Sunday Espresso: Inspirational week thanks to James Carpenter, Michael Jackson

    It’s been one of those weeks where things went, as my Dad might say, tickety-boo. Or: just right. Business is humming, meaning my head is alternatively in a state of utter confusion while simultaneously juggling several projects, commitments, goals, and in a state of utter clarity.

    It’s not like me to talk about inspiration. You know, I’m not one to get tingly, and warm and fuzzy. I don’t have a zen garden, dream catcher. And I don’t believe or care for biorhythms, horoscopes (horrorscopes however…) or rain dances. I’ve never had fuzzy dice hanging from the rear view mirror. Not once has the virgin Mary visited me in person or on a piece of toast. I suppose you might call it boring, but I like it this way. Just keep the espresso, Diet Coke, and wine coming… in that order.

    However, I will admit this week was inspiring. It feels good to see some people—good, hard working people who love their trade—do well, and others perhaps partially redeem their legacy. In this case I’m talking about one living, actor James Carpenter, and one dead, Michael Jackson.

    James Carpenter

    Bay Area stages are fortunate to have a true gem (or dare I say a living legend) in James Carpenter regularly performing across theaters here. He is, in my humble estimation, one of the best. He’s the kind of actor you go out of your way to see. And regardless if it’s Shakespeare or something modern and edgy, he brings it time and time again.

    For those not familiar, he is a seasoned actor with a deeply chiseled face, a lanky but muscular frame, and short hair. He can look very serious. But he can also look bemused. Always charismatic. His eyes are the eyes of a veteran actor who has seen the world, one play at a time; searing, squinting, anguished.

    Although I’ve only seen him in three productions (As You Like It, The Creature, A Christmas Carol), I’m convinced he’s an absolute gift to the stage. Imagine being able to see such rivetting performances time and time again here in the Bay Area.

    So I admit, for probably the first time, a little bit of nerves when we met Jim last week at Aurora in Berkeley for an interview for an episode of SSC Presents. Loni and I always wonder what the person we see on stage—larger than life—is really like in person. Often, the smaller the “star” or celebrity, the bigger the ego, the bigger the swollen head.

    We were told in advance to expect a serious interview. Loni: no crashing cars, laughing uncontrollably, or not knowing anything about the subject (just kidding on that one).

    When we walked into the large rehearsal hall at Aurora, Jim was awaiting patiently reading through his lines for the upcoming production (John Gabriel Borkman). Two chairs were in place, along with matching waters (none for me, I’m just a cameraman please remember; plus I like sneaking amongst the shadows off-camera anyways).

    What followed was a phenomenal interview. Jim was earnest, open, and remarkably (refreshingly) humble. For the first time I got chills during an interview as he told a story about his father, who had expected him to go the military route. His desire to instead follow his passion for the stage resulted in many “conversations.” One night, though, after a strikingly emotional performance (I believe it was Taming of the Shrew, but need to verify this in the interview footage) his Dad met him after the show, and told him to keep doing what he was doing, to follow his dream.

    It was an amazingly inspiring interview. I love it when people turn out to be so gracious, so nice, so thoughtful in person. And I should add we’ve had similar experiences with interviews across the Bay Area, be it at Arurora, SJ Rep or TheatreWorks. I find it equally inspiring that actors, directors, and industry folks give us at StarkSilverCreek an opportunity to be a teeny weeny part of their world, if only for an hour or so.

    Thank you Jim for being as great off-stage as you are on it.

    Michael Jackson

    I finally had a chance to watch This Is It, the Michael Jackson film of assembled rehearsal footage and videos, shot in anticipation of his farewell concert that would never happen in London.

    The initial plan was only to watch a few minutes, and to finish it at another time, but I ended up being drawn in by the star power that is Michael Jackson.

    I expected a bit of a train wreck. How could a frail 50-year-old with a notorious track record even come close to past greatness?

    After watching most of This Is It I’m convinced Michael Jackson would’ve gone out on top if the farewell tour had come to be. I was actually amazed at his dancing. It was crisp, fast, and you could tell he was having fun. Also, it was a pleasant surprise to hear him really singing for most of the songs, not just lip syncing. His voice was generally decent, although at times weak.

    It was especially inspiring watching him work with young dancers, probably less than half his age. He is eager to help, teach. And seek perfection. No doubt, you could tell he was very involved in everything: special effects, choreography, music of course, and even the most detailed of guitar licks.

    Also, I think he was in good hands with this production. It didn’t appear to be a tired retread of hits. There was plenty of new arrangements. All felt modern, plus a healthy does of lots of new video (including 3D of course) mixed in with the rehearsals.

    We’ll never know for sure if his endurance would’ve been up for the 50-show schedule, but he looked fit, healthy. Despite being past his prime, the magic was back.

    His life off-stage was no doubt bizarre. But on-stage he truly was the King of Pop. And thankfully this footage (beautiful looking too) exists for us to help set the record straight: Michael Jackson could still perform at a high level, still had the moves, and still could inspire millions around the world.

    I look forward to watching the remaining 30 minutes later today.

    Watching Michael Jackson perform is as close to I’ll ever get to a divine moment. The gene pool was incredibly gracious on that day, at least in regards to performing talent.

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    • beau

      loved the movie,michael was a class act,

    • beau

      loved the movie,michael was a class act,

    • EuropeanMJfan

      It was nice to see he never lost his awesome moves, his amazing voice and his sense of humour. But keep in mind that the rehearsals were just to “get the feel of it” (he actually says that after he performs Billie Jean in the movie); he would always say “save it for the fans” and if you’ll watch the rehearsals for his Dangerous tour and then watch the actual concert (Live In Bucharest from 92) you’ll know what I’m talking about.

    • EuropeanMJfan

      It was nice to see he never lost his awesome moves, his amazing voice and his sense of humour. But keep in mind that the rehearsals were just to “get the feel of it” (he actually says that after he performs Billie Jean in the movie); he would always say “save it for the fans” and if you’ll watch the rehearsals for his Dangerous tour and then watch the actual concert (Live In Bucharest from 92) you’ll know what I’m talking about.