A tableau of partiers frozen in red light … a white-winged angel dancing drunkenly around them … an interlude of Los Angeles radio DJ banter as the lights go up on a funny exchange between a pair named Calvin and Helen.
It’s a charmingly surreal opening, and squarely within the realm of what might be expected from a play whose self-description talks of “the intersection between fantasy and reality.” It’s a shame, too, because the angel conceit turns out to be relatively minor and impossibly stupid. Which brings us to the rest of the play.
Calvin is an LA native. Helen is from Spartanburg, South Carolina. They’ve met at Santa Monica College pre-orientation, and he’s enticed her to dip into his lifestyle of relentless oceanside partying before summer is over. One by one, his private-school friends wake up, and impart bits of information. For example, they like summer. (I know because one of them yelled “God bless summer!” to cheers of affirmation.) Furthermore, they all start college tomorrow. (I learned that when one of them said, “We all start college tomorrow.”)
Shaun, Harry, BB, and Pierce — Calvin’s crew — are very hungover, as BB reveals by exclaiming, “Holy worst hangover ever!” Pierce is the de facto chieftain: He wakes with his head in a traffic cone, from which he extracts a bag of weed before climbing a picnic table and unleashing a torrent of stoner wisecracks and wisdom. It’s 10 a.m., and everyone opens a beer. The party is back on!
Helen is our avatar as she quizzes the Californians on the logistics of their beach-bum lifestyle and gawks in horror at each reply. She wears a perturbed look during the entire play, but then, most of the actors’ faces seem stuck in one expression.
Draped in an uninspired mixture of neon, Vans, Hawaiian shirts, floral print, plaid cargo pants, aviators, and flat brim hats, our protagonists (we eventually learn) are entertainment executives’ kids who have uniformly decided to cling to LA for another four years — except for Ivy League Harry.Predictably, they employ the word “like,” to, like, not-so-great effect. Less predictably, they use phrases like “Jesus tap dancing Christ” and say “boink” to designate the carnal act.
When it comes time to clarify Pierce’s hazy backstory, a lifeguard appears onstage to divert the slacker-king while the friends solemnly recount the legend to Helen. Pierce, actually two years ahead of the others, was a star football player with national-league potential who mysteriously quit the sport at the peak of his success. A tangle of subplots explains his current status: a charismatic, perennially inebriated beach-dweller lionized by a rotating gang of high schoolers. Otis Blum ’15, who wrote the play, is competent as Pierce but commands no gravitas.
The storyline soon threatens to break down into clichés — first up, sex! BB and Harry flirt hard in a stereotypically hot-girl-and-nerd-finally-getting-together type of way. His impending departure for The Ivy League dooms their romance, but she spends the interim passionately asking questions like “Do you think you’ll ever smoke weed?”
Helen, for her part, abandons Calvin for a fling with Pierce but has to compete with ex-girlfriend Emily, who, whatever her reasons for intermittently popping up at Pierce’s hobo dominion, is a bright spot of subtle acting.
Next up, violence! Somewhere in the two-and-a-half-hour play, we are made privy to the distressing disappearance of 14-year-old Stella Mallick from last night’s rager. Her older brother thinks Pierce is guilty, and so they fight. (Let’s all try to forget the two men staggering about, yelling “Stella! Stella! I want my baby down here”).
The band of partiers is likeable and energetic. That much should be said. But BB’s manic laughter, Harry’s choice to downplay all his important lines, the general bungling of key pieces of dialogue, and the unpleasant sense that actors are lapsing into improvisation will likely test audiences’ patience.
“Angels” should be credited with having a plot, momentum, and some dramatic tension. Looking back, I feel some fondness for the characters, if only because I was in their shoes about 24 weeks ago. But the final point that must be driven home is that a minority of lines failed to induce a cringe or grimace.
Soliloquies about Los Angeles contain epigrammatic nuggets like “No one’s actually from LA. We’re all tourists.” One-liners pack as little punch as “He didn’t die. He was just moderately displaced.” After being compared to trash by his opponent, Pierce challenges him to a fight with the retort, “Bring your rubber gloves and a trash bag. I am trash, and just like trash, I can’t be gotten rid of.” Vouching for the epicness of a party, one guy says, “The girls wear pretty much nothing but the scantiest of outfits!” Climactic moments are punctuated with tortured utterances of “What the fuck, dude?”
To the critic ever on the lookout for an emblematic line, inadvertently an apt commentary on the play itself, one standout was: “Ain’t nobody got time for your theater nonsense.”
I could go on. A neglect of lighting and sound effects … noxious nods to Tupac Shakur … Ivy League Boy whining about being hit on at a gay bar (after going to a gay bar) … Bechdel Test out the window. “Angels” has an insistent way of not being over.
Perhaps my favorite moment came during intermission in the form of “City of Angels,” a transcendent ode to the city. If you’re looking for more melancholic mythologizing of youthful excess and urban ennui, go listen to Drake’s new mixtape. If you’re looking for a buddy comedy with something to say about entertainment culture, see “The Interview.” Heck, read “Looking for Alaska,” that cheesy, teeny volume of pseudo-philosophical pulp.
For those of you who choose to see “Angels:” the show runs through Saturday, Feb. 21st.
Directed by Max Fischer; produced by Hannah Sachs; with Colin Groundwater as Calvin, William Viederman as Shawn, Lindsay Falkenberg as Helen, Cody Kahoe as Harry, Charles Margossian as Tyler, Logan Kozal as BB, Otis Blum as Pierce, Naima Hebrail Kidjo as Emily, Gia Velasquez as Stella.
My suitemates and I have been hibernating the past couple weeks obsessively watching the Sochi Winter Olympics, avoiding the snowstorms and consuming a considerable amount of wine in the process. Tonight, as we watch the women’s figure skating short programs, we’re celebrating with Syrah — a firecracker of a wine known for its signature spice.
