Dear Mr. President

Do these glasses make me look smarterer?At the Mission’s Lone Palm last Wednesday, I attended Hiya Swanhuyser and Jonathan Hunt’s “Attack of the Typewriters” (formerly the Left Wing Letter Bee) to do my due for democracy.

There, seated in the company of my band mate Orion Letizi and band attorney Rosaclaire Baissinger, I drank pints and typed screeds to our nation’s leaders on one of several vintage typewriters deposited throughout the bar. Quaint, you say, then ask “Why didn’t you just hatch open your laptop and fling missives over the wifi, Mr. Democracy?” Well, as Swanhuyser counseled us, it turns out “hand-generated” letters are the buoys of civic correspondence in an ocean otherwise roiling with spam. Consequently, they bubble to the top and are more likely to be read, tabulated and perhaps even acted upon. That said, only the stray Luddite knows how to use a manual typewriter these days, so the typo-laden results of our hunting and pecking recalled the jagged type of, as Swanhuyser pointed out, “the Unabomber.” This was the point she explained – not to begrudge the Techno-Beast – but to prove that someone actually took the time to personally type the damn thing. And type I did. With all the drunken drivel I hacked out (“Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger, please do Terminator 4, Best wishes, Daedalus ‘Tookie’ Howell”) it’s a wonder I haven’t been fingered as an enemy combatant and hauled off to Guantanamo Bay (or to Abu Grab where enemy combatants are simply fingered).

I did, however, manage a pithy little epistle to the President that went something like this:

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20510

Dear President Bush:

As a reporter on assignment for the Sonoma Index Tribune, I recently penned a story about a local art exhibit dubbed “Never to Forget: Faces of the Fallen” in which portraits of all the American soldiers who have died in the conflict in Iraq were painted by art students and showcased in a traveling exhibit. Over 2,000 such portraits have been painted thus far, which has led to a peculiar crisis: galleries hosting the exhibit are running out of wall space. As you surely have been advised, real estate comes at a premium these days and many of these galleries are non-profits that are unable to afford additional walls upon which to hang the visages of the war dead. For the sake of these galleries, the artists and those soldiers who are fortunate enough not to have been painted yet, I implore you to end the war in Iraq. That is not red paint on your hands, Mr. President.

Best regards
Daedalus Howell

Faces of the Fallen

In September 2004, lauded Sonoma painter Chester Arnold was reading the New York Times when he came across a feature dubbed “Roster of the Dead.” It was a commemoration of the first thousand U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war composed of their black and white thumbnail-sized photographs.

“When I saw that I realized that this was a really emotionally engaging spread to me because I come from a family of military people and there’s a lot of compassion for the people involved with the service,” says Arnold.

He was inspired. Arnold was then teaching a painting class at the College of Marin in Kentfield and had originally intended on leading his students through a self-portrait assignment. Instead, he asked his students how they would feel about painting the faces of the fallen. Their interest piqued – emotionally, politically or otherwise – the students leapt at the opportunity.

“What drove me to want to have them made was a feeling of giving the people who were in those little pictures in the New York Times a more permanent presence in the world, at least publicly, than they were getting from those pictures,” says Arnold of his inspiration for the project, which would eventually culminate in “Never to Forget: Faces of the Fallen,” a traveling exhibition the portraits, appearing at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art from Jan. 14, through Sunday, Feb. 26.

“With all of the history of memorial portraiture, I thought this might be a way of dealing with something meaningful and getting out of the narcissistic phase and into the humanitarian,” says Arnold of the class assignment that would become the exhibit. “Most of these students were really young, oftentimes, the age of the people they were painting.”

When the students returned with their completed paintings, Arnold displayed them simultaneously. The effect of all the faces staring back at the artists proved emotionally overwhelming for some.

“This was a much more emotional experience than they had realized,” says Arnold, who resolved to continue with the project though he had to reluctantly limit its scope to specifically the American soldiers of the Iraq conflict for the sake of keeping the endeavor focused.

Word spread throughout the community college and Arnold soon had a garrison of painters, ranging from students to professionals, determined to paint the first thousand fallen, which culminated in a show at the college’s campus gallery.

