tech. Of course I could do this.

Looking back at two years of noise in my life (and how it was solved it’s a topic for a medical blog) I keep coming back to;

This is exactly how it was supposed to happen. Nothing gives you better perspective on your life than losing the ability to do what you love. 

I can’t write anything too inspirational. Most of you reading this are way more successful than I am and serve as my source inspiration. But I can share some of the things I’ve learned while splitting my time between three mediums. Film, TV, and Theatre.

  1. I take my color in to and out of every situation at the same time. It’s so easy for me
    to say that I don’t have as many doors open to me because I am Latino. The higher you climb up in this business, the whiter it becomes and the harder it is for me to get invited to the party. But if I am constantly looking at what is wrong, I never see what it right.  So YES, I am a minority in a business where the percentages are not good for me. But the best way to stand up to this is to reflect it my own work. I can write an angry rant on Facebook, or I can produce or write something that reflects what I want to see. I am excited to announce here first that MozzleStead has started a new division inspired by our writing of Chisholm, the new division named. MozzleStead BOLD places artists of color in front and behind the camera. Our stories are not about color, but are definitely colored by our characters’ experiences. Our aim is to make screens big and small reflect the world around us. The team is led by myself, Cheryl L. Davis, Mary Hodges, Kevin R. Free, Chandra Thomas in New York, Aja Houston in LA, and Andrew Saldana in Austin Texas, as well as two other incredible artists who will be revealed in 2015. We also have to thank Nicholas Gray – creative contributor, an integral if white part of the team, for encouraging not only its foundation, but opening many doors.
  2. Be your own producer other producers will slow you down. I think this is true whether you’re a writer, director or actor and I’m specifically speaking of the sudden rise of producers who refuse to pay the writer or other artists their value. I’ve developed a huge issue with this. Producers usually hire you to bring their vision to the screen, so if they can’t pay you, they’re stealing time away from your own visions.

    This is why I admire writer, actor, producer, director and sexy beast Nat Cassidy so much, he writes and produces plays that he can direct himself. I am sure someday he will do that with a feature and never look back. MozzleStead is currently co-producing his play The Temple which is coming to the Brick in February and this is a super early plug. But it’s a spectacularly scary play by a writer I hope becomes a huge part of the MozzleStead family.

    On the film side, take a look at a self-made film maker like JC Chandor. Who wrote, produced and directed Margin Call, and followed that up with All is Lost. If your script is really good, it will attract the right people, and if you start off small, with one really great script, you can grow from there. If you read the Oscar Nominated script for Margin Call you will notice that it’s really a play that he shot in basically one expansive location. My directing teacher in college Erma Duricko drilled into us, “Limitations free creativity.” I have lived that statement in my work ever since she stated it. Start out by working with the limitation you are given. Only then will you be able to grow.
  3. Never cast stars, create them; I was taught this by TV show runner when I was being mentored as part of a Latino TV initiative program. Your work should be strong enough, bold enough, and creative enough to launch stars. Jennifer Lawrence was just a working actress before Winter’s Bone came her way. The number of people who are trying to land stars for their crap scripts is unbelievable. Write an extraordinary script, be an extraordinary director, cast an extraordinary actor that’s right for the part.  You got into this business to be and work with extraordinary. Get to it.
  4. You’re not going to make it. Don’t even worry about it. What’s making it anyway? For two years of unbelievable pain, my idea of making it, was getting two hours of consecutive sleep. So my life became desperately about the business, and it began to eat at my soul. I began to worry about who would be cast in this movie? How the money would be gotten? Who was going to be the director? Why weren’t things happening?  In a way the noise in my head became a metaphor for all the noise in my life that had nothing to do with the joy of the work. If you’re in this, be talented, be devoted, practice your craft daily, have a goal that is tied to the work,  but admit that you’ve bought a lottery ticket, put it in a drawer and let it decide if and when the numbers are gonna come up. 
  5. Armistead Johnson co-writer of Chisholm
    co-founder of MozzleStead And Cheryl Davis
    playwright, TV writer, and creator with
    MozzleStead Bold. On a research trip to DC.
    Look for the inevitable magic. When Armistead and I were writing Chisholm for producers Bryan Gambogi, Gabrielle Almagor and Grant Anderson out in L.A. there were these moments of inevitable magic. When I was rewriting the entire third act of Chisholm, I really needed to have practical feel of 1972 Democratic National Convention Hall. Well, Armistead texts me that he and his partner were at a wedding reception that was right across the street from that convention center in Miami. He was able to take pictures which allowed me to visualize that entire set of scenes. I took those pictures with me to Bourbon Coffee on 14th, one of my happy writing haunts and was just writing when an older gentleman named Richard, saw me type the name Shirley Chisholm proceeded to lean into me, and said, “When I was 21 I was a delegate. I was at the 1972 Convention,” I couldn’t believe it. I immediately bombarded him with questions. He told me about the atmosphere, the people, the drugs that politicians would send out assistants for, a young Bill Clinton, Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, but most importantly when I asked him, “Why do you think there was so few shots of Shirley on the convention floor?” He looked at me matter of factly and just said, “she was black and everyone knew she wasn’t going to get the nomination. That’s when the camera men took their smoke breaks.” To this day that encounter was one of the greatest creative affirmations of my life. You know a project is yours when it has a grace that can only be called godly. 
  6. Flux it out. I have made Flux into a verb, but it’s also a shout out to Flux Theatre Ensemble, who I have grown to love since I saw Diende by August Schulenburg in 2012. (a play I saw twice in a row) “Flux it out? MozzleTov, what does that mean?” Well, to me it means, surround yourself with people who are better than you are at every level. Better writers, better directors, better actors, better designers, better human beings, more daring, more dedicated. They’ll give you something to strive for.  Flux is artists in loving action. Moving a story forward. Moving their story forward. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? “MozzleTov, they sound awesome, do they have something going up soon?” Why yes, you can get information and tickets to Flux’s Once upon a Bride there was a Forest here. It’ll be an unforgettable experience. 
  7. Catch a Mac Rogers play. I tell people here to be extraordinary. And I live and work amongst truly extraordinary artists, at any one time any of them could be doing something astonishing; be it Nat Cassidy, August Schulenburg, Mariah MaCarthy, John Hudson, Kevin Free, Heather Cunningham, Synge Maher, Kristen Vaughan, Phil Newsom, Helene Galek, Diana Oh, Lizz Leizzer, Cheryl Davis, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a more extraordinary creator than Mac Rogers. He is the real deal. I have had the fortune to cross paths with some really well known personalities in this business. None of them get me tongue tied and make me giggle like a school girl with a crush like Mac Rogers (okay Glen Close gave me nervous hives, and Julianna Marguiles made me head butt a Bleeker Street street sign) but still, I am in awe of Roger’s talent. Whenever I finish a draft of a script, I always ask myself, would I send this to Mac Rogers? If the answer is No. Then I know I am not done. He and his “extraordinary” Gideon Productions just opened Asymmetric, so check it out.
Ultimately, with MozzleStead, Armistead and I are building a company that reflects who we ultimately want to be as people and artists. And because each story wants to be told in its own way, we have to be in harmony with that story and its medium. We are just starting, but where I think we’re lucky is that our training ground has been this incredible Independent Theatre Community which we look forward to incorporating into and working with now and for the rest of our creative lives. 

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