But, before I start pouring, I’d love to address perhaps the most frequent question I receive about wine. People often ask me how a wine — made from grapes — can develop a cornucopia of seemingly unrelated flavors. Do winemakers add other ingredients to the wine while they’re making it? The full response is a lot more sciencey than my humanities-centric mind can fully grasp, but the basic answer is no. Simply put, each grape varietal has a distinct flavor profile that becomes transformed by the land and climate where it is grown — its “terroir.” The winemaker then makes a number of decisions during the fermentation, ageing, and potentially blending, processes that can both manipulate and contribute to the flavor profiles. California Chardonnay, for instance, that undergoes malolactic fermentation will develop a buttery flavor, or a red wine aged in new oak can adopt a caramel or toffee character. Ironically enough, wine rarely ever tastes like grapes, with Muscat or Moscato being the most notable exception.
Sommeliers will frequent farmers’ markets, sniffing everything imaginable to fine-tune their olfactory organs. With their highly cultivated senses of smell, they can then pinpoint these incredibly specific aromas before a wine even touches their lips. While the differences between dried rose petal and fresh rosebud, or candied Meyer lemon peel and lemon grove may seem absurd or pretentious to the casual wine enthusiast, these nuances can actually be incredibly informative to wine experts when discussing issues such as aging potential, food pairings and overall quality. That being said, wine tasting is a subjective art. Just because you smell something different than what the little blurb in Wine Spectator suggests, that doesn’t make you any less correct.
Certain wine descriptions may come off as surprising — if not downright unappetizing — if you’re not familiar with the lingo. Experts often acknowledge a distinct smell of cat pee in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or they may get a whiff of leather in Spain’s celebrated Rioja. But don’t fret — both can be viewed as complimentary in reasonable doses. Nevertheless, no winemaker ever wants to read that their product is reminiscent of “grandma’s closet” or “running shorts.”
But back to Syrah. The most historically elegant specimens come from France’s Northern Rhône Valley, where Syrah is the star grape in such revered appellations as Côte-Rôtie and Hermitage. Syrah is also used as a blending varietal in Southern Rhône wines — for example Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. The first wine I’m drinking tonight, a 2010 Syrah by Louis Chèze, comes from the Northern Rhône. The wine offers a bouquet of black cherry and cigar box, carrying flavors of baking spice, coffee and pine forest to the mouth. Refined, yet robust, the Louis Chèze is classic Northern Rhône Syrah.
Outside of France, Syrah grows most famously in Australia, where it goes by the name Shiraz. Why exactly it’s called Shiraz down under remains a wine world mystery. Some oenophiles theorize that the varietal originated from the Persian city of Shiraz, but this legend still doesn’t really answer the Australia question. Syrah gained popularity in the United States in the 1980s after a group of American winemakers called the Rhône Rangers pushed for the planting of Rhône varietals in California.
The second wine I’m sampling — Klinker Brick’s 2011 “Farrah Syrah” — comes from Lodi, Calif., a Central Valley region east of San Francisco Bay (the city is also the subject of a Creedence Clearwater Revival song). At 14.9 percent alcohol, the Klinker Brick sits at about the maximum desired alcohol level for red wine. Notably stronger than the Louis Chèze (13 percent alcohol), the Klinker Brick offers a bolder, more aggressive, but nonetheless delicious New World-style Syrah. The spiciness hits you immediately on the nose and brings with it to the palate notes of ripe plum, bittersweet chocolate and burnt oak. This masculine wine definitely has a kick, and it will surely satiate anyone’s thirst for a big California red.
If, like me, you plan on watching the final events of the Sochi Winter Olympics this weekend, get in the spirit with fiery, internationally beloved Syrah before they extinguish the flame on Sunday. Cheers to the Games!
Both the Louis Chèze “Syrah” 2010 (Rhône Valley, France) $18 and the Klinker Brick “Farrah Syrah” 2011 (Lodi, Calif.) $21 are available for purchase at The Wine Thief (181 Crown St., New Haven).
Although it is officially November today, let’s be honest: We still have two more nights of Halloween. But, if you’re looking for a slightly more low-key way to rally, then I would suggest Pinot Noir, our grape variety of the week. If there were one word I could use do describe Pinot Noir, it would be elegant. Light to medium-bodied, this is a super-smooth red you can drink through the summer, but it carries enough weight to warm you up in the chillier months as well.
Today I’m sipping two Pinot Noirs — one from France, and one from the United States.
People are often intimidated by French wine. First off, the labels are in French, often featuring a drawing of some castle-type building, seemingly indistinguishable from one brand to the next. But, if you learn the basics, French wine labels are actually incredibly easy to dissect. I typically look for four things when picking out a bottle of wine: vintage, region, varietal and producer. The French map those out clearly on every bottle.
The easiest to find is the vintage — the year the grapes were picked — as it should be the only date on the bottle. The next step is where new wine enthusiasts usually get confused. The French wine industry is so organized that the region alone will tell you the grape variety or varieties used to make the wine. All quality wineries in France operate under the AOC system, or Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée. For a wine to be deemed AOC, it must conform to certain regulations, most notably that only certain grape varieties can be grown in certain regions. For this reason, an experienced oenophile will know that Vouvray is always the grape Chenin Blanc, or that Pomerol is a Merlot-driven Right Bank Bordeaux blend. The more French wine you drink, the more familiar you’ll become with the different regions and their grapes. But for starters, if you’re feeling lost in the France section of your local wine store, a simple Wikipedia search on your smart phone will tell you what you’re looking at. Finally, the producer is the other set of the words you’ll find on a French label, often beginning with “Domaine” or “Château.”
The French wine industry boasts centuries of rich history, so they are pretty stuck in their ways about what grapes can be grown where. The American wine industry, on the other hand, is still relatively new, constantly experimenting by growing new grape varieties in different areas. For that reason, American wine laws are decidedly less strict. The American counterpoint to the AOC guidelines is the AVA system, or American Viticultural Area. An AVA has clearly defined boundaries, and must feature distinctive terroir (climate, elevation, soil, etc.).
For an American winery to write an AVA on their wine label, 85 percent of the grapes used must come from within those borders. But, unlike in France, the AVA will not tell you exactly what you’re drinking — there’s no guarantee that a red Sonoma wine is Cabernet Sauvignon. So, with American wines, you’ll typically see both the AVA and the grape variety on the label.
Back to Pinot Noir: I’m sipping a 2010 Burgundy by Chartron et Trébuchet and a 2010 from Emerson Vineyards, from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Burgundy is the gold standard for Pinot Noir, producing some of the most expensive and complex wines in the world. Understanding the region is really quite simple: all white
Burgundy is made from Chardonnay, and all red Burgundy is made from Pinot Noir (with the exception of Beaujolais, the southern tip where they do their own thing).
