Monday, September 26, 2011

Downton Abbey: A Doll's House

What happens when you watch Downton Abbey and notice that you have a dollhouse sitting prettily in its lonesome corner? This!

"Welcome to Downton, a house divided ... by walls."

Step into "Dollshouse Downton", where your favourite characters from the increasingly popular television show are parodied in one of the most imaginative ways: in the form of animals! Never thought you'd ever see Maggie Smith as a duck, did you? Well now you can!

"Dollshouse Downton" takes the characters and storylines created by Julian Fellowes and adds a nice twist to them. The result is nothing short of amusing and more often than not, it conveys what is on almost everyone's minds when watching the real Downton. It is amazing how the animals absolutely suit the characters they represent. The entire project, though done by two 16-year-olds in a bedroom, is well thought out and executed brilliantly.

The two episodes produced have received thousands of hits on Youtube but the success it achieved was more than what was expected. Little did "Dollshouse' Downton's" creators know that soon after releasing their project to the public that it would attract the attention of Dan Stevens, who plays the dashing Matthew Crawley on the show, and would even have a brief feature article on The Guardian's website.

Grace and Tanvi, the two young ladies behind this masterpiece kindly participated in a short Q&A, for which I am grateful, that allowed me to get the inside scoop on how this whole thing came to be. Let's see what they had to say.

How was the idea to create Dollshouse Downton born?
Tanvi: I can’t take credit for the idea – as far as I know, it’s all down to the fact that Grace had this doll’s house her father made for her as a child, and a fairly extensive collection of these Sylvanian Family things. Something awesome must have gone on in her mind there because I distinctly remember a time when she sort of just came out with “I have this idea for an epic parody of Downton Abbey set in a doll’s house. From there it was mainly with coming up with our own style, which turned out to be that we would parody both the plot and characters. We each came up with a few scenes we wanted to do and it kind of just took off.
Grace: I had the idea long before we actually made it. My dad made the doll’s house for me and my sister when we were very young, and I suppose watching Downton Abbey and then seeing the doll’s house there in the corner – it just clicked! I then immediately went to Tanvi, because not only is she a fellow Downton fanatic, but she’s really interested in the world of film and I knew she’d be up to the challenge.
The animals you used were absolutely adorable! Where did you get them and how did you decide which animal would represent which character?
T: Heh, again that was mainly Grace, her being the prop manager. Some of the characters were just easy – the hedgehogs as Mrs Patmore and Daisy, the Dowager Countess as the duck. The rest was really working with what we had, seeing as we had no budget!

G: All of the animals were Sylvanian Families or Beatrix Potter figures which I’ve had since childhood and couldn’t bear to give away. Most of the casting was fairly easy – luckily we had enough rabbits to be the main Crawely family, and then, I suppose, we went by looks. The penguins were perfect as footmen, obviously, whilst the Mrs Tiggy-Winkle figure really does look like Mrs Patmore! We’ve nearly all the figures I have though, so we might have to get some more!
How long did it take you to put the entire project together?
T: I make it out to be about 6/7 hours scripting, 3 days of filming, 1 day of rough editing, 1 day of voiceovers and then all the many, many hours I spent doing the proper, final editing, including the trailer and stuff.
Which character did you enjoy playing most?
T: Definitely the Dowager Countess. I got to do my mannish falsetto and say silly things like “PEASANTS!”. Daisy was fun too, ‘cause she sets up loads of jokes but I struggled endlessly with the northern accent.
G: Personally I enjoyed playing Thomas and Branson the most, partly because the accents were really fun! There also two of my favourite characters from the show, and I thought we managed to do them justice, if in a very different manner from most tributes!
Describe how you felt when you discovered that Dan Stevens had seen it and tweeted about it and that "The Guardian" had featured it on its website.
T: OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG was basically it. I’m not sure I was capable of coherent speech. It was a total shock, and all happened so quickly because Dan Stevens tweeted it only a few hours after it came out and within 2 days it was just casually sitting on The Guardian website with an article quoting one of the lines from OUR SCRIPT!
G: Completely in shock! I discovered the Dan Stevens tweet myself and I just thought ‘This is it. This is exactly what we wanted to happen!’ We were utterly overjoyed because his tweet meant that the views shot up, and led to the article in The Guardian. This, again, left me in complete shock. My friend called me about it and I was pretty much screaming down the phone – as you can imagine, I was very, very happy and absolutely amazed that our no-budget summer project had made it so far.
Do you know if anyone else from the cast has seen it?
G: Brendan Coyle and Hugh Bonneville retweeted it, and I found out that Lesley Nicol has seen it too. We tweeted it to some other members of the cast, like Allen Leech and Jessica Brown-Findlay, but they didn’t respond. Also, Jessica Fellowes, author of The World of Downton Abbey and niece of the writer Julian Fellowes has seen it – so who knows, maybe she showed it to him!
Can you say a little about your love for Downton Abbey itself? And how did you survive the wait for the show's return?
T: I watched the whole first series on the telly with my Mum… I’ve been a fan of Dan Stevens for a couple of years now, since I saw him in The Vortex (the first live play I ever saw!) and it sounded like our kind of thing. I fell in love with the production and style of it all… such cliffhangers! I suppose Dollshouse Downton was kind of our way of dealing with Downton withdrawal symptoms… and watching the DVDs over and over…

