I want to make art

 

I want to make art.

Feel the sun
Etch crimson blush
Crisp sea air dusting salt in my hair
Flicking, flittering, abandoning all despair

Unattached from fear
Doubt and rage. Years
Painting age on my face from
Love lost and one too many beers
Instead of one less paycheck
Tumbling all dominoes of balance
A delicate Jenga puzzle of bills
Income, and keeping my family safe from harm

I just want to live
Make art every minute, every second
Out of happiness, joy, and bliss
Capture things impossible to miss
Kissing my skin, like free-falling snow
Free and wild as nature intended
Fearing only the unknown
Instead of my own people.

©2016 Satu Runa
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photo by RonniDropBread

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I am but one cipher in an army of millions.

Some things I have learned since yesterday (Stella Adler alumni may remember Ron Burrus’ daily question, “What have you been learning?”):
1. Labels can be effective.
I hate the idea of labeling yourself. As an actor, a mixed-race child, a citizen of two countries, among other things… I felt that “labels” were far too limiting and complicated for me. I want to be free from a catalogue of humanity. But labels united as a voice do matter. It’s not about me and my individualistic ideals. It’s about showing numbers. I am but one cipher in an army of millions.
 
2. Try talking to the opposition instead of ignoring them.
I have a trigger finger when it comes to unfollowing/blocking. Since watching “Arrival” (and reading Zack Stentz + William Stamey‘s posts) I have decided to listen. I will converse instead of mute. As an actor and a member of this society, it’s in my best interest to attempt to understand why someone behaves the way they do.
 
3. A movement can only be successful when the people have a common vision.

What I believe Occupy lacked, #UniteAgainstHate has gained. Whether it be a common leader like Gandhi or MLK, or a common enemy like T****- you must stand together in order to be effective.

 

may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.

HENRY V, Prologue

 

Reading the above text (O for a Muse of Fire) that we had studied in drama school relentlessly, I take away from this speech the word “cipher. This word is meant to mean, in this context, that one actor on the stage shall represent 1 million soldiers that fought at Agincourt. The Chorus asks the audience to imagine that 1 actor is actually 1 million.
I am but one cipher. There are millions who are unseen that need to be heard. We performers, public speakers, activists shall be visible for you to be heard.

What have you been learning?

-Satu

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#UnitedAgainstHate Los Angeles March Against Trump

#UnitedAgainstHate March in Los Angeles 11/12/16

I had butterflies of equal parts fear and excitement. As soon as we surfaced, thousands of people had already gathered. I saw signs:

IMMIGRANT (arrow pointed down to a white woman holding the sign)
NOT MY PRESIDENT
THIS PUSSY GRABS BACK

So I knew it was going to be at least a good protest. No opposition in sight. Cops were helping to stop traffic. People stuck in their cars waved, honked, and cheered. The numbers were there. I felt a surge of love and an unmistakable, powerful energy.

Thousands gathered to watch. Brown-skinned men in construction and trucker hats, just showing up for work that day, saw thousands of people shouting loudly:

“SAY IT LOUD, SAY IT CLEAR: IMMIGRANTS ARE WELCOME HERE!”

The brown-skinned men were crying. They were laughing. They were waving and smiling. They knew they were not alone.

“MY BODY, MY CHOICE/HER BODY, HER CHOICE”
“TRANS LIVES MATTER”
“BLACK LIVES MATTER”
“TINY HANDS CAN’T BUILD A WALL”
“HEY HEY! HO HO! DONALD TRUMP HAS GOT TO GO!”

Many see these protests as futile, that it’s “inevitable” and we must accept it. Something you may not know (unless you were there), in addition to rejecting Trump, this is a call to fight for the rights of *everyone*. When your rights are being attacked, nothing feels more empowering than the sheer volume of people making it very clear that they are willing to fight to protect you. That’s what this is about. Regardless of Trump, we will never ever stop fighting for everyone affected by the hatred from Trump’s supporters. And the world is watching.

So here is my advice, if you are feeling hurt and helpless: If you are able-bodied, stand with us. Join us.

While our actions may not change what happens on January 19th, what I learned was this: When a trans person watches the news and sees the marches, they will feel better. When a muslim person watches the news tonight, they will feel better. When an immigrant watches the news tonight, they will feel less afraid. What does this all mean?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You have an ally in me, and all of those people you see on the news marching. Millions are with you. I hope you can sleep a little better tonight, and smile a little knowing that.

Satu
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“And They Look Great Doing It”

I recently passed by a professional actress on my way to a meeting. She positively beamed with radiant energy and light, knocking out everyone around her. Her perfume was fresh and floral, her clothing stylish and feminine. In a town where people err towards casual, I had the immediate thought: “that’s what I want to be.” Having chosen to put on my “filmmaker garb” for the day, I was left to wonder about the state of women in film vs. the all-seeing eye of fashion, and the practicality vs. expectation of our wardrobe.