But, alas, Chartron et Trébuchet decided to play nice, naming their wine “Bourgogne Pinot Noir.” This Burgundy definitely falls on the weightier side of the spectrum for Pinot Noir, a perfect fit for the time of year. With notes of cola and spice on the nose, the wine holds a distinct earthiness, leading to a bold, lingering finish.
The Willamette Valley AVA is one of America’s latest Pinot Noir hotspots, but other great American Pinots come from California AVAs such as Carneros, the Sonoma Coast and Mendocino County. This Emerson Pinot tastes a bit jammier than the Burgundy. Aromas of vanilla and Bing cherry carry to the palate, meeting flavors of fresh raspberry and cola. This wine has a vibrant, refreshing acidity, paving the way for a gentle and delicious exit.
Ultimately, whether it’s French or American, you can’t go wrong with Pinot Noir this time of year. And one last note: It is a complete pain to grow. This particularly finicky variety loves warm days and cool nights, causing stress for winemakers worldwide. So as you unpack your winter coats and accessories, take a moment to sit back with a glass of Pinot Noir and really appreciate the passion and perseverance behind the bottle.
Both the Chartron et Trébuchet “Bourgogne Pinot Noir” 2010 (Burgundy, France) $17 and the Emerson Vineyards “Pinot Noir” 2011 (Willamette Valley, Ore.) $20 are available for purchase at The Wine Thief (181 Crown St., New Haven).
When the Yale football team arrived at JFK airport last Thursday, a visage of 65 towering men wearing coats and ties, a sense of readiness pervaded the atmosphere. For the players, it was an unusual setting: rather than cramped on a dingy bus, rolling up and down the East Coast, they found themselves about to embark on the team’s first cross-country journey in recent memory.
Their plane was set to arrive in Santa Maria, Calif., in mere hours. Upon landing, they would travel some 30 miles north to San Luis Obispo, where they would set up camp in preparation for their Saturday match against the Cal Poly Mustangs. The players were steeped in something of Yale history: in the team’s illustrious 141-year arc, it was just the third time the Bulldogs would face a squad in the Golden State.
For this group of Elis, however, institutional memory did not provide the best sendoff. With last season’s dismal 2–8 finish fresh in mind, a sense of uncertainty toward the next few days seemed apropos. Yet the players crowded around the airport gate seemed unfettered, wearing confident smiles and relaxed postures as they prepared to board the plane.
Indeed, the opportunity to take on a nationally ranked football squad, to announce Yale’s rebuilding efforts to the Ivy League and to the country at large, was much cause for excitement. Because for the 2013 Bulldogs, this weekend represented far more than a sunny departure from New Haven’s chilly, grey October — rather, it presented the chance for the team to redeem the missteps of years past, to put to the test head coach Tony Reno’s master plan.
The Bulldogs’ presence in JFK that Thursday afternoon may seem a novel sight today, but it wasn’t that long ago that Yale football players were travel veterans, often crisscrossing the nation to battle — and defeat — college football’s most prominent teams.
With 27 national championships, and as alma mater of the “Father of American Football,” Walter Camp, Yale has more total wins than any school not named Michigan. But as newer programs have picked up speed over the last decades, Yale has lagged behind: the team now stands mired in a six-game losing streak to Harvard, attempting to claw back to respectability after a mere two wins last season. Home games are routinely played in front of an audience of 50,000 empty seats, with many Yalies proud to tell you they’ve never been to the Yale Bowl.
But early this summer, hints abounded that the 2013 season could signal a turning point. Tony Reno, hired as head coach in January 2012, used the offseason to institute a sweeping set of changes to the team, both in playbook and spirit. And so far, it’s working: using a brand new no-huddle offense — a strategy to quicken the Bulldogs’ tempo and wear down opponents — Yale secured a win in its season opener at Colgate, following suit with a 15-point victory over Cornell.
For Reno, however, these victories are rooted not just in better execution of plays, but also a change in team culture. The Cal Poly game represented a chance, in Reno’s words, for the team to bond, to put to the test the emphasis on camaraderie he’s been attempting to cultivate within his players.
Throughout the trip, this emphasis was evident. During those short moments of downtime, players prodded each other for advice on their fantasy football teams, chided teammates for attempting to catch up on schoolwork, and enjoyed the California sunshine while swimming in the hotel pool. Even with this general sense of ease, however, Reno was quick to reassert the importance of the journey at hand, encouraging his players to adopt a “business trip” mentality for the days ahead.
Under Reno’s careful eye, each day was structured by the minute, beginning with 8:00 a.m. staff meetings and ending with a strictly observed bed check at 10:00 p.m. On game day, players departed for Cal Poly dressed in coat and tie, with kickers and punters expected on the field first — at 12:24 p.m., to be exact.
Nobody strayed from the plan.
“It’s a new era, I guess you could say,” said defensive tackle Jeff Schmittgens ’15 with a smile.
On Friday, instead of completing their final pregame practice at Cal Poly’s stadium, Coach Reno chose to hold the first half of the walkthrough in a less obvious venue — the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Inn. Against a backdrop of rolling hills, palm trees and a bright yellow Denny’s sign, the team ran plays in helmets and jerseys, far from the potentially wandering eyes of the Cal Poly coaching staff.
Though the location itself was atypical, Friday’s practice was emblematic of Reno’s larger coaching philosophy: sharpening Yale’s competitive advantage, even if it means practicing alongside a handful of hotel guests’ cars. These new spins on practice strategy perhaps stem from his age: at just 38, Reno is the second-youngest coach in the Ivy League, allowing him to rethink a system to which more senior coaches may feel inevitably married.
But Reno’s greatest talent might be found not in his ability to design masterful plays, but rather, in his ability to recruit the players who carry them out.
For Reno, Saturday’s game readily fulfilled this reputation. Victor Egu ’17, one of Reno’s key recruits who spurned offers from Berkeley, Oregon and Notre Dame to play for the Bulldogs, stunted the Mustangs’ efforts at one of the game’s most crucial moments. With 11:03 left in the game, following an interception from Yale quarterback Hank Furman ’14, Egu sacked Cal Poly’s quarterback from behind, preventing the Mustangs from scoring off of Yale’s blunder.