G: Wow, my love for the show itself…I wasn’t instantly obsessed, but I was certainly drawn in by the first few episodes, so I watched the whole series and by the end I was hooked. I love Downton Abbey for so many reasons, but I suppose the main things I love are the character development, the plot, the cinematography and the humour. Downton is essentially a soap, and I understand it’s not the most highbrow of television. But it’s engaging, entertaining and beautifully made, which makes it so different from the rest. And as the cast and crew are always saying in interviews, it’s not an adaptation so we’re kept along by the suspense of the plot, and it’s set in a wonderful period, where generations began to clash like they hadn’t before. And of course, the new series being set in World War One makes it all the more exciting, if also more nerve-wracking.

It truly is amazing how their enthusiasm for one show led to such a creative idea that became a reality and it deserves all the attention it receives. Both episodes are available for viewing on their Youtube page. It's an absolute must-see and makes being a Downtonian a lot more fun!

For those wondering if there will be more "Dollshouse Downton" in the future, Grace says, "I would love to do some more Dollshouse Downton based on Series 2, if we can both find the time! We’d have to get some more Sylvanian Families though, and maybe build tiny trenches in the garden!"

Tanvi is also up to the challenge. "I think the idea was that Dollshouse Downton Series 1 basically followed Downton Abbey Series 1. So, if we get the time, we might continue in the same vein with Series 2. Provided we haven’t run out of jokes, that is!"

Well with Downton, it's probably safe to say that the jokes will always be there!

Lady Grace and Lady Tanvi, congratulations on all your success on making Downton history and a job well done, and thank you for the laughs! And if Series 2 is in the works, just don't make the wait a year long ... we've had enough of that sort of agony!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Young Lady's Reflection from the Heart

Yesterday was my 21st birthday, a major milestone I suppose, and now that I’ve done some personal reflection I have to express my gratitude to my favourite ladies who have inspired me immensely over many years and continue to do so everyday. On days when I feel unhappy and quite low about myself, they give me the strength to carry on because they’ve overcome so much and I know I can too. They are a few of the many blessings I have in my life and I owe them so much. The extent of my gratefulness knows no bounds and what they have significantly impressed upon me are things I will always take with me in life.