“Because of the distribution of skills was vast – we have beginners, developmentally disabled people, we have really expert people who have come back to the classroom. From the beginning, I wanted to keep it simple so I said we’ll use a three color palette to keep it modest, which precludes the color problems that might emerge when you’re working from a black and white photograph which is was we had,” says Arnold who distributed seven by five inch canvas boards for the artist to paint.

The limited palette and consistent size of the paintings contributes an aesthetic unity to the pieces. That said, Arnold had no mandate as to how the source photos were to be interpreted resulting in an array of images from traditional portraiture to those that evoke their subjects more abstractly.

“A person may not have top notch skills, but if they’re putting their heart and soul into this, they really should be given the opportunity to show the work. We decided, unanimously, that this should be an unjuried, unedited show. This is all human content, it’s going to be interesting,” says Arnold, who adds sagely, “They’re all caring at the same level.”

The inaugural show was “overwhelming” Arnold recounts. Media coverage soon followed. Local newspaper articles were followed by wire stories from the Associated Press. Network television news followed suit, as did Russian broadcasters and even a TV journalist from Austrian who produced a documentary about the exhibit.

“There was a lot of public exposure. It was really surprising for everyone involved but at the same time extremely satisfying for all the students who had participated. They felt part of a bigger, human issue,” says Arnold.

Later, Arnold was contacted by representatives from Syracuse University in New York interested in contributing and exhibiting the show, which also became a wellspring of media attention. Some families of the fallen even traveled to see the show.

“I’ve tried to frame it from the very beginning this was something that was apolitical. You can interpret it positively, negatively, anyway you want, but the people who painted these portraits painted them because they care about the individuals whether they’re for or against the war,” says Arnold.

“I had students from both sides painting portraits and they both painted with equal fervor and equal concern. I thought that was a way to use the visual arts to bridge a political divide and at the same time deal with real issues instead of art about art about art. You see people at the museum modern art scratching their heads wondering ‘Why the hell is this here? I don’t get it.’ No one gets it. But this was something that everyone got.”

The SVMA exhibit features a total of 1976 paintings. The most recent portraits created by students from Sonoma State University and Sonoma Valley High School.

“Faces of people, whether they’re photographs or paintings, survive as a kind of witness to their having existed visual. Photographs do that too, but what we find in portraiture is that the portrait always ends up being a painting of two people – the subject and the artist. It’s almost as though the artist is putting part of themselves in the painting and is keeping the image alive,” says Arnold who is a member of the SVMA board of directors and is curating the SVMA exhibition (the museum has received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to help fund the free exhibition, a first for SVMA).

Arnold intends to continue the project for the duration of the war and is currently corresponding with other schools to maintain the project as the war endures.

“We’ve asked ourselves ‘How can you stop doing this? How can you leave anybody out’?” he says.

“Faces of the Fallen” on Thursday, Jan. 12, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. During this exhibition, SVMA will be open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with admission free every day for the full run. The museum is at 551 Broadway. For information, call 939-7862.

Compensated Celebrity Endorser

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Being a compensated celebrity endorser puts you back in the spotlight – where you belong. Remember, “out of sight means out of mind.” You don’t want to become a trivia question do you? No, you want to be able to answer the question “Whatever happen to [insert your once famous name here]?” by sponsoring a pyramid marketing scheme or non-FDA approved acne treatment. Not only will your fans learn about a great product, they will also learn a lot about YOU. That’s right Y-O-U!

The fact is, there are more celebrities than ever before and compensated celebrity endorsements are in limited supply. Act now before someone else takes your place. For a free brochure, send $19.95 (shipping and handling) to: Daedalus Howell, Compensated Celebrity Endorser, P.O. Box 653 Sonoma, CA 95476. Your fans are waiting…

Atomic Hangover (Or, How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate the Bomb)

Who's this hansome devil?I can remember when I first started obsessing about the bomb. It was Nov. 21, 1983. The day after The Day After. The fulcrum of the so-called X-Generation, those of us who experienced puberty in the ’80s under the tenure of President Reagan had inherited the Cold War in full bloom, like an atomic hangover. Its then-most popular exegesis was a made-for-TV thriller about a nuclear attack on middle America starring Jason Robards and marketed with a weapons-grade tagline that read: “Apocalypse: The end of the familiar, the beginning of the end.”