But it was safety Cole Champion ’16, part of Reno’s first recruiting class, who especially made his presence felt on Saturday.
According to Reno, Cole had “never played safety before in his life until he came [to Yale].” But when pitted against the Mustangs, Cole rose to the occasion, leading all players with fourteen tackles. He also had a hand in three Cal Poly turnovers: a fumble recovery where he alertly dove on a poor pitch from Cal Poly’s quarterback, an interception cutting short a Cal Poly drive, and a second interception that halted the Mustangs’ last gasp and effectively clinched the win for the Bulldogs.
Egu’s and Champion’s efforts exemplify well the extent of Reno’s recruiting prowess. Reno’s personal recruits, however, were not the only players to turn in game-changing performances, pointing to another facet in the team’s overall rebuilding phase: Reno’s ability to further mold, and form relationships with, players who came to Yale under the auspices of Tom Williams.
“One more year of the new coaching staff has given us the opportunity to buy into Coach Reno’s system,” Schmittgens said. “One more year of familiarity with the program, bringing in a lot of good underclassmen to build the program — that has definitely brightened the outlook of where we’re at right now.”
It’s an attitude that was clearly in force on that crisp California Saturday. Upperclassmen stood tall alongside Reno’s handpicked players, finally comfortable with the new staff’s style after a full year of practice. Juniors and seniors contributed big plays on both sides of the ball, and in the fourth quarter, when every play’s importance is magnified, the veterans stepped up to the challenge.
With less than nine minutes left in the game, the Cal Poly faithful were rallying one last time, standing and screaming at full volume. The mercury showed a temperature well above 80 degrees, not including the effects of playing football in full pads. And Yale faced a crucial third down, deep in their own territory, clinging to a seven-point lead.
Furman remained unfazed. He rolled left, pump faked a throw, and then launched a beautiful rainbow deep downfield, where wideout Deon Randall ’15 managed to settle under it. The crowd was silenced. Any remaining doubts about the Bulldogs’ newfound resolve was quashed a few plays later, when Furman converted a third down into a touchdown by way of a diving Chris Smith ’14. Yale fans erupted, and the raucous cheers of the coaching staff rang clearly, penetrating even the walls of the insulated press box.
For the parents, relatives and supporters, all wearing white shirts commemorating the game, the final score reflected a crossroads for Yale football. At 24–10, it was a satisfying outcome for the Bulldogs’ first pilgrimage in recent memory — and perhaps one unexpected, too. Celebrations were certainly in order, and even Reno allowed a smile to crack through his typically stoic demeanor.
Undergirding the excitement, however, was a more sobering realization: for this group of players, moving forward, Yale’s legacy depends on much more than one California victory.
“We celebrated on Saturday night, but we were back focused on Dartmouth on Sunday,” offensive lineman Luke Longinotti ’16 said. “It was obviously a signature win, but 10 years from now this single game isn’t going to be what turned Yale football around.”
Furman had a slightly different spin. “We haven’t been good in a while, so everyone is in good spirits,” he said bluntly. “We’re at the point where we decide if we want to be a good team or a great team.”
After a long flight, every single person that stumbled into JFK Airport at 4 in the morning was ready to get back to campus and sleep. As the team waited for their bags near baggage carousel #4, however, Reno called everybody together for one last huddle. He delved into the team’s schedule for Sunday — which included trekking back to Smilow Field Center within six hours of returning to campus — and then briefly complimented the offense and the defense. But his focus quickly shifted to the team’s next game against the Big Green, a nod to his personal mantra of taking victory “one game at a time.”
“Dartmouth is a very good football team. Their backs are against the wall, and they need to win this game,” Reno asserted. “This is a must-win game for us.”
Reno’s words took on a new significance, as they resounded with a team now wholly familiar with and confident in his vision as a coach. He signaled to captain Beau Palin ’14 to gather the team for the weekend’s final huddle, and stepped back as the players drew together. A sense of anticipation coursed throughout, and any semblance of celebration was long gone — the players instead heeded their coach’s advice, turning their eyes fully to next Saturday’s challenge. One game at a time, indeed.
Los Angeles, CA. – Seth Rogen and Zac Efron are on the set of a mock university town shooting Townies, a Judd Apatow feature about a fraternity that moves in next door to a suburban couple and the ensuing turf war between them (also starring Rose Byrnes and Dave Franco). Strains of the film’s college-town humor are rooted in the Yale, New Haven experience of the film’s co-writer and co-producer, Andrew J. Cohen ’99 (Funny People, The 40-Year Old Virgin). The comedy will be Cohen’s first ‘executive producer’ credit, the summation of thirteen years working his way up in ‘The Industry’.
“That’s considered fast for this industry, but that’s not how fast I thought it would happen as a fresh-faced Yale kid. First moving out here, I was ready for a kingdom and I couldn’t find the keys at all,” Cohen laughs. “Couldn’t find them at all.”
Cohen imparts his narrative of struggle to an expanding club of students every year, recent graduates who reach out to him upon starting out in Los Angeles, hoping to glean the tidbits of insider information that will help them ‘make it’ in show business. The last decade or so has seen a preponderance of Ivy League graduates heading out to Hollywood, observes entertainment veteran Walter Parkes, former head of DreamWorks.
Parkes is schocked by the education levels of applicants to today’s entry-level positions, as mailroom interns and desk assistants. The search for a Big Break has become as competitive as college admissions, said long-time talent agent Bob Bookman LAW ’72 (Paradigm, CAA). Around two thousand applicants competed for forty summer internship spots at the Creative Artists Agency this year, Bookman said, an acceptance rate lower than Yale’s.
The newest generation of Ivy League-educated Hollywood hopefuls is a more ambitious, more prepared lot than in the past. Bookman recalls he took his first agency position without understanding “what an agent was,” but the younger set today has access to alumni mixers and educational panels that grew out of the struggles of their predecessors. This year marks the decade anniversary of both Yale in Hollywood and Bulldog Productions — Yale’s undergraduate filmmaking group — and the 30th anniversary of the Yale Film Studies Center.
