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Artist Spotlight: Tyne Firmin

It’s hard for me to write about Tyne Firmin. He’s so dear to me. He’s an amazing friend, a fantastically talented actor, a teacher, a director. We’ve been friends for half a lifetime, and creative collaborators for almost as long. Our relationship is kind of like a marriage, in that we bicker, we push each others buttons, we help each other, we celebrate each other. We understand each other’s creative sensibility, and our talents compliment one another’s. Tyne is also kind and amazingly patient, and puts up with my (only sometimes!) temperamental snippy attitude.

The fabulous Tyne Firmin

The fabulous Tyne Firmin

I first met Tyne while working as a cater waiter in a mid-town hotel around 1991. Throughout the years, many boyfriends, health problems, moves, our friendship has remained. And Tyne and I found ourselves often working  creatively together, and usually on some crazy how-the-hell-did-we-end-up-in-this-crazy-show kind of situation. I don’t remember what the first show we did together was, perhaps it was the episodic late night theatrical soap opera that we were both in, Ailanthus Grove? Or was it the madcap musical revue Out of the Trunk? (In that one, Tyne was the stage manager, and heroically stepped in to the final performance when another actor had to leave town on a family emergency.) Well, let’s just say we’ve never done Shakespeare.

Tyne was born in southern Lousiana in Cajun country, and lived in a lot of the places you hear about on the news when there’s a big hurricane. “My parents split up when I was around 10 or 11, and my  mom moved my sisters and I up to southern Missouri.” Tyne was a shy child, so his Ma tried putting him in art classes, private French horn lessons and getting him involved in church to get him to come out of his shell. (Geez, was she grooming him to be a homo?)

In high school, while his sisters were cheerleading (why didn’t you try that, Tyne?!), his mom sent him to volunteer at the community theater, and he was bit by the acting bug. He threw himself into acting at the theater and joined the drama club at school. His senior year, he was cast as the lead in the school play, Flowers for Algernon.

A young Tyne, working his Barrymore profile

A young Tyne, working his Barrymore profile

In college and grad school, he continued performing, playing such roles as Jacquot in Carnival, the Emcee in Cabaret, Philip II in The Lion in Winter and his favorite, the ten Arles roles in Greater Tuna. He also did summer stock, getting roles like Linus in Snoopy, Eugene in Brighton Beach Memoirs and Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest. 

He then moved to New York, where he did a few touring theater jobs before landing the role of Seymour in the European Tour of Little Shop of Horrors.

“When I returned to the U.S. from touring, I got a job catering at a Times Square hotel where I first met Charles,” Tyne said. If that wasn’t tragic enough, things were about to get really hard for Tyne. “Within a few months of working there, I had an unexplainable stroke that had all the doctors stymied. No cause was ever found. I left the Big Apple for eight months and went back to Louisiana where I had to relearn to read, write, and create sentences. I had lost all ability to say more than three words at a time. Who am I kidding? It’s still rough, and that was 25 years ago!”

Tyne came back to New York, back to waiting tables and his passion for theater. Tyne studied acting with the master teacher Fred Kareman and worked with Fred’s wife Pamela Moller-Kareman for many years at The Schoolhouse Theater in Croton Falls, NY. He has performed in Off Broadway productions of NoraThe Crucible, and Biography as well as the Kafkaesque musical Ministry of Progress. He’s also had great roles in plays by Tennessee Williams.

Besides his fantastic acting talents, one of Tyne’s most admirable traits is that he always says yes to creative things, whether it be being part of a show or painting an apartment. That’s how I conned him into being a part of our first video adventure together, Manhattan Man-Travels. “Hey, Tyne,” I said, “how’d you like to shoot some video of these little sketches I wrote?” Poor thing didn’t know what he was getting into. Here it is years later, and those sketches have become Merce.

Tyne as Mama. Check out that rack!

Tyne as Mama. Check out that rack!

When writing the scripts for Merce, I knew that he needed to play Mama. Tyne wasn’t thrilled about having to get into the make-up, wig and bra (although methinks he didth protest too much), but truly, his performance is hilarious and touching. Tyne’s going to be the breakout star.