Everybody in my sixth-grade class had seen The Day After. They drifted into class the next morning as traumatized zombie children.

I went to an experimental school comprised of multigrade “quads” in which teachers often led discussions about our feelings and topics of the day. That morning we discussed being nuked. A kid raised his hand and asked, “What do we do?” Ms. J, our instructor, mulled the question over, the ubiquitous mantra of the 1950s educational films, “duck and cover,” surely echoing in her mind. After a moment, she simply said, “Nothing. There’s nothing you can do,” as her eyes misted over.

Preteen Thanatos

On July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was detonated at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Last month, 60 years later, the University of California won a renewal of its contract to manage the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it helped inaugurate the first nuclear weapons lab to devise the bomb. It was a matter of academic prestige. UC’s relationship to the lab and the bomb is a feather in its cap, a quill plucked from the wings of the angel of death, with which buzzwords like “weapons of mass destruction” and “dirty bombs” are writ large on anchormen’s teleprompters. No wonder MGM Home Entertainment hastened a DVD release of The Day After last year (several months overdue, having overslept the 20th anniversary of its original broadcast). It was relevant again–or so it seemed.

I rented the DVD. I had to. I had missed the original broadcast, which in retrospect probably caused me more anxiety than if I had seen it in tandem with my classmates. The implications of The Day After that I had gleaned from my classmates had mushroomed in my wee skull. The result was a kind of preteen Thanatos. Was it possible? Could this happen? Could the falcon not hear the falconer? Yes. The president seemed to have his finger permanently grafted to the button, and clearly he was an idiot. After all, this was the guy who had once declared ketchup a vegetable worthy of our school lunches. Even at 11 we knew better. Ketchup comes from tomatoes, which are technically a fruit.

Nuclear nightmares figured heavily in our sixth-grade curriculum. A class archeology project, in which we devised fictional cultures for others to exhume and analyze, was rife with homemade postapocalyptic artifacts like burnt toys and melted Michael Jackson records. The following summer, I participated in an all-ages drama class at the Cinnabar Theater where we were encouraged to create our own play. We ended up with a loose narrative dubbed There Is No Bigger Bomb that found us, for reasons mercifully lost to time, wearing animal-print jumpsuits and chanting aphorisms about an early demise. Our leftie parents, of course, beamed with pride.

As kids, we accepted death-by-nuke as an inevitable rite of passage, the denouement of our youth that bypassed adulthood and took us straight to hell. To wit, we would have to fit all the other rites of passage in ASAP. So we smoked, drank and experimented with drugs and sex only a few years into our double digits. I won’t attempt to recall the number of “orgies” scheduled to take place in the neighborhood cemetery in order to usher in the end of the world, or how the graveyard itself came to be eroticized as the symbolic nexus of teenage sex and death. More to the point, we had to keep changing the date of the end of the world due to all the no-shows. The end of the world never came, and neither did we. President Reagan made sure of that.

“What if free people could live secure in the knowledge . . . that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil?” Reagan asked a wary citizenry during an address to the nation in 1983. The resulting program, of course, came to be known as “Star Wars,” to the awesome chagrin of George Lucas and a generation of fans who had incorporated its archetypal precepts into their own blacktop mythology. Not even our ersatz belief systems were immune.

Bored of the Bomb

In some ways, my experience was more keyed up than that of my friends, many of whom, ironically, had fathers who worked for Lucas over the hill in West Marin. When these kids were doffing their collectible Revenge of the Jedi T-shirts and climbing into their bunks, I’d lay awake contemplating the fact that my own father had a passing association with “Star Wars” by way of Optical Coating Laboratories Inc., a government contractor tucked amongst the rolling hills of Sonoma County, a mile off Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa. Reagan was playing “Star Wars” in our own backyard.

“That’s just one small piece. It was all over the place,” my father once revealed to me. He is the only person I know to have actually witnessed an actual atomic bomb detonation. He watched it from his living room window, though his address wasn’t Main Street, Hiroshima–it was Las Vegas.