But Parkes wonders how much these resources can really add to the prospects of those Yale hopefuls trying to break in to the entertainment industry.
“What is both tantalizing and exciting about our business, and so frustrating, is this is not a clear-cut meritocracy,” Parkes said. “Therefore, those resources can be there, but I do believe they’re slightly less effectively than for other businesses.”
WELCOME TO THE CLUB
Less than a day after actor Jeffrey Locker ’93 arrived in town in 2009, he sat at a club on La Cienega, “one of those you see on TMZ”, talking job prospects with a fellow Yale graduate as blurs of partygoers and Playboy models breezed by in the background. The mixer was one of over 50 socials, parties and mock Master’s Tea talks hosted annually by Yale in Hollywood, a networking group for alumni in the entertainment industry.
Three years later, Locker has settled into a board membership with Yale in Hollywood and is part of a crowd of over 300, enjoying a March 9 lunchtime banquet and top-floor view of the Universal Studios lot at Yale in Hollywood’s 10th anniversary celebration. The table to his left, marked “Reserved,” hosts producer Bruce Cohen ’83 (Silver Linings Playbook, American Beauty), executive Gary Newman ’76 of 20th Century Fox TV, producer Howard Gordon (Homeland), as well as Mark Dollhopf ’77, director of the Association of Yale Alumni.
“These are big, big Hollywood names,” Dollhopf emphasizes. “Our Yale alumni are movers and shakers in this industry — the access that we provide here is provided by nobody else.”
A Yale graduate expects to enter the job market having amassed a strong professional network, said David Steinberg ’05, one of Yale in Hollywood’s founding members. Such an advantage is “not unfair,” he stresses, but only reasonable in a town where competition is heavy, socialization is business and trade knowledge comes at a high premium.
The upsurge of online communication can take the majority of credit for the boom in alumni groups in Hollywood, starting with Harvardwood in 1999, which offer the likes of holiday parties at The W, Oscar galas at The Smith House and poolside mixers in the Hollywood Hills, each attended by hundreds of actors, agents, and aspiring entertainment moguls.
With over 2,500 names signed on, Yale in Hollywood rapidly outpaced other Ivy League groups to become among the most active in the industry, as well as one of the most prolific Yale shared-interest alumni networks. The organization has most recently gone global, establishing chapters in Toronto, Hong Kong and London and is even eyeing entertainment sub-industries abroad, such as Bollywood.
There is no business like show business, muses the notorious president of Yale in Hollywood, Kevin Winston, who requested his class year not be printed because it would reveal his age, which could hurt his employment opportunities in ‘The Industry.’ Winston makes it a point to be somewhere, meeting someone, at every moment, constantly “in circulation.” Lounged at a café on the Sunset Strip, dressed in his trademark “brand” of neon red, Winston is freshly recovering from a weekend of mixers at South by Southwest in Austin. The perception that LA’s party scene is excessive, he explains, is a tired notion of the East Coast, Ivy League mentality towards networking.
“I wish I could teach a course for Yalies on how to network because they’re not good at it and it’s not taught at Yale — how to network LA-style,” he said.
In New York, it might be popular to brag about how many hours you worked, he said. But in Los Angeles, one has to do “doubletime” — what impresses the office is a story about partying at the beach that weekend, he said, gesturing to the perpetually sunny scenery on Sunset Boulevard, while still getting all your work done.
Director James Ponsoldt ’01 (Smashed) compared Hollywood-style networking to hitting on people at a bar. In an industry that trades in relationships, going out for lunches and dinners four days a week is part of the job description for executives and producers, he said.
A filmmaker’s big break could come from anybody, Winston said. That is part of the reason attendees are never turned down from Yale in Hollywood or Ivy Entertainment events because they do not have an Ivy League degree. “Who you know” often has more sway than what you know, he said.
Winston currently has 1,200 friend requests on Facebook.
STARTING FROM SCRATCH
Graduates with phenomenal degrees work minimum wage jobs in Hollywood, said Jodie Foster ’85.
“The thing about the film business is no one really cares where you came from,” Foster said. “It wasn’t founded by a bunch of rich kids. They’re scrappers, people in the film business.”
Bookman said Hollywood’s empire builders — Goldwyn, Mayer, Warner — were working-class, so the industry has historically attracted rejects from other fields or educational institutions. Mid-century producer Walter Wanger was one of the first Ivy League graduates to make a name for himself, Bookman added, and it is a commonly-repeated trope that “his Dartmouth degree is what held him back.”
Part of the beauty of ‘making it’ in Hollywood, Foster suggested, is precisely that Yale graduates have to take the hard way in, stripped of any sense of entitlement. The majority of all alumni interviewed said their Yale degree has not been much of an asset.
At a Korea-town wine bar on Mar. 12, five-time Emmy winner and Princeton graduate Rob Kutner (The Daily Show, Conan) fields questions from fellow Princeton alums, the first of which is — how much of a difference do our Princeton degrees make in this business?
“No effect. Yeah, they really need a Princeton anthropology major [in Hollywood],” he joked sarcastically. “Summa cum laude to write the next Smurfs movie.”
After the talk, former director’s assistant Ethan Clarke admits that he stopped wearing his Princeton shirt to work, after realizing the school name wasn’t always received positively by his co-workers.
Having ‘Yale’ on your resume is only a major asset if the person interviewing you is from an Ivy League, Bookman said, and when he or she isn’t, there’s a possible assumption that you’re pretentious.
“I was a studio executive for six years and people would say behind my back — Bob, he’s an intellectual. He won’t know what will succeed,” Bookman recalls. “And Yale Law School made it hard to get a job, because people said I should go to the business side.”
Writer Jade Haviland ’04 said the typical reaction to hearing she has a Yale degree is, Why aren’t you on Wall Street? What are you doing here?
Although “there certainly are a lot of Yale graduates working in the legal side of Hollywood, where ‘Yale’ has a lot of cache,” jokes entertainment attorney Lois Fishman ’72.
Credits, not education, is the crux of a Hollywood resume, said production designer Alan Muraoka ’80 (Sesame Street), and a liberal arts degree is hardly a relevant measurement of artistic potential.
Aspiring actress Kristina Romaine transferred from Yale to the University of Southern California before her junior year in order to start taking auditions while in college. Most actors her age have not gone to college, she said, echoing multiple alumni who said college puts actors at a disadvantage by swallowing up four years of their youth.