Being an actor (and musician) my entire life- I listen, I watch, I learn. I take on particular habits, hairdos, styles. I emulated the artists I admired until I formulated my own style. When I became a New York actor, that particular style changed over time to a more sleek, stylish professional look with gothic undertones. I feel the most comfortable in this respect. As time went on and I started writing and directing my own work (sometimes acting in them), I started to learn about branding – as we have all done-  with the boom of social media.

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Me  (2005). 2nd year in New York. photo by Michael Chinnici

This always agitated me as an actor because I hated the idea of forcing things to be simple so people could understand (there is very little people understand about my first impression, unless they are familiar with the history of Nova Scotia, Trinidad, Finland, theater, and metal). It was far easier to brand myself as musician- the music speaks for itself. “Branding” became somewhat of an identity crisis more than anything else, and I longed for success so I could get to a point where branding didn’t matter so much.

And then I saw the W Magazine article interviewing Ana Lily Amirpour and Julia Ducournau (two highlighted horror directors emerging from TIFF this year with feature films), and the second I saw their photos, I could immediately relate to them. I realized that as a director – like being a musician: your work is your brand. This is the club I belong to. This is the movement that I strive to be a part of. It’s clear that women directors no longer have to shove themselves into a “male director costume” in order to be taken seriously. We can be as fashionable and presentable as actors. I will say this- when I directed and acted in Queen Gorya, I was in a revealing gothic outfit for the entire shoot, and I was treated with nothing but respect. The director is the chef, and everyone wants to do a good job and get home as fast as possible. No time, no room for a lack of respect.

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“The Chic Women Changing the Face of Horror Movies” –W Magazine

IN COMES the new wave of intellectual, or “mature” genre films. Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation. Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. I’ve been writing films since 2010, but only recently honed in on writing feature length screenplays. On this journey, as all writers do, I have been finding my “voice.” After years of accumulating a strong interest in high-end genre (horror, sci-fi mostly), I realize that these are also the stories that I tend to write most. It’s an exciting time, as science fiction is due to catch up to horror, and for fans and creators alike, we are frothing at the mouth for films like The Arrival.

I have found my new inspiration, my voice, and certainly a great place to be. I have peers that I look up to and can compete with that happen to be female, for a change. And it’s a thousand times easier to believe in yourself when you see someone who is the same sex doing the work you want to do.

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Asia Argento

So when it comes to fashion? I got it covered. Like when I just started out- I took my cues from Asia Argento for a particular character I was working on. It stuck.

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Director/Actress, Asia Argento (I love her)

It will all balance out in the end. Back to the rewrites.

-Satu Runa

The Onus and the Outrage

The Stage. The one place where you honestly, truthfully can be anything you want to be. People often transcend their upbringing, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, background, genetics, and physical attributes to form a self-image outside of what is expected of their kinfolk. People are by nature complex and varied. The profession of acting falls into this category just the same.

There is a dividing line between political correctness and creativity. Film and TV studios dictating who plays what role and what stories are told to target audiences. There are independent artists creating work not domineered by any studio or voice. Independent artists have the freedom to create anything, for any purpose. Studios, on the other hand, have a responsibility to reflect the public’s interest for two reasons: 1. To make money, and to a lesser extent: 2. To affect change for the greater good. The system isn’t perfect, but is slowly making strides in terms of representation behind and in front of the camera.

There is an awareness happening now in regards to when non-trans actors portray trans characters. Prior to this, there was a movement shining a spotlight on white actors portraying characters of color. Both movements have serious validity. Conversely, as an actor who started and trained in theater- while theater is an entirely different medium (of which still suffers the same non-inclusiveness as rampant in film and TV casting practices)- an actor can play any part they can believably portray to an audience. While a variety of voices need to be heard and portrayed, the onus for inclusivity in media is on the studios. The onus for hearing more voices is on all of us.

These two opposing forces (inclusivity vs creativity) enter a complex battle arena. I believe in the freedom of the artist. I also believe that studios and production houses have a responsibility to be inclusive. I believe that the actor has trained to become anything they have the power to imagine. The profession would be entirely tedious if we were limited to only playing ourselves- otherwise, why do it? It would be one long scripted reality show, and no one wants that. The magic is in the transformation.

It’s about the human condition as portrayed by the person who has spent their entire life training and educating themselves on how to live in another person’s shoes. Trust the experts. I’ve read from certain non-actors that believe if an actor shares the same background as the character, somehow they will deliver a finer performance. I couldn’t stress more that the best performances most often come from those who are the farthest removed from the character they are portraying. Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth. The mask is more powerful than you can imagine. The mask will set you free. The mask is vital to the honest performance. The mask is everything.

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The Actor, Picasso

-Satu

“Nostalgiacore” in the Time of Progress

I have a story idea that takes place in the early 90s and I’m having the hardest time getting started. Taking a closer look at what is causing my hesitancy, I find that it’s because the cast would have to be mostly white due to the historical context. To be more inclusive for people of color, how do I proceed?