Besides his fantastic performance, Tyne also directs the eight episodes of Merce, making sure that my crazy vision is fleshed out. He was great on set, communicating with the actors and crew. He’s also been the guiding hand in the editing process, working with the team to make each episode come to life. Tyne has a wonderful sense of storytelling, and understands the rhythm of comedy. He’s also very detail oriented, and can see where a camera move or a close up can make the story more clear or the joke funnier. Brilliant.

Tyne recently had another minor stroke. He’s recovering from this one much more quickly than the one 25 years ago, and this time he didn’t lose his speech or reading and writing abilities. It’s still pretty scary, but he’s doing amazingly well, and it hasn’t stopped his work on our series.

I truly feel that it is time for the world to get to know Merce,” Tyne says. “He is a great guy. He has courage and loves unabashedly, if sometimes rashly. He makes his world work for him and that’s something that I want to try to do everyday. I’d like to be more like him.”

Funny. With his talent, kindness, patience and perseverence,  I want to be more like Tyne.

Besos,

Charles

P.S. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t make a stroke joke. This is a song I often sing to myself when I’m talking to Tyne. “STROKE ME, STROKE ME!”

Actor Spotlight: Amanda Bruton

What is there to say about the delightful and lovely Amanda Bruton? She’s an amazingly talented and fearless performer. She’s wickedly funny. She’s got a great rack. Qualities that we were looking for in an actress to play the part-time life coach, part-time dominatrix Veda Masters/Mistress Veda, to be sure. But with Amanda, we got all that and a whole lot more. When Amanda came in to try out for Merce, she bowled Tyne and me over with her hilarious audition. “I really just wanted to play with whips and chains,” Amanda said, “lucky for me, Charles and Tyne agreed and I booked the role.”

Fabulous and Boobalicious Amanda Bruton

Fabulous and Boobalicious Amanda Bruton

Like Bess Eckstein (who plays Merce’s roommate Corvette), Amanda is a Jersey girl (another one? sheesh!). “I grew up there, and to this day I’m a Jersey girl through and through,” she said. “I still drive stick and comb my hair with a pick, as Jersey girls do.” (I’m not sure what ‘driving stick’ is, but it sounds like something I’ve tried once or twice.)

She caught the acting bug early on. “From a young age I was incredibly melodramatic, but also a total ham.” She was in her first show at age 5, and, as she puts it, “a diva was born.” (I can relate, honey!) She also got to see a lot of Broadway shows and did a lot of community theater, which got her into a high school with an incredible arts program, leading her to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and New York.

Amanda as the bumbling life coach, Veda Masters

Amanda as the bumbling life coach, Veda Masters

“I’ve been living and working as an actor in NYC for over a decade now. My career has run the gamut: straight plays, musicals, Shakespeare, experimental work, voice-overs, film, television, sketch comedy and improv,” Amanda said. “Recently, I tap danced in a mullet and a tutu, and it wasn’t even ironic.” (That’s my kind of actress!)

For Amanda, the highlight of her career so far was playing Grandma Addams on the international tour of The Addams Family Musical. “I know what you’re thinking,” she said, “how could this young spring chicken play a 102-year-old Grandma? And the answer is: a lot of heavy make-up and a lot of late nights!”

Fierce Amanda as Mistress Veda (with Mike Dewhirst and Bess Eckstein)

Fierce Amanda as Mistress Veda (with fellow Jersey-ites Mike Dewhirst and  Bess Eckstein)

“Working on Merce was ridiculously fun. Everyone from the cast to the crew to the creators were fabulous,” Amanda said. “They all had the perfect combination of professionalism, humor, and BAWDINESS. Not to mention talent.”