In was 1951, when my dad was, by his own account, a bright if retiring seven-year-old amid his second attempt at first grade. Dennis Robert Howell was often disciplined for not following directions in an era when coloring outside the lines might have been forgiven had he at least used the correct palette. Though such knuckle-wrappings ceased after it was discovered that he was color blind, a kind of leery diffidence has persisted into his adult life.

My father once diagnosed himself with Asperger’s syndrome, a vogue affliction among the ranks of engineers he would later join. Those afflicted cannot properly engage socially, which apparently confers a sort of savantlike genius. (My father, however, does not have Asperger’s syndrome; he’s just shy–either that or neurologists have overlooked the miracle cure of single malt scotch, which allays most of his symptoms.)

“I remember being awakened and told, ‘Get up, get up, there’s going to be a test,'” he recalls of his first atomic bomb. “So we all just sat around the living room looking out the window. The effect, essentially, was as if somebody was outside our window with one of those great big old flashbulbs that they used to have. It just lit everything up. Then stunned silence. A few seconds later, it was like a single clap of thunder. Boom!”

The actual site of this particular atom bomb test was Nevada’s Yucca Flats, about 60 miles north of his family’s modest home in downtown Las Vegas. My father’s stepfather was a laborer at the site and was advised of the early morning bomb test, which he thought would make for some inexpensive family entertainment. Enough such tests occurred that my father eventually became bored.

“Think about that for a second,” he says. “A flash. A couple of seconds later, a boom. Well, OK. This is worth getting up at oh-dark-30 for? For a seven-year-old kid? Not really. After that, I wouldn’t even bother. In fact, I got a reputation for being ‘the kid who could sleep through atom bombs.’ The adults had some idea what the implications were, but I didn’t. I knew what a bomb was and knew that this was a really, really big one. But you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I remember laying in bed and the flash woke me up. I just rolled over and went back to sleep.”

Duck and Cover

When the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in ’89 and the threat of nuclear annihilation was ostensibly mitigated, a kind of generation-wide case of posttraumatic stress disorder set in. This may account for why we had to endure the slur “slacker” in the early ’90s. None of us had expected to live long enough to require a life plan stretching past adolescence. Prozac was there to help the transition, but the best elixir seemed to be the Glasnost promise of the Internet, at least for those of us who sold out before the dotcom boom fizzled. Was this the “boom” that we had been anticipating? Not I, though I did briefly have a stake in an online music label called, of all things, Atomik. (Post-bubble, I sold the name to a U.K.-based printing firm for a pittance.)

I eventually moved to Hollywood, a place itself in a perpetual state of near-apocalypse, where I would hack scripts and turn 30. The only problem was that I was repeatedly dogged by panic attacks anytime I went above the fourth floor of a building. I would stave off the panic with various pharmaceutical elixirs and tonics, specifically gin and tonics, but to little avail. Something was ticking inside me, prodding me toward the mother of all panic attacks. I knew it was coming.

What I didn’t know was that it wouldn’t come until I found myself squarely on the ground, under a canopy of endless blue sky, grinding my Beatle boots into the once radioactive wasteland of the Trinity Site, the birthplace of the bomb.

I elected to undergo cognitive therapy for my new fear of heights, and was assigned a student shrink on the cheap, a baby boomer inaugurating her second career. Her rates were low because, technically, I was her homework. She deduced that my problems were “existential in nature.” I was flattered. Finally, I thought, I’m living in a Woody Allen film. But I really just wanted to beat the vertigo.

“You have a fear of death and inconsequence,” she elaborated.

“Well, yeah, I grew up in the shadow of the bomb.”

“So did I,” she countered.

“But you had ‘duck and cover.'”

“Sure, and the Tooth Fairy, too. You’re obsession with the bomb is how you express your fear of death.”

“And you don’t you have a fear of death?”

“No. I have a fear of airplanes.”

“But aren’t airplanes just how you express your fear of death and inconsequence?”

“No. Sometimes an airplane is just an airplane.”

In lieu of a fistful of Xanax, my shrink took me to every tall building in Los Angeles, every rooftop swimming pool, every high-rise that would let us ride its elevator to the t-t-t-top until I no longer had a fear of heights. It worked. Kind of. With her help, I was able to transmute my fear of death from expressing itself as vertigo instead into agoraphobia–the abnormal fear of open spaces–a fair trade when living in Los Angeles, where every square inch is paved.