Four alumni interviewed said actors typically only act part-time while paying the rent through SAT and academic tutoring jobs, using their Yale degree to land positions at Beverly Hills private schools rather than on studio lots.
The large majority of Yale alumni interviewed spent time in low-paying, menial labor positions. Nearly all alumni interviewed said they began their careers in Hollywood with a period of unemployment.
Producer Jeffrey Clifford ’91 (Up in the Air, No Strings Attached) recalls moving to Los Angeles with around $1,000 and spending his first month sleeping on a friend’s couch, “networking around” for a job.
Hollywood is not like investment banking where undergraduates can participate in a scheduled interview process prior to graduating and line up a job before May, said producer Jared LeBoff ’03 (Charlie St. Cloud, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). Almost all alumni interviewed said they moved to Los Angeles or New York before being offered their first job.
Film Studies professor Ron Gregg said when he puts undergraduates in touch with successful industry insiders such as Bruce Cohen or Ira Sachs, he emails Cohen and Sachs to say — give these kids the real story.
“I say to them, tell [students] the brutal honesty, that there is struggle involved here,” Gregg said. “There is possibly working at Starbucks along with working on your screenplay. Almost everyone in the industry would say [they] started in the mailroom.”
Screenwriter John Badham ’61 DRA ’63 (Nikita, Psych, Criminal Minds, Heroes) said the main task for interns in the mailroom, other than delivering mail, is “finding your own way out.”
NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS
3 a.m., knee-deep in a cemetery near Pasadena, Melissa Merritt ’03 (Parenthood), who works in props, accidentally falls into a freshly-dug grave. Reflecting on gigs in graveyards and condemned hospitals, Merritt says productions, particularly the low-budget horror films where she began her career, throw filmmakers into strenuous schedules of long, tedious hours in doing absurd assignments.
“I have seen so much crazy stuff — it never fails to entertain, that’s for sure,” Haviland said. “But it’s also depressing, to see how low people will stoop or how much flack they will put up with.”
The attempt to mass-produce Art has created an industry fraught with more emotion, and more immaturity, than any other, said producer Aaron Kogan ’00. Top-level creatives can get away with having temper tantrums and throwing things by claiming the stereotype of the “crazy Hollywood executive,” said Maria Burton ’85, recalling her brief stint as an assitant at Paramount.
A few alumni described their time as assistants at studios and agencies “the worst thing ever.” Andrew Cohen recalls being paid around five dollars an hour by Creative Artists Agency to anticipate his boss’s every whim, at any minute juggling constant phone calls while texting her forgotten documents. Now a CAA client himself, Cohen jokes that he is well aware of “exactly how needy clients can be.”
“Swimming with sharks is a pretty good example of what working at an agency is like,” Cohen said. “And there’s a lot of mind games,” he added.
Almost all alumni described the industry as intensely competitive.
The access point to The Industry is clotted because barriers to entry — educational degrees and standardized exams — do not exist, said actress Jill Gray Savarese ’03, fostering in its place cutthroat deal-making and survival of the fittest.
“You hear some things — one of my teachers at iO West was a Saturday Night Live writer. From anyone you hear, working at SNL is like daily trying not to slit your wrists,” Haviland said. “It’s backstabbing, competitive and if you don’t get three jokes up in a month, you’re fired.”
Her former io West teacher lost forty pounds on the job, Haviland added.
Every job could be your last job, said producer Alan Poul ’76 (The Newsroom, Six Feet Under). In an industry that is predominantly freelance, even the current president of a network could be out of a job in three months, said former television writer Laura Brennan ’88 (The Lost World), who left the business because the competition became “too much.”
“Television is an industry that spits people out,” Brennan said. “You will get fired. In fact, your contract is in weeks because every show gets cancelled.”
Two weeks after directing one of the final episodes of Breaking Bad in New Mexico, George Mastras ’88 said that he cannot feel entirely secure in terms of job stability. Though he now makes as much as he did as a lawyer, Mastras knows that scriptwriting is inherently volatile, he said, “always a crapshoot.” With the end of the AMC series, Mastras will now be working to get a pilot on the air.
Making one’s second project is even harder than making the first, Bookman admits. The ironic truth is that the career only gets harder, he explains. People idealize the possibilities of working in show business, Bookman said, without understanding “as a producer, you can make a fortune, but you can’t make a living.”
Multiple alumni interviewed reported sleeping in their offices and working seven days a week, pulling strings of all-nighters rivaling their most consuming reading periods at Yale.
Relationships have been destroyed over the intensity of production schedules, Haviland said, adding that her friends disappear for months on end during production season, re-emerging only after a project has wrapped.
“When I go to work on something — I just finished an episode of Nikita — I virtually turn into a monk because [writing is] all I’m doing for six weeks or so,” Badham said.
Even unemployment is a full-time job in Hollywood. Andrew Wagner ’09 recalls his first months out of college — living in a $600, cockroach-infested flat in Chinatown, getting up at 6 a.m. daily for auditions and checking Backstage casting notices every single day. Wagner recently landed a recurring role as an extra on The Newsroom, he said proudly. The sad parable of Hollywood is that most actors will spend far more trying to be an actor than they will ever make from acting, Locker said, who still browses actor’s gig listings online each day.
Less than half of alumni interviewed said they felt Hollywood was a meritocracy.
GOING IT ALONE
“You know when you’re traveling far away, and you meet someone from the U.S., and you’re like ‘Oh! You’re from the U.S.!’ That’s what having a Yale degree [in the entertainment industry] is like,” said writer and actress Zoe Kazan ’05 (Ruby Sparks).
The alumni network in Hollywood has historically been fragmented, said Gary Newman ’76, chairman of 20th-Century Fox Television, and the geographic separation between New Haven and Los Angeles alone is distancing.
Entertainment attorney Fishman recalls trying to get in touch with industry alumni in the 1970s by laboriously drafting letters, soliciting lunch dates. Nearly half a century later, actress Christine Garver ’08 (Criminal Minds) is sending out those same inquiries, requesting the same elusive sit-down lunch dates, via e-mail.