Amanda as Veda, singing her soul out

Amanda as Veda, singing her soul out

She went on, “I was thrilled to be working on a show about HIV. I believe that one of the best ways to address serious issues is with humor and laughter. A lot of Americans forget that AIDS is still a problem, as if it were a trend that died in the 90’s. While it’s true that HIV is no longer a death sentence and many people with HIV are living happy and full lives, it is imperative that we find a cure. We need to bring it back to the forefront of the American public’s consciousness.”

And as for the future of Merce? “I hope that Merce can give a new face to HIV,” Amanda said. “I hope that with humor and laughter and maybe a couple of dildos and penis straws we can make this issue relatable. And I hope it makes us all really rich and famous.”

FROM YOUR MOUTH TO GOD’S EARS, AMANDA.

For more things Amanda, including video clips of her work, visit her website at www.amandabruton.com.

Besos,

Charles

Actor Spotlight: Bess Eckstein

Last summer, when Tyne and I were thinking about the casting of Merce, we knew that the role of Merce’s roommate Corvette was going to be a tough role to fill. We wanted a girl who was pretty, smart, funny, and unafraid. And maybe a little trashy.

One day I saw the adorable Bess Eckstein across a crowded room (just like the song!), and she was sitting with her legs crossed, in a miniskirt, chomping gum and playing with her hair. I thought, ‘now that looks like the kind of floozy that might have a different boyfriend every week! That looks like Merce’s roommate Corvette!’ So I asked her to audition. She came in, sang and read, and my instinct had been correct: Bess was a floozy! Or at least she could act like one. We cast her.

Beautiful Bess Eckstein

Beautiful Bess Eckstein

Bess is a Jersey girl, born and raised. And she’s proud of that. She was bitten by the theater bug at 3 years old, when her mom took her to see her first play, Mary Poppins. “I was completely enamored with the show! From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be a performer.”

Bess got her BFA in acting from Montclair State University (In New Jersey!) She’s performed in summer stock and regional theater, eventually earning her Equity card. “My love for the theater and continuing to pursue a career in performing brought me to NYC!” (Which is right next to New Jersey.)

Bess in the recording studio, singing her little Jersey heart out!

Bess in the recording studio, singing her little Jersey heart out!

“Working on Merce gave me the wonderful experience to combine all things I love: acting singing, dancing and working with enormously creatively talented people,” Bess said. “One of my favorite parts was going into the recording studio to record the musical numbers for the show. Also, living the dream of having a different boyfriend in each episode who doted on me wasn’t too shabby either!”

Bess Eckstein as Corvette, making this week's boyfriend play Twister

Bess Eckstein as Corvette, making this week’s boyfriend play Twister

Bess also shared her thoughts on HIV as a subject for Merce. “Having a number of friends who are HIV+, I am happy to be a part of a project that discusses this issue. Many of my friends struggled at first with the shame of their diagnosis, and had trouble sharing about it because of the stigma that’s still attached. I have watched them work towards not letting their diagnosis define them and continue to live full and happy lives. I’m thrilled to be part of a project that depicts someone living with HIV who continues to live life to the fullest.

And we’re thrilled to have her in the cast. Even if she’s from Jersey. 😉

For more things Bess, visit her website here.

Besos,

Charles

P.S. My good friend Eric Mann recently challenged me to make a video, kind of a dance-like-nobody’s-watching deal. He and his friends Gina Duci and Jeffrey Nunez  have a company, On Point Dance, creating a community of people that encourage, inspire and support each other through the love dance (“it is not about being a dancer,” Gina says, “it is about allowing music to move you in whatever way your body is telling you to”). Dancing can always change my mood and bring a smile to my face, so here’s my short vid.  Feel free to make one of your own! Use the hashtags #‎DanceintheDark‬ ‪#‎OnPointDance‬ ‪#‎Dance4you‬, and Do your thing, honey!

 

 

 

Designing Merce

We’ve wrapped shooting! Unbelievable. Now the project goes into post-production, editing all the episodes together and figuring out how all the scenes can best be put together to create fantastic episodes. This will be a collaboration between our Director of Photography (and editor!) Johnny Coughlin and Tyne as director. And then I’ll put my two cents in.