With all my heart, I thank you …

Audrey Hepburn for teaching me how to be lovely inside and out.
Lucille Ball for teaching me to laugh and how to make others laugh.
Betty White for teaching me that one can be amazing at any age.
Eva Gabor for teaching me how to exude glamour and class at all times.
Julie Andrews for teaching me that one voice can change many lives.
Maggie Smith for teaching me to embrace my wit and intelligence.
Judith Light for teaching me to open my heart and mind.
Catherine Tate for teaching me to work hard and have fun.
Joanne Froggatt for teaching me to keep dreaming.
Lady Gaga for teaching me to be brave and to express myself.
And to each one, thank you for teaching me that in truly being kind to others, beauty comes from within.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Master Class with Judith Light | 10 Important Things to Know

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a master class, courtesy of Primary Stages, with one of my favourite actresses, Judith Light, whom I had previously interviewed last winter after seeing her performance as Marie Lombardi in Lombardi. I'm still over the moon I had such a great opportunity to meet her again. I have to keep pinching myself to see if it was real or just a dream. Actually, it was a dream, just one that came true for me ... again!

Ms. Light began the Master Class stating that this wasn’t like a normal class and declaring that she was not the master, at which point I was mentally rolling my eyes at that last bit because my mind was busy screaming "YES JUDITH YOU ARE THE MASTER TO ME AND I WORSHIP THE GROUND YOU WALK ON!" Me? Biased? Yes! Honestly, her humility is both genuine and heartwarming.

But she was right about it not being a regular class. This was more than a master class, this was a life lesson! It was more like a therapy session, as someone who works there said it would be and always is when Judith gives these classes. It was so enlightening, inspiring, empowering, mind-opening, tear-inducing, filled with much laughter and just overall wonderful! She basically let those in the class really lead the discussions on various topics that ranged from acting and the industry to personal stories and life in general, and she listened attentively, giving the speaker her undivided attention and responding with the utmost sincerity. I jotted down some notes but after a while, I stopped because why look at a notebook when you can look at her face?! She said that what’s important will stay in our memory and this is what stayed with me and which I'd like to share. I hope some others might find her words useful and take them to heart as I did.

Here are what I feel are 10 important things to know and remember.
  1. It is important to find people that are going to stick with you in life and be there to support you throughout it all.
  2. Everyone is always being guided by something. It might not seem like it but there is always some form of guidance present in our lives, be it in our minds or in the form of others.
  3. Nothing happens by chance, if things are meant to happen, they will and if the things you want to happen don’t happen … “SO F***ING WHAT?!” ;) (pardon the expletive, it's a direct and brutally honest quote)
  4. People need to stop doing things and just BE, embrace their being and existence first because we’re all here for a reason.
  5. “Bring every moment of joy to every moment of your life!” You’ll find that your life changes for the better when you do this because making the effort to be happy with the circumstances of your life, even if it’s not something you imagined for yourself, makes a difference.
  6. Get rid of timelines you’ve set for yourself because they take away the control you have over your life. Things will happen when they happen.
  7. “Just for today do not anger, just for today do not worry and be filled with gratitude, devote yourself to your work, be kind to people.” - Reiki mediation (Ms. Light, a very spiritual person, is an avid practitioner)
  8. This book should be bought and read: Buddha Standard Time by Surya Das
  9. Judith Light is an amazing person!
She sincerely cared about what we had to say and you can tell that she is always like this with whoever she encounters. It takes me right back to the day I interviewed her where she was open and honest and happy to be there. She shared personal stories of her own with the class, many of which I already knew of before but just to hear them come from her is something that is to be cherished. Because here is a woman who has had such an extraordinary life with many ups and downs, someone who has had great success which is very well-deserved, who is so brave but still gets terrified of the prospects ahead of her, and yet she is so humble and grateful for all that she has and is more than willing to sit down and talk with those of us who are still chasing our dreams and simply be there for us. Her feedback and advice was more than appreciated and I’m going to do my best to heed her word because it is law!

I cannot be more grateful to Ms. Light for her time, energy, and willingness to participate in this master class. She is a great inspiration to many, myself included if you hadn't noticed as yet, and if you are not aware of her existence ... please, I beg you on my hands and knees, Google her name, learn about who she is and what she does and then come back to me so I can point you in the direction of all her major work and the various causes she is an advocate for. And if you seriously have to Google her, why haven't you been aware of her before?

I could actually go on and on about this magnificent person but I'll stop right here ... for now. Just remember to open the windows of your mind and let a little LIGHT in.

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