Poul admits that he receives a barrage of emails from Yale grads asking for meetings and advice. He inevitably does not have time to accommodate the requests of every writer asking for him to read their script, every filmmaker handing him a DVD.
“But if it were structured so it wasn’t individual people fielding requests, if it weren’t a barrage of emails, and there was a set system, maybe splitting up mentees…” Poul considered. “It could work.”
Perhaps historically, the critical mass necessary to sustain a viable alumni network has not been present, suggest alumni. For decades, the occasional graduate who packed his or her bags for Los Angeles was an outlier. The ones that came out in the 50s and 60s probably hid their degrees, Bookman said.
Yale’s English Department once informed a young Brandon Tartikoff ’70 he would be wasting his time in television, Fishman said. The one film course offered in the 60s was easily a gut, screenwriter Badham said, and movies were seen as just “the stuff you went to when avoiding studying.”
Tartikoff went on to run Paramount Studios, but it was not until the success of him and others like him found in the 60s and 70s that ideas about the value of television and film as a career began changing on campus, Fishman said.
An increasing stream of graduates have been finding their way into show business as of late, said alumni interviewed, and the overall awareness of entertainment as a tangible career has grown.
Perhaps it’s Entourage, muses Parkes, former head of DreamWorks — or at least, he explains, shows like Entourage that have glamourized Hollywood’s inner workings and motivated students to pursue a career like Vincent Chase’s.
“I do think something happened over the last 20 years or so with the preponderance of reality TV shows [about Hollywood] and reporting on the movie business,” Parkes said. “The Oscars race is becoming like the SuperBowl. There’s not a news business or local TV station that doesn’t report the box office winner of a given weekend.”
The awareness of entertainment as a feasible career path, however, has not budged Yale from its traditional theory-centric Film and Theater curriculums. The Yale education has approached the modern arts of acting and movie-making the same way it tackles English poets and Greek mythology, remaining based in paper-writing and seminar discussions, said actor Ron Livingston ’89 (Office Space, The Odd Life of Timothy Green).
Kazan, having recognized that Yale shirks any notion of “trade school reputation,” said it was necessary for her to take initiative and step outside the liberal arts curriculum while she was in college. She was “after bigger game” and got herself into training classes outside of her coursework and over the summers.
Allison Williams ’10 recalls being asked to improvise a full scene with Lena Dunham halfway through her audition for Girls. The improv skills she learned as a member of “Just Add Water” was the only formal acting training she had had.
Costume designer Melina Root ’83 DRA ’90 (That 70’s Show, Brothers and Sisters) said she filled the void in Yale’s theory-centric Theater Studies offerings through the Yale Dramat learning the ins and outs of running a show by doing so on her own.
Yet that’s how it should be, Root and Livingston insisted. Because of the lack of any formal structure for learning the entertainment trade on campus, Yalies were as much on their own while in college as they would be once they moved to LA, Livingston explained.
“I’ve seen conservatory graduates who’ve had a hard time in Hollywood, because they’re used to someone being in charge,” Livingston said. “At Yale, we didn’t have anybody in charge… Just grab a weekend and a dining hall and do the damn thing yourself.”
AN AGE OF AMBITION
Ten years ago, Steinberg, Winston and other soon-to-be founders of Yale in Hollywood met for lunch at Canter’s Deli, each wondering how to make Yale more like Harvard.
Harvard runs late night, according to multiple alumni interviewed.
The writing staffs of Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Simpsons are filled with Harvard boys, Haviland said, most of whom have known each other since being in the same sketch groups and on the editorial board of The Harvard Lampoon.
Comedy executives have grown accustomed to hiring fresh Harvard graduates, Haviland said, and therefore have an incentive to maintain strong ties to the school. The reciprocal nature of this relationship allows the alumni network to sustain itself, she said.
Now that Yale in Hollywood has established itself in town, its board members can tackle the task of reconnecting with their alma mater and cultivating this link with newer graduates, producer Kogan said.
Kogan suggests a “mini-graduate school” of classes about the structure of The Industry for undergraduate summer interns. There could be a BlueList for Yale graduates similar to the Hollywood Blacklist — a catalogue of the most “in” scripts circulated at major film companies annually, Haviland proposes. A streamlined system for matching mentors with mentees, Locker proposes.
But ask five hundred different successful Hollywood insiders how they made it, and they will tell five hundred different stories, Clifford said.
“It’s not only somewhat mysterious how to succeed … when you succeed, you can’t really tell other people what to do because you don’t know what you did right and there’s no incentive to tell other people what to do because it’s so competitive,” Steinberg said.
Yale’s most recent graduates appear to have caught on to these industry nuances. Director Seth Gordon ’99 (Horrible Bosses, Four Christmases) who has advised hundreds of new arrivals on navigating the murky waters of entertainment said he is surprised at how prematurely ambitious Yale’s new generation of Hollywood hopefuls are.
The questions posed by young graduates often carry a depth of sophistication that takes Gordon by surprise. Gordon, echoing Bookman, said he arrived in Los Angeles with “no idea what an agency was.” There was a learning curve, he recalls.
But ultimately, prior preparation wasn’t necessary, Gordon reflects.
“If you live your life, that’ll give you something worth saying,” Gordon said. “That’s what will make you a great filmmaker, not raw ambition.”
Kogan admits that though he envisions building up a powerful Yale in Hollywood, young people must realize that the business will never be formulaic.
Every year however, he said, people figure it out.
This is the second time I bought a pair of shoes and regretted it. The first time was in middle school. I showed up to the first day of basketball tryouts in a pair of beat-up blue Vans. Little did I know that Nike Air Force 1s and Jordans were the prerequisite to play ball. As a new seventh-grader — I had just moved back to the Bay Area and switched schools — I was psychologically and physically ill-prepared for that first day. I was the white boy who wasn’t “fitted” and had no “shoe game.” It didn’t help that I couldn’t shoot a free throw.
Tired of being bullied for being uncool, I dragged my mom with me to buy my first pair of Jordans: red 14s. They were the most expensive shoes I had ever owned. Did they help ease the transition into my new school, dunk like Mike or make the friends I so craved? The short answer is no, so I gave up on fitting in. The next year, I made varsity like all of the eighth-graders. But more importantly, my classmates began to like me for the quirky, annoying kid that I couldn’t help being.
When I arrived on campus this fall, I shopped around for my first pair of boots. As a transfer student from Southern California, the perils of the East Coast winter took on mythological proportions. People made it seem like frostbite was a natural occurrence. This time, I was convinced the boots were necessary. Yet when I received that thin, long, yellow slip for the package containing my Sorel boots, I already knew deep down that the East Coast winter wouldn’t live up to the hype I had fabricated. Even when I count my post-Nemo escapades, I wore my only pair of “East Coast shoes” a handful of times. My perception of how I would adjust to Yale was as skewed as my image of a New Haven winter.
What my Sorel boots couldn’t have prepared me for was the shitty weather inside me. I can’t pinpoint when I started to feel depressed. It may have been when the temperature first dropped below San Diego’s average of 70, and I had to throw my sandals and shorts under my twin bed. More likely, it was seeing the leaves outside my window turn brown and then be ripped to shreds by the December winds that tipped off my consciousness. But it wasn’t the winter’s fault that I was feeling down and out. As much as I’d like to blame it on the weather, the roots of my melancholy lay elsewhere. I missed the life I left in San Diego (there were thoughts of sandy, warm beaches); some of my classes seemed dull, and many of my peers disengaged; I was lingering at the tail end of an unhealthy relationship. I put so much thought into preparing for the weather — buying boots, warm socks, thick padded jacket and let’s not forget the long underwear — as a coping mechanism for dealing with the emotional strain of transferring. I overestimated both the snow, and my ability to transition into Yale.
The changing of the seasons wields an odd power over some, perhaps many, maybe even most of our campus. On the surface, there are the observable differences between fall and winter: the lack of people lounging on Cross Campus in tanks and salmon-colored shorts, the piles of snow strewn on the sides of York Street which make it difficult to jaywalk, and the vast emptiness of those competing frozen yogurt places.
But the more important, and insidious, changes are happening internally and most often unseen. Many hibernate and find themselves unable or uninterested in getting out of bed. Mood lights flicker on, and antidepressants are prescribed. Comments like “the weather sucks” are uttered frequently, often in place of “I’m feeling crummy.”
I complained about the weather too, but I was kidding myself. The snow and the cold were some of the least painful elements I braved this winter. While I feel a bit silly for buying boots better suited for the Alaskan tundra, there’s no shame in my game. You know what, I don’t regret buying those Jordans anymore, either! If I had to buy a pair of shoes for every formative experience, then I’d be content with a closet full of shoes I never wear. Luckily, I have all the shoes I need for this spring.
“Telegraph Avenue” has what George W. Bush ’68 would’ve called a cast that “looked like America.” Not that he would read a book this progressive. Or one this long. Black, white, Asian, Jewish, Christian, young, old, thin, fat, really fat, gay, straight and sexually ambiguous characters all play major roles. It is as if author Michael Chabon tried to capture the entire essence of Berkeley and Oakland in a single book.
Chabon is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written works across a number of genres and forms, including novels, children’s books, comic books and screenplays. This, his most recent novel, began in 1999 as the idea for a TV series about a real street that runs through both Berkeley and Oakland. More than a decade later, he came up with a book that is both beautifully written and comically captivating.
“Telegraph Avenue” focuses on two men, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe. Archy is black, Nat is white (and Jewish), but, other than that, the two are remarkably similar. Both are overweight, immature and enamored with old vinyl records, old music and the old neighborhood. Together, the two run Brokeland Records, named for the “no man’s land” of a district that separates Oakland and Berkeley.
Brokeland Records is threatened, much like real-life Brokeland, or even real-life Berkeley, by the impending arrival of big chain stores. In this case, that means a delightfully named “Dogpile Thang” (a sort of mall with a whole floor selling vintage vinyl) owned by Gibson “Gbad” Goode, who was once a Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and is now, as everyone seems to know, the fifth-richest black man in the country. The Thang will surely put Brokeland out of business, but Archy and Nat have an inkling that Goode won the rights to build it using unsavory means. Can he be stopped? Will their already struggling business survive?
There is trouble on the home front as well. Nat and Archy’s wives, Aviva and Gwen, work together as midwives in a thoroughly non-New-Agey practice. When a home birth goes wrong, and a very pregnant Gwen has a run-in with a very obnoxious (and quite racist) doctor, their practice is put at risk. Archy, scared of being a father, gets caught cheating on Gwen early in the novel; his illegitimate son later shows up, further estranging him from his wife. Can their marriage survive? Should it?
Also, throw in a 100-year-old Chinese woman who kicks ass at kung fu, an annoying talking parrot, a mobster-ish funeral home operator, Quentin Tarantino, old music, old cars, comic books, sexual politics and the Black Panthers, and you might grasp one fraction of the scope of this momentous novel. Even then-state Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., shows up in one memorable scene, making some weird conversation about jazz music and pregnancy.
If the language weren’t so beautifully crafted, the book would read like a comic farce. Archy’s estranged former-kung-fu-movie-star, former-Black-Panther father is trying to blackmail a city councilman, who was bribed by Goode, who is trying to strong-arm Archy, who considers abandoning Nat for financial security. Nat’s son Julie is sleeping with Archy’s long-lost son, Titus, who most characters don’t even know exists and no one knows is back in town. The relationships are as complex and confusing as the racial and cultural makeup of Berkeley and Oakland, but maybe that’s the point.
The writing is funny. It’s warm. It’s endearing. But, most of all, it’s just good. One man had a bald head “shaved clean as a porn star’s testicle.” The music of John Coltrane was “secretly powered by currents of rage … the saxophone bashing itself over and over against some invisible barrier, a bee at a windowpane seeking ingress or escape.” Nat and Archy sold, above all, “bullshit on tap.”
“Telegraph Avenue” is a love song written to quirky California, a sweet slow song that sounds much better on vinyl than on iTunes. It is dense and somewhat slow-moving at times, and it’s a bit confusing in the beginning, but it paints a rich and layered picture of a unique community.
Above all, it’s a book about adapting to a changing world. Can Archy and Nat stay in business in a world dominated by online shopping and mass retail? Can Archy’s marriage survive when new children, old children and old secrets arrive? Can Berkeley and Oakland and Brokeland remain distinctive in a homogenizing world? Does it matter?