Me and the Bomb

In the Martian landscape of the American Southwest, however, there is nothing but wide-open spaces. I discovered this geographic reality on July 14, 2005, two days before the 60th anniversary of the first atomic bomb detonation, when cameraman Abe Levy and I made a grueling 16-hour drive from Los Angeles to the White Sands Missile Base, New Mexico, to visit the original Ground Zero. We were special guests of the public affairs office, which had permitted us to shoot a segment dubbed “Me and the Bomb” for a show we were then calling, for lack of a better title, the Daedalus Howell Show.

The next day would find the historic site swarming with thousands of people, everyone from Good Sam tourists to candle-toting Japanese Buddhist monks, a crowd that would turn the site into a kind of A-bomb-themed Burning Man. We were the only visitors attending the day before.

Crossing the Arizona-New Mexico border, I drove with the sun visor down to eclipse my view of the stratosphere. I could no longer fathom that much goddamn sky looming over me like a great, blue void. My existential crisis was in high gear: death plus inconsequence equals inconsequential death. In my weaker moments I couldn’t shake the thought that the earth was indeed flat and that we weren’t driving across it so much as sliding down its face headlong into infinity.

I tried to distract myself with conversation, but Levy and I have known each other nearly 20 years, which leads to a kind of conversation in absentia, like those between the very old or the characters in Waiting for Godot. The best moments on tape sound like rejected DVD commentary, which is entirely my fault, the result of being “on” for the camera, which Levy rolled sporadically throughout the trip.

“Really, sci-fi as we know it today was brought on by the atomic bomb,” Levy absently suggested.

“When they detonated the bomb, that’s when man crossed over and started playing God in a very legitimate way, because he had attained a way to destroy not only himself, but the world as he knew it. Which is a very godly place to be, I’d imagine,” I said.

“Or ungodly.”

“That too. Using the Frankenstein model of sci-fi, when you play God, the monster comes back to smite you. The atom bomb, so far as we can tell in popular culture, had a kind of retribution, wherein mutations would come back and fuck with you.”

“Like Godzilla.”

“Totally.”

“That’s not his Japanese name, by the way. That’s his American marketing name.”

“Godzilla? No shit? What’s his real name?”

“I don’t know, ‘Bukkake’ or something.”

(This is why, at a recent eggnog party, I got slapped when I asked a Japanese movie buff if she was into Bukkake.)

We would fall silent for hours at a time. Night came over the desert and the deep black sky swallowed the planet whole. The road was as straight as it was endless, a monotony broken only by the glowing oases of strip malls that would emerge from the horizon like chimeras.

“This is where they should test the bomb,” I observed. “We’re in the middle of the desert and there, looming on the horizon, are the Golden Arches. It’s terrible. When we get to the Trinity Site, I bet there’s a big sponsorship sign, like a big Nike swoosh on the monument. Man, who would sponsor a bomb?”

“Sony,” Levy deadpanned. “You know, in Japan, if they like a movie, they don’t applaud. They’re just silent. That’s their highest sign of respect.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Japan.”

“You heard ‘silence’ in Japan?”

“It’s different than American silence,” he said, then attempted to re-create the two different types by slouching in his seat and closing his eyes. The Japanese version was indeed quieter. Levy was asleep.

When the sun rose, the windshield looked like a super-sized microscope slide from an entomology lab. An hour past Socorro, N.M., the last pit stop of civilization before entering the realm of Ground Zero, I exhumed my Portage brand “Professional Reporter’s Notebook.” I had optimistically labeled it “Trinity and Beyond.” Inside, a page read: “Call Debbie.” Debbie worked in the White Sands Missile Range public affairs office. She was tasked with escorting us the 17 miles into the interior of the missile base.

When we finally arrived at Stallion Gate, Levy was instructed to keep his camera off until our caravan to Ground Zero was complete. There we would be introduced to Jim Eckles, who helms the base’s public affairs department.

Just a Place

Garbed in summer apparel that included shorts and a Panama hat, Jim Eckles looked like a man on permanent vacation. His attitude was likewise relaxed and his conversation easy. This was in stark contrast to me trying to keep my mind planted in the moment so as not to soar off into the wild blue yonder which was making me more buggy by the second.