Part of what has made Merce so exciting and fun to work on is the fantastically talented artists who’ve come on board as designers, and I want you to meet them and know a little about how they feel about the project and their amazing contributions.

Darian Brenner, Art Director 

Darian Brenner

Darian Brenner

“The colors and whimsicality of Merce were already bursting out from the script’s pages, making it a candy-coated dream for any Art Director to work on. Adding on the freedom Charles & Tyne gave me to consider every little detail and really make the scenes wild, I am so excited and proud about the work I did on Merce.

Corvette and Merce's living room

Corvette and Merce’s Living Room

“The script has its raunchy moments but of course I still had second thoughts showing up my the first day on the job with a bunch paintings of boobs and straws shaped like penises (with balls). Charles & Tyne are amazing people to collaborate with, and their openness and great sense of humor allowed me to have fun and take these kind of risks in the design of Merce, and in the end, together we created something that is truly outrageous, vibrant, and new.”

"Breastfast" by Darian Brenner

“Breastfast”

"Lightboob"

“Lightboob”

"TT Phone Home"

“TT Phone Home”

Emily Foley, Costume Design 

Emily Foley

Emily Foley

“I knew I wanted to work on Merce from the moment I heard about the fantasy sequences. I’d never had a chance to costume anything in the fantasy realm, even though I was the sort of kid who cosplayed in high school (and college) and my experience in fantasy costuming had been pretty great when dressing myself. The script just sealed the deal.

“Once I found out that there were three fairies in the fantasy scenes, right away I thought of the three fairies from Sleeping Beauty, so I have each costumed in the three colors of those fairies, green, blue and red.

“My favorite number to costume was ‘Patch Up Your Life with a Bumper Sticker.’ I’m a huge fan of retro and rockabilly looks from the 50’s and the s&m scene (stylistically, I was the littlest Goth in high school and the littlest punk to date). I spent way too much time buying the boys’ ropes, making sure their colors stood out and that they wouldn’t bind uncomfortably or chaff. I’m so relieved that Darian tied them because despite my many contacts in the scene, I have no fucking idea how to tie someone up!

Veda and Fairies s&m

Veda (Amanda Bruton) and the Fairies (Alex Tomas, Rob Laqui and Sean Griffin)

“And Veda. Veda came out exactly as I pictured her. A beauty in white and lilac with hard core, killer heels. I may put that costume on myself for my next big band/rockabilly concert.”

Dana D’Adamo, Makeup and Hair Design

 

Dana D'Adamo

Dana D’Adamo

“Lipstick, glitter, bronzer and boobs–that’s a day on the set of Merce. This experience has been so much fun. Yes, it is true; Murphy’s law, where anything that could go wrong will, does play into full effect at times. However, team work and smiles get us through the day.
Holly-Lynn-Jo-Rae (Colleen Hawks-Pierce) all dolled up for the fantasy scene.

Holly-Lynn-Jo-Rae (Colleen Hawks-Pierce) all dolled up for a fantasy scene.

Marvello (Andre Daquigan)'s snake tattoo, designed by Dana.

Marvello (Andre Daquigan)’s snake tattoo, designed by Dana.

“From a makeup artist/hairstylist stand point, I am grateful to have the opportunity to work on a
project as comical as Merce. The fantasy scenes we are doing allow me to expand my creativity
by using heart stickers, rhinestones, and neon colors! I get to amp up the boyish and innocent
charm of Merce with sleek hair flips and a fresh face look.
Mama in Blue

Mama (Tyne Firmin), a vision in blue. Check out that rack!

“I have also morphed Tyne into the blunt and hilarious Mama. I will never forget the first day I
contoured Tyne’s chest, no one could take their eyes off those perky twins. To be able to
transform actors into the characters they are playing is euphoric for me. Honestly, what more
can a MUA ask for?
Merce has been a fantastic experience. The cast is full of talent and energy, and the crew has
become a second family.  I can’t wait to see our labor of love!”
These three artists brought so much more to the project than we ever dreamed. Thanks, ladies!
Besos,
Charles