One thing I’ve noticed about period TV programs is the noticeable erasure of people of color. One could possibly attribute this to a recreation of the “Hollywood version” of history, featuring all white leads, as well as actual history- where the storyline takes place in a workplace scenario where people of color were rarely (if ever) hired during this time. I love well done period TV shows, particularly when it serves as a metaphor for current societal issues. What doesn’t work for me in the constant repetition of revisiting the past in American television: zero people of color in leading or even guest-starring roles. While the country celebrates a return to the 80s genre TV movies with Netflix’s Stranger Things, I’m left wondering: why are we doing this again? Haven’t we fought tooth and nail to push away from all the character tropes of TV past?

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Stranger Things (Netflix)

Turns out people will eat it up. I know, I did too. For a few episodes. But I was horribly distracted by the lack of seeing something “new.” It was familiar, but not in a good way. It reminded me of a time lost, but it also reminded me that there is a psychological desire to cut non-white people out of the creative conversation. I don’t think that was the intention of the Duffer Brothers. As is the case with the Coen Brothers, “[the 80s, white Midwest] is the world we know.” As several smart people have pointed out- are aliens/zombies/vampires any easier to write about on a fictional level, without truly understanding them, living with, or growing up with them?

I’m starved for things like The Get Down. It takes place in the late 70s Bronx borough, and I can’t get enough of it. I was born in the 80s and I listen to every kind of music and I still understand the 70s nostalgia factor. But the show does not solely aim to tickle your easily picked at nostalgia scabs or heartstrings. From what I can tell (and I wasn’t there) it feels totally 70s in every aspect of the sense, but it’s also examining the underbelly from a fantastical perspective (as Baz Luhrmann often does and does well). The music speaks for itself and lives within a cast of highly spirited, talented actors.

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The Get Down (Netflix)

We see familiar faces from a legendary decade, people we’ve since celebrated for their skill in creating an entirely new, much needed musical genre to tear disco apart and destroy the status quo. Isn’t that what revolution is about? Isn’t that what art is about? The show’s format itself rips apart the norm. Baz Luhrmann for television, in it’s second Golden Age (can we call it the Platinum Age already?), co-written by the Pulitzer prize winning playwright, Stephen Adly Giurgis (Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the A-Train, Last Days of Judas Iscariot), the show is bound for a promising recipe of artistic excellence. And it delivers, all of these things: Nostalgia, top class talent, and a new way to recreate that specific time and place through fantasy.

What turns me off about Stranger Things– because it’s replicating, it features all the tropes we are desperately pushing away from. What holds me back from congratulating Stranger Things and anything else like it (let’s call it “Nostalgiacore”): while it remarkably recreates what we love about 80s film + TV, it also clearly showcases things that were wrong about 80s Hollywood, including all white casts with one token person of color, and stereotypical, tropey roles for women and girls. I enjoy period stories showcasing what society was genuinely like, but I do have an issue with revisiting a time in which Hollywood itself was less enlightened. Things that, should we see it in any other program, would make us cringe and trash it to pieces. Being “woke” has gotten to a point were it takes an exorbitant amount of forgiveness to get through certain films of “less enlightened times” and to me, it’s not excusable to recreate our past mistakes. Today, we want to see more from our media. Time to adapt.

Back to my story idea that takes place in a very white part of the country in the early 90s, in a very white “scene”: I’m going to do more research. If I can find the people of color in this narrative, I’d rather include them, especially if they were left out of historical documentation. Otherwise I feel like I’m doing a disservice to progress, and I’ll have to write about something else. The story is important for women (feminist), despite the scene in question being entirely dominated by white women (lacking intersectional feminism). I don’t want to careen the story into present day, but I don’t want to write “another story devoid of color” either, not for me, or anyone else. Especially when my (mixed) perspective includes color.

Have you ever hesitated to write something in the name of progress?

-Satu

First Seven Jobs

That “#firstsevenjobs” hashtag thing got me reminiscing.
Hot Topic at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina was my first paying job at $5.15/hour. It was the first expansion to malls outside of San Francisco. 3/4 of my paycheck always went back into the store. People make fun of Hot Topic for being cheesy but back then it was one of the coolest jobs in town, like working at a record store (we sold records too). We even had fans who would bring us cool things like cake, rock prints, albums, artwork. Everyone looked cool. Bands whose merch we sold came in to visit when they were on tour. We played whatever music we wanted and would always get a shipload of fresh records that came out that Tuesday. I learned a lot about music through this job, some records I still listen to today with as much passion as the first time. Sometimes I’ll walk by and instantly get hit with that unmistakeable smell of incense, scented candles, and cheap glitter body spray. It was awesome, especially once I got a raise to $5.50/hour 🙂

My First Seven Jobs (A Fantastic Exercise in Perspective)

sales associate, Hot Topic
sales associate, Party City
sales associate, campus bookstore
music columnist/concert & album reviewer, The Seahawk (UNCW)
intern, then set + office P.A., Fuse TV
secretary, Tin Pan Alley Studios
assistant, Sheryl Crow + W Management

What are yours?

-Satu