The site itself would make sore eyes sorer. It’s a dustbowl surrounded by a cyclone fence with an a lava-rock obelisk planted in the middle with a plaque that reads:

TRINITY SITE
WHERE
THE WORLD’S FIRST
NUCLEAR DEVICE
WAS EXPLODED ON
JULY 16, 1945

During the course of our interview, Eckles was kind enough to run off facts and figures. The uranium necessary for the first A-bomb was the size of a baseball, which yielded 21 kilotons of power, the equivalent of 15,000 tons of TNT. I asked, “Is it still radioactive?”

“Yes, but you’re exposed to more radiation from cosmic rays while on an airplane than you are here,” Eckles said flatly as Levy discreetly looked over the bottom of his shoes as if checking for dog shit. I thought, perhaps my shrink’s airplane fears are justified.

Then in a moment of utter demystification, Eckles casually said, “Ultimately, it’s just a place where something happened.”

The wellspring of my anxieties, if not those of a fair portion of my generation, “just a place where something happened”?

“It was a science experiment.”

Eckles smiled wryly. After a moment, he left Levy and I so that we could do some pickup shots without him in frame. I stood momentarily stultified. I made the mistake of looking into the sky and a sudden unease began to creep over me.

“Oh, shit,” I wheezed between the deep breaths my shrink encouraged me to take in such moments. But this was going to be different, I thought. Were not my mind and body headed for mutually assured devastation? Was this not my own private atomic meltdown, here in the desert where the ceremony of scientific inquiry drowned its innocence in sand? Surely some revelation is at hand. But like the nuclear holocaust promised during my youth, the panic never came.

In the resulting footage, you can hear Levy snap his fingers and, like some midmarket media personality, I turn on again. “In the end, it’s just a historic landmark,” I say glibly. “All of these things we’ve projected upon it, and all it is, is something that happened a long time ago.”

I stand alone for a moment. Levy pans around and I continue sotto voce: “I can’t believe they left us alone at the Trinity site.” Then I jokingly pantomime like I’m a vandal shaking a spray can. Unfortunately, the shot is cropped so that it just looks like I’m jerking off out of frame.

When we were done with the pickups, Levy reminds me, “You’re leaving the Trinity Site,” and goads me to say something more poignant, more significant before we leave the location for good.

I could only shake my head in silence, though my mind flashed to Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist often considered the father of the bomb, and his alleged quote of the Bhagavad-Gita upon the first detonation: “Now I am become death, the shatterer of worlds; / Waiting that hour that ripens in their doom.”

Too overbearing, I thought. Another quote briefly came to mind, the closing stanza of Oppenheimer’s favorite William Butler Yeat’s poem, “The Second Coming,” which concludes in a remarkably similar cadence: “And what rough beast, its hour come ’round at last, / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born.”

Too maudlin. Then I remembered an apocryphal tale about the Movietone newsreel sound engineers who were at a loss to create an appropriate audio track to accompany footage of the bomb’s billowing mushroom explosion. Without any source sound available to them, they improvised. They considered creating a sound effect, they experimented with music, but finally, their deadline looming, they settled on silence. Anything else would have been pat, they thought.

When I recently rescreened our footage, I was taken aback by my moment of silence. I’m standing next to the obelisk. Levy says we’re running low on tape and again encourages me to say something significant. But I don’t say anything. I just look into the lens, which on the monitor is tantamount to looking into a mirror. I say nothing. I realized, watching it again, that my sudden muteness was not for a lack of anything to say. In fact, there’s too much to say. But those who need to hear it most aren’t listening.

Lexy Fridell

Playwright David Mamet has been credited with the aphorism “If you have something to fall back on, you will.”

Currently in living and working in New York City, actress Lexy Fridell agrees.

“It’s true, it’s really true,” said the spry 23 year-old during a recent trip home to her native Sonoma.

“I keep thinking I should learn to be a trainer or this or that, but then I think ‘No. Work at a restaurant if you have to. You can leave when you want, nothing is holding you down.’”
Fridell’s early experiences in Sonoma working with such local theater organizations Broadway Bound Kids! as well as Sonoma Charter School’s Jean Barnier primed her for a life onstage.

“Jean Barnier was a big influence on me. She was really into Shakespeare and every year we would go to the Ashland Oregon Shakespeare Festival,” Fridell recalls. “Growing up in the valley surrounded by the arts here was very supportive.”

Nothing, however, could have prepared Fridell for the grind of auditioning on the Great White Way.

“It’s completely different and I don’t think anyone can tell you what’s it’s like until you do it yourself. It’s horrifying,” Fridell laughed.

The notion that such a confident young woman would be remotely nervous when auditioning at first seems odd, but, as Fridell reminded “It’s just a whole different world out there. There’s a million people in the city all just trying to do this.”

Fridell’s advice to herself comes in the form of a question: “What do you do to stand out and make yourself different?”

“I have an interesting voice and a different look – sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad – but I’m not ‘cookie cutter’ thank God,” Fridell self-assessed with her signature voice, perhaps more piccolo than flute. It is interesting, ear-catching and most certainly a distinguishing asset.

“I’ve been working my way up which is great,” she said, adding that one must “Find your little niche, use your own quirkiness.”

Such maxims preclude Fridell from feeling the need to be competitive with her contemporaries when at auditions.

“I just think that everyone is different,” said Fridell. “It’s pretty crazy. You get there at seven in the morning, then you wait for hours and hours and hours. Then you finally get in and they see you for about 10 seconds. And then you’re out.”

Fridell recently attended an audition for a touring adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel “Little Women” despite the fact that her agents didn’t think she was a appropriate.

“They said ‘You’re not right for that,’ but I said ‘I think I am’ and went to the open call. They really liked what I did and called me back five times,” recalled Fridell. “I didn’t end up getting it, but it goes to show that you can get in that way. Sometimes you have to work for yourself. You have to push, you have to know what you’re right for and really go after what you want, knowing who you are.”

And Fridell knows who she is – she is a born performer. It runs in the family: her father Squire Fridell has clocked time portraying, among other roles, iconic burger clown Ronald MacDonald. He is also an accomplished playwright. Likewise, Fridell’s mother is a dancer. The family business notwithstanding, Fridell’s parents initially tried to dissuade her from the performing arts.

“My parents tried to keep me out of it,” Fridell recounted, but try as they might to interest her in such things as “computers” it was all for naught, the kid had the bug. She attended Idyllwild Arts Academy, a private performing arts school in Southern California and went on to prestigious Carnegie Mellon University where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater.

“Carnegie Mellon really prepared me for the Big Apple – though you really can’t know what it’s like until you get there. We did showcase in New York and Los Angeles, we met with casting people and agents,” said Fridell who is represented by a commercial agent, voice over agent and a theater agent. She is also a member of Actor’s Equity, the trade union for stage performers

So, the moral of the story is that working hard and going to college pays off, right?
“Pretty much,” Fridell laughed, then added, “I’m not on Broadway yet. But I have been off-
Broadway doing a couple of things.”

Fridell’s recent credits include a run in “The Great Big Radio Show” a paean to the glory days of live radio for which she will enter the recording studio for a cast recording sometime this month. The actress also appeared in “Henry Sweet Henry,” the musical based on the Nora Johnson comic novel “The World of Henry Orient” which finds a pair of teenage girls stalking an avant-garde composer.

In the meantime, Fridell is busy auditioning and hoping to land in, as she says, “Comedic anything – anything funny.” In fact, she just auditioned for the hit musical “Hairspray” inspired by the campy John Waters flick of the same title.

“I haven’t heard back from them, so who knows,” she says cheerfully. “I think people are most happy when they are consistently working. There’s a lot of people that are nominated or win Tonys, but then you don’t hear about them for years, they can’t get arrested – or they do,” she laughs.

Fridell would eventually like to add a sitcom and an animation gig to her resume, but is satisfied, for the moment, honing her craft and working her way to Broadway.

And what sage advice does Lexy Fridell have for young performers interested in a life on the floorboards?

“Stay away!” she laughed. After a moment, she softens the notion and says “Absolutely go after it if it’s the only thing you can do, but if there’s something else that piques your interest a little bit more go after it because this is